8 Things I’ve Learned From My First “Adult” Relationship
02.26.18

I have been in a relationship for almost one year. Almost, because that’s a stretchy exaggeration: we went on our first date exactly a year ago, became “exclusive” about a month after that, became “boyfriend and girlfriend” toward the end of April or the beginning of May (weird that I can’t remember now, because a few months ago I could have given you the exact hour), and by the end of November I realized how close we were to an actual anniversary:

In three months I will have known this person forever. 

The counting, the timeline-keeping — it started right away. “We have been on four dates,” I’d log in my brain. “We have now been seeing one another for three whole weeks.” I wasn’t doing it consciously. I’d never tracked time so meticulously before, but these tent poles, I think, allowed me to create some sort of structure. It gave me something to measure the state of our relationship against, which I very much needed in the beginning. It made it easier to survey friends with questions like: When did you two [fill-in-the-blank-benchmark]? Is it normal that we have/haven’t yet? When did you know X? When did you know Y?

Though their answers very rarely soothed my anxieties, each worry was put into measurable context. When, for example, we had yet to reach a place where we wanted to spend every waking second together, knowing that a married friend of mine still didn’t feel that way about her husband made me feel like we were normal. When a younger friend told me that it probably meant something bad (he knew he really liked a girl he was seeing because he couldn’t stand to be apart during their initial courtship), I panicked, then thought, “Well, okay, he’s a little dramatic, and besides, it’s only been a month for us. We’re right on track.”

Before my boyfriend and I met, my twenties were broken up by what felt like a million dates, a handful of “things,” phases of “talking-tos,” a few very complicated relationship-ishs, and various no-title whatevers. As a result, I wasn’t used to the idea that this one person would be my one person, that this was slowly becoming “serious,” that I had to start making legitimate room for another human being, and that there wasn’t a catch.

I was scared all the time in the beginning. I questioned why it was so easy; I worried that he was too nice; what was he hiding? I waited for him to realize that I was mostly terrible. Once I accepted our relationship was good — I suspected it might be too good, which meant something had to crash soon. I was also scared to let go of the me I’d known for so long. I feared that my friends would move on without me, that I’d have less to write about, less to complain about, less fodder — or none at all — with which to entertain my married friends who got kicks out of my once all-over-the-place dating life.

But then pretty quickly (or agonizingly slowly, depending on which of my friends you ask) I slid into the comfortable and wonderful cadence of being partners with someone. And I learned all sorts of things in the process:

It takes time — or it can, it did for me — to realize that this person could be someone you want to stick to for a while.

It’s also okay to take that slowly, to give it a shot so long as each experience feels worthy of experiencing. When we first started dating, I worried that because I wasn’t 100% in, because I wasn’t obsessed, it wasn’t “meant to be.” I voiced this to someone early on who asked, “Are you having fun each time you see him?” I was. “So what’s the problem?” I stopped making them up almost immediately.

No red flags is not a red flag.

This became an oft-repeated mantra of mine. But I also had to learn to tell the difference between a red flag and a human flaw, the latter of which deserves compassion and also a look in the mirror as a reminder to say, Hello, you may be having an excellent hair day, but you are not perfect, either. And you need a shower.

Arguments don’t mean something is “wrong” with the relationship.

I was so used to getting along with my boyfriend that our first few arguments threw me for serious loops. (The first time we had a disagreement that couldn’t be solved with a joke, I went through this whole internal dialogue about how it was only a matter of time before we broke up.) We don’t get into arguments often, but it happens, and I have since learned that each disagreement is a learning opportunity. An annoying one, but still.

“Self-care” is unexpectedly hard to maintain with another full-time person to care about.

What sounds more fun: An hour at the gym, or an extra hour with your new, super hot best friend? Applying 800 layers of oils to your face in the morning, or getting bagels before work instead? Going to bed at a reasonable time or staying up late to be weird and watch a terrible movie together? It’s easy to get lost in another person. I now understand that this whole ride is a bit of a pendulum swing, however — and when you stay with someone for longer than a supernova flash, there’s an eventual evening out that returns you to your daily priorities, your boring routines. The difference then is you both have someone who is, more or less, legally required to go to CVS with you for seltzer at inconvenient times.

There are times where it is wildly, almost violently tempting to hole up with this person and ignore the world.

When in relationships, I have always been worried about becoming “that friend” who ends up ditching her friends. And at times, I have overcompensated for this fear. But I’ve become more comfortable with the reality that sometimes, I will want to hole up with this person for an entire weekend, and it will be the greatest thing for my soul. And to that, I have had to remind myself that I need my friends. The platonic kind. The laughing feels different with them, and when I see them, I always remember how good it feels.

There is some nostalgia for singlehood, but barely.

Every once in a while, I think about how, when I first moved to the city as a single post-grad, every summer night held the possibility of a romance so great it was unbearable to not go out — because what if. But that began to fade with age before my boyfriend. The excitement of my next potential meal, however, has only gotten stronger. Instead of wondering who’s invited to some supposedly wild party, I ask about the appetizers.

Being in a relationship will not fix your problems.

This is one of those things I always knew, believed, and experienced enough to know better. And yet…there was this hope of meeting the one who could whisk me away to some tax-free, zero-life-drama fantasy island forever where I never had to worry ever again. Of course, that wasn’t realistic. And even though this relationship has the uncanny ability to act as a fantastical escape when I need a break (and when that doesn’t work, it offers someone who will stand by my side even if my side is ridiculous), my flaws are still my flaws, it turns out. My anxieties still make me anxious. I’m still the same me I was when I was single, which is important. Relationship or not, I’m a whole entire person.

The last thing I learned is that I’m still learning.

About all of this. How annoying and comforting and typical is that?

Collage by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

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