When I first started dating in my teens, every crush was an obsession, and every relationship was the most important thing in my life (and, TBH, in the world). I became familiar with the signs you're losing yourself in a relationship: the constant phone-checking, the tendency to wait until my friends brought up dating so I could talk about my own significant other, the fantasizing about what our wedding/family/death in our sleep as we romantically held hands would be like. But I just couldn't stop myself.
In other words, I was lost in my relationships — which practicing psychologist and Harvard lecturer Holly Parker, PhD, author of If We're Together, Why Do I Feel So Alone?, defines as "losing the boundary between where your partner stops and you start."
Now, I'm in the first relationship ever that hasn't completely consumed me. I knew I was when I realized that when I run — the time that used to be reserved for my lofty romantic daydreams — I instead think about my career, my travels, and other aspects of my life. For the most part, I only think about my significant other when he's around. And more importantly, I haven't really tried to change myself for him. In fact, I've demanded that he change to better understand and accommodate who I am — because I believe I'm worthy of being his girlfriend already.
I didn't arrive at this point quickly, and I didn't do it by trying to improve my attitude toward relationships. I did it by being single for years and making my life interesting and fulfilling without one. Here are some signs that you might also have gotten lost in your relationship — and what you can do about them.
1You've Changed Your Opinions To Keep The Peace
If something your partner says or does genuinely changes your mind, that's totally fine. But if you're less outspoken about a cause you care about around your partner or you've convinced yourself you have political, social, or moral views you really don't, you could be sacrificing who you are, says Parker.
For example, I used to avoid talking about feminism with my ex because he thought it was anti-male. But because feminism was such a huge part of my life, I couldn't do that without constantly censoring myself. One thing that helped me see this was to ask myself: "If we break up, will I still profess the same views afterward?"
2You're Sacrificing Your Interests For Theirs
It's normal for people in a relationship to try to understand each other better by engaging in each other's favorite activities. But ask yourself whether you've taken up their hobbies or researched their interests to understand them or to impress them. One sign it's the latter is that you're downplaying your own interests because you don't feel like they make you appealing to your partner.
For many women dating men, this comes out in trying to be the "cool girl" — taking up an interest in sports and other "guy things" while meanwhile, you'd never ask your boyfriend to learn about makeup or fashion. (Of course, it can go the other way around; that's just how men and women are often socialized). You shouldn't feel like you need to be more like your partner to improve yourself.
3Their Problems Bother You As If They Were Your Own
It's nice to sympathize with your partner when they're down, but there's a difference between feeling bad for them and just feeling bad. Don't worry: you're not a bad person for being happy when a loved one isn't.
"If your partner is having difficulty, it's OK not to take that on," says Parker. "It's wonderful to be a source of support and it's helpful, but to blur the line between a problem that's your partner's and one that's yours isn't a way of standing by your partner. It just creates an added stressor that affects you both." That's one aspect I still need to work on: When I get stressed out, my partner gets stressed out, then I get stressed out about stressing him out, and the cycle spirals out of control. None of that helps anyone.
4You Pass Up Opportunities For Them
If you turn down your dream job offer because it would require you to live away from your partner, skip out on a trip with your friends because your partner can't go, or stop going to your exercise classes because you now work out together, your relationship may be costing you other things that are important to you. "You might want to ask yourself: 'If my partner weren't in my life, would I want to do this?'" says Parker. "If the answer is 'yes,' then you have your answer."
If you've noticed any of these signs, Parker recommends reflecting on what makes you you. You may even want to write down a list of things that are important to you or ways you're different from your partner. You can also go a step beyond that and engage in an activity you like but they don't. Don't worry — I'm living proof that you can lose yourself in relationships and then discover yourself again.