What I Learned From My Relationship In 2016, Because Dating Is Always Educational
Natalia Lusinski

If nothing else, dating never fails to educate us. I started out 2016 single, yet a couple months in, I found myself in a relationship. (Thank you, Bumble and Happn.) When someone asks what I learned from my relationship this past year, I say a lot. Before meeting my boyfriend, I dated, as we all do, to see what works and what does not. For instance, someone can say they're nice to everyone they cross paths with in their dating profile, yet then they're rude to the waiter. Check, please. Or they can appear to be childless in their dating profile and then bring up that they have children and, oh, they're not divorced yet, and BTW, their ex still lives in the house, too.

So, after some false starts, I then met my current boyfriend. Of course, in day-to-day, or week-to-week, dating, you learn a lot more about your partner, like character-revealing traits through their actions. Here are some key things I learned from my relationship this year, because practice makes perfect — at least, I like to think so.

1We Are Very Different People, But That's OK

When you first start dating someone and you click, I mean really click, you know how you tell your friends that you and this person have everything in common — how could this even be that someone on Earth was made just for me?! But then, as months go by, you realize you have less in common than you thought. Yep, reality sets in. And then you ask yourself: Is this realistic version of who I am and who the other person is sustainable?

Though some experts say "opposites attract," others believe fundamental similarities must be in place, whether they're common values, like views on religion, or how to spend weekends. With my boyfriend, I learned that as long as he and I still have more in common than not, and/or as long as our commonalities are still going strong and our differences complement each other, it's OK if I prefer to go to a networking event and he prefers to stay in.

2It's Fine To Go Out Without My Boyfriend

Natalia Lusinski

Speaking of staying in, I am pretty social, yet my boyfriend is not. I used to think if a social event, like a friend's birthday, was coming up, it was "bad" to go alone. Wasn't there a secret relationship code that said we both had to go, as a couple? When a social friend of mine said she often goes to parties without her boyfriend, a light bulb went off.

You see, her boyfriend's like mine, and prefers to stay in some nights versus mingle with a bunch of strangers. By her boyfriend staying home instead of forcing himself to be social, it's a win-win, my friend said, and makes them fight a lot less. Once I started doing it, after running it by my boyfriend, who was overjoyed with the fact that he could stay home and watch Stranger Things (again!), I saw that her system worked for us too. I could go have fun with my friends — or on my own — and not feel guilty about him giving me cues that he wants to leave. And he doesn't skip every social event, but he also doesn't feel forced to attend every single one either.

3He Is Not My Ex

Remember how it was your birthday and you were turning 30 and your ex wrote you 30 different little notes, each telling you why he loved you? I hate to break it to you, but not every partner will do the same thing when your birthday rolls around. This crushed me. But with each new relationship, comparing it to former ones will destroy it. And then you have to keep in mind: Of course my new partner is not my ex — we're still dating!

Sure, he may not write 30 handwritten cards for my birthday, but when he didn't have hand towels in his bathroom and then surprises me with monogrammed ones with little "N"s on them, he shows his thoughtfulness in different ways. And appreciating all the good things is key, even if they're different good things.

4Communicate About Everything, Even Little Disagreements

Natalia Lusinski

I'm more of an "if something's wrong, say something and let’s talk" kind of person versus just stewing and walking around with my arms crossed or sitting in silence, obviously upset. With the latter, what's the point? Regarding if a relationship needs better communication, "The easy answer is, it can always benefit from better communication," Jeffrey Sumber, MA, MTS, LCPC, tells Bustle. "I don't know any couple that doesn't need a little work when it comes to healthy communication, respect, positive regard for our partners… Inevitably, we get triggered and we fall into a reactive posture. When that happens, we tend to project our hurts and fears on our partner versus truly supporting them."

So with my boyfriend, I learned how to pick up on his silence or discomfort as soon as possible and prompt a "What’s going on?" conversation. I also asked him to  bring things up instead of making me guess that something's wrong.

Dr. Suzana Flores, clinical psychologist and author of Facehooked: How Facebook Affects Our Emotions, Relationships, and Lives, agrees about talking things out. "Passive-aggressiveness in relationships is huge," Dr. Flores tells Bustle. "It's not the best way to communicate problems and certainly not the best way to end a relationship. If someone's being passive-aggressive and you ask what's wrong and they're negating it, obviously you have communication issues." Enough said.

5I Learned I'm Not Ready To Live With Him

Even though experts are mixed on whether couples should live together before getting married, and when they "should" live together — what's the timeline? — in dating this year, I realized I prefer to live on my own. "It's important to maintain the health of the relationship and not become complacent, too comfortable, or too set in our routines once we live together," Ravid Yosef, dating and relationship coach at LoveLifeTBD.com, tells Bustle. "While the fire won't always burn as strong as it did in the beginning of your relationship, it doesn't have to dim either. That's when you lose interest in one another and seek outside stimulation."

Yes, I know there are plenty of ways to keep the relationship excitement and romance alive when you do live with someone. However, personally, I feel people try harder when they don't see each other every free moment of every day — especially when a relationship is still young. For instance, if you know you're seeing your significant other on Friday, you're probably looking forward to it more so than if you see them every night. A guy friend of mine likes to say that you need time between dates and seeing someone to digest and process the last date with them, and time to miss them — and vice-versa.

Natalia Lusinski

All in all, though I learned an endless number of things from my relationship last year, the above were key takeaways. After all, no matter how perfect someone's relationship may seem, they all have their personal hiccups. And that's what dating is all about, right? Seeing whom you're most compatible with and if they make you a better you. As my therapist likes to say, "How do they make you feel? Are they enhancing your life, or not?"

Marriage counselor Jessica Wade gives similar advice. "Many partners can be compatible options, and I think any couple willing to mutually put in the work to keep it healthy for both partners can have an amazingly enjoyable relationship," she tells Bustle. Exactly. So here's to even happier dating for everyone in 2017.