In middle school, the only insult more cutting than calling someone a “prep” was calling them a poser — someone pretending to be punk who, when pressed, couldn’t even name three blink-182 songs. In light of this, it seems that Kourtney Kardashian’s very public transformation into Travis Barker’s Goth Girlfriend™ has awakened a sense of nostalgic suspicion about people taking on a new persona.
But outside of cafeteria table cliques, or in this case, Warped Tour and E! television, Kourtney’s doing something plenty of coupled-up people are guilty of. From getting into sports because your partner is a die-hard fan to doing tons of reiki when your new boo is a “yogi” — sometimes you start to take on the characteristics of the person you’re dating. And while it’s natural for partners to share music recs and college sweatshirts, there’s a line between creating a reciprocal exchange with the person you love and ditching your personal tastes to become their clone.
“There can come a point where the balance goes off, and one of the partners will do more of what their partner is doing, instead of what they feel comfortable with,” Liam Barnett, dating expert and relationship coach tells Bustle.
Barnett’s describing what I like to call a relationship chameleon. Like a lizard changing color to fit in with its environment, you take on your partner’s tastes to adapt to their lifestyle. While this can happen once in a person’s lifetime — like the cheerleader from high school who somehow married a geologist, became a certified #naturegirl, and never looked back — it can also be a serial occurrence. Cue the meme of Brad Pitt morphing into all his lovers. Or certain other members of the Kardashian family.
The Benefits Of Taking On Your Partner’s Tastes & Hobbies
Much like Kourtney, office assistant Keith (he/him), 24, recently dated a punk in a rock band. Though he’d always dressed more conservatively, Keith says the relationship was a welcome push to be more experimental with his style. “I dated a goth girl and I bought Dr. Martens,” Keith tells Bustle. “I'm very attracted to the ‘goth’ aesthetic, but I never thought I could pull it off.”
Apparently, Keith’s not alone in that sentiment. In the month of September, searches for “goth girlfriend” surged 340% on boohoo, which Claire Asher, the fashion retailer’s product director, attributes to celebs like Kourtney and Megan Fox assuming their boyfriends’ punk rock aesthetics.
For Dae (she/her), 25, dating her first girlfriend came with a sense of validation that helped her express her queer identity. “Being in an openly queer relationship has empowered me to dive into styles that I've always been into but felt shy about when I was dating straight people,” Dae tells Bustle.
Taking on your partner’s vibe can be especially alluring for younger folks who are still finding their place in the world. “It changed the older I got,” Rose (they/them), 27, tells Bustle. “I think when I was younger I was especially prone to matching people.”
Looking at relationships from their early 20s, Rose spots a pattern of taking on media — like true crime podcasts and metal music — that the people they dated were into. “I would engage with things I might not have otherwise liked,” Rose says. “Some of those things I’ve held onto or made my own. True crime for example, now I write crime and horror short stories.”
Amelia Peck, a licensed marriage and family therapist, describes how being in a relationship can encourage you to try new things. And when your partner is different than you — in their hobbies, style, or interests — dating them can allow you to appreciate new things.
“With clients, I talk about developing a sense of ‘us-ness’ a concept from Restoration Therapy,” Peck tells Bustle. That “us-ness” doesn’t have to mean finding a new hobby you both like or merging your two existing styles together, Peck says. It just means making space for both partners to feel included and valued in the relationship. In other words, if you like the way your partner dresses and want to dress like them — have at it. Just make sure you’re feeling in tune with yourself in the process.
Where To Draw The Line
While taking on our partner’s internet #brand or actual hobbies can be a positive part of being in love, Klapow explains the key here is mutual exchange.
“Literally trying to be just like them is not only damaging for the relationship but it is personally damaging as well,” Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. “We can retain our individuality in a manner that’s compatible with our partner’s individuality.”
Courtney (she/her), 23, describes this in her own relationship. “I tried changing to be more like my girlfriend when we started dating, but that didn’t last, and now our life is a mixture of both,” she tells Bustle.
For months, Courtney tried to keep up with her girlfriend’s daily gym visits, meal prepping, and Monica Geller levels of cleanliness. Yet as they continued to date, the pair found their own balance. They got a pet, downloaded Postmates, and found a way to be themselves, together.
Yet, Klapow and Peck maintain that sometimes you don’t find the balance Courtney did and subsequently end up catering to your partner’s whims too much. This behavior may start out purposeful — like stocking your fridge with your boo’s favorite beer — but Dr. Klapow explains it's easy to start mirroring someone unconsciously.
“The more consistent we are with our partners, the more micro-reinforcement and validation we will get,” he says. “Little things like using some of the same mannerisms, maybe some of the same words, often will garner a smile, a nod, or increased attention.”
Minor behaviors like picking up regional slang from your partner or copying the way they make a grilled cheese is often harmless. Cute, even. But when you find yourself doing things you don’t actually like, just because they like them — you’re probably headed for trouble.
Miranda (she/her), 22, says that in the past she’s “fallen into the trap” of matching her partner, or “tricking” herself into thinking she liked things she actually hated, just because her boyfriend liked them.
“This guy I dated loved reality shows like Big Brother, I would get really into it with him,” Miranda says. “Then we broke up, and when I went to watch it again I was like, ‘Wait, this is garbage.’”
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D. MSS, clinical psychotherapist and author of Training Your Love Intuition, says that a healthy relationship allows each person to enrich their partner and themselves. “But sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish whether you are expanding and strengthening your world or accommodating so much that you give up your values and uniqueness,” Dr. Wish tells Bustle.
To some degree, being a relationship chameleon necessitates losing touch with yourself. While it may be glaringly obvious that you’re taking on your partner’s identity like, ahem, Kourtney Kardashian in a Cannibal Corpse shirt, changing for a partner can also be more subtle and insidious.
To tell if your relationship adaptation is crossing the line, Dr. Wish suggests evaluating all the new things you’ve gotten into since dating your partner. Are you really into watching four football games in a row every Sunday, or are you agreeing to as a way to spend more time with your partner? Do you like eating vegan, or do you secretly wish for some Popeye’s?
“Make a list of things you feel you are losing in you because you accommodated too much,” Dr. Wish says.
If you’ve always been a relationship chameleon, Dr. Wish says it may be hard to know what it is you do like. If that’s the case, you may benefit from spending time thinking about what makes you feel excited and fulfilled in your life. Did you love dance class as a kid? Have you been looking for a creative outlet? Maybe you’ve been bookmarking some new recipes that seem fun to cook. Allow yourself time to get into these hobbies on your own.
At the end of the day, switching up the way you dress isn’t a tell-tale sign of an unhealthy relationship. Middle school is thankfully over, and you’re allowed to be Posh Spice one day and Sporty the next. Still, if your Instagram timeline looks the last scene in Grease where Sandy wears leather chaps on a summer day, it may be time to reconnect with your individuality.
As Dr. Wish says, “Happy and strong couples learn from each other — without melting away.”
Liam Barnett, dating expert and relationship coach
Amelia Peck, a licensed marriage and family therapist
Joshua Klapow, Ph.D. and clinical psychologist
Dr. LeslieBeth Wish, Ed.D. MSS, clinical psychotherapist and author of ‘Training Your Love Intuition’