I moved to New York City for the first time in college, to begin a much-anticipated internship at Cosmopolitan, a magazine I'd long regarded as my own personal bible. Predictably, I immediately fell in love with the hustle and bustle of the Big Apple, a place I perceived to be the epicenter of opportunity — opportunity to have an amazing career, opportunity to lead a jam-packed social life, and perhaps most important to me at the time, opportunity to finally fall in love.
I’d been single throughout all of college (and high school, too, for that matter), and despite my repeated dating efforts — and more time swiping through online matches than I care to admit — I had yet to find a partner who really stuck. Naively, perhaps, I hoped a move to New York would bring some big change to my love life, some magical shift in the cosmos that would allow me to turn things around and finally find someone worthwhile.
I was only in New York for a few months for my internship, but I knew that, post-grad, I wanted to return more than anything. About six months later, the same night that I graduated from Northwestern University, I made the official ~big move~ to NYC from Chicago; I packed up a moving truck and road-tripped halfway across the country to become my own modern version of Carrie Bradshaw, though hopefully with a little more luck in love. Three years later, I’m still here — and, though it took half that time, I’m happy to report that I did eventually find love in NYC.
The slightly more melancholy news? Despite finally being in a healthy, long-term relationship — something I’ve sought after for so long — I’ve recently come to the realization that I’m not fully happy in New York; my career isn’t where I want it to be, it's an expensive AF place to live, and, most of all, I really miss my close friends who are still in Chicago. It wasn’t an easy decision, but in order to improve my relationship with *myself*, I’ve made the choice to move back to Chicago — even though that means potentially losing my partner (or at least seriously shaking up our relationship). Here's why I'm doing it anyway.
Why It's OK To Put Your Relationship With Yourself First
Back in the days when I was single, I was the kind of person who was always actively looking for love. There was hardly a week that went by where I wasn't going on a date (or a few dates), and keeping up with my dating app inboxes was like a second job. Needless to say, I was really, seriously looking for someone to share my life with, and I certainly couldn't have imagined a future where my romantic pursuits weren't one of the main focal points of my life.
Now that I'm older, wiser, and have become privy to what it's really like to be in a long-term relationship, I've gotten to the point where I recognize that it's not enough to have happiness in just one area of your life. To be truly happy, you need to feel fulfilled in other ways, too — something that I can't honestly say is true for me at the moment. Besides, if I'm not fully happy with myself and what my life looks like, it's virtually impossible for me to really maintain a healthy, happy relationship, no matter how much I care about my partner.
"Your relationship with yourself must always be a priority — in fact it is much like the proverbial oxygen mask: you cannot have a healthy and sustaining relationship if you don’t put the mask on yourself first," Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, and host of The Web Radio Show, tells Bustle. "You need the air, you need to breathe before you can help the relationship. Unhappy relationships are so many times caused by unhappy individuals who are struggling with their individual challenges but see those challenges only through the eye of the relationship. Simply put, the worse off you are in your relationship with yourself, the worse your relationships with others will be."
That old cliché, it turns out, was actually true for me: in order to be fully happy in a relationship (and in life), I needed to be happy with myself first. While I've been lucky enough to find romance here in New York, the rest of my life has felt too topsy-turvy for me. Even though I might feel happy and comfortable with my partner, I'm not happy and comfortable in general — and that's a feeling one simply can't (and shouldn't) sustain for too long.
It's confusing, because society and all the media we consume bombards singles with the message that having a happy romantic relationship can be a kind of magical, cure-all solution to your problems. Think of all the movies you've seen where someone finds "The One" and soon after, all the other displaced pieces of their life — financial problems, career struggles, fights with friends — fall into place as a result of their romantic success. Unfortunately, though, real life isn't A Cinderella Story, and while navigating life's hardships can certainly be easier with the love and support of a partner, finding a prince or princess doesn't automatically fix all your problems — which is a lesson I've now learned firsthand.
The more I reflect on where my life is, the more I realize that the path I chose as a brand new college graduate isn't necessarily the one that's best for me. Even though it'll be extremely difficult, painful, and a little scary to re-uproot my life and leave NYC — and my wonderful partner — behind, I know in my heart that moving back is what I want, and what will be best for my relationship with myself and my mental health. The one silver lining is that my friends, family, and yes, even my partner, all understand my decision and support me in building a happier life for myself. Even with their support, though, it still wasn't easy to admit to myself that moving away is what I want, knowing what's at stake if I leave.
Ultimately, I don't know what the future holds, for me or for my relationship. Here's what I do know: I've loved my time in NYC, I've loved finding love for the first time, and of course, I love my partner. The road ahead might be bumpy, but no matter what happens, I can take it in stride and be proud of the fact that I had the courage to listen to my intuition and forge a new path for my life, instead of burying my head in the sand and staying in a place that was slowly but surely sucking the life out of me. It's not always easy to choose yourself, but if you want to find happiness, it's something you have to be willing to do — no matter the consequences.