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.
He 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.
Communicate About Everything, Even Little Disagreements
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.
I 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.
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.