When my partner and I first met in college, we quickly became inseparable. We studied together, hung out with the same friends, and even discovered that we were from the same city back home.
For the first year of our relationship, I loved that we lived in each others’ pockets — surely if we spent every day together and never got bored, that was a good sign?
Then, I moved to Italy to study abroad for a year.
It was strange being so independent after a year of sharing every part of my life, as I realized how much I depended on my partner both for emotional support and to fill my time. But, stranger still, was how much I came to enjoy my rediscovered independence.
At first, there were small changes, like taking up hobbies that I’d never had time for before, but soon I was off exploring Italy alone and gaining newfound confidence along the way.
I won’t lie, I was relieved to return to my partner after a year of long-distance dating, but I also knew that I didn’t want to let go of the autonomy I’d gained. With a few simple perspective changes, it’s easy to maintain independence in a relationship. Here are my tips to find — and keep — the balance.
Love yourself first
When I’m feeling low or unsure of myself, I can always count on my partner for reassurance, but relying on another person for my happiness made it harder to enjoy time apart. I’ve found that intentionally setting “me” time is the perfect opportunity to appreciate the time I spend in my own company. For example, taking a long bath or treating myself to a coffee in my favorite cafe gives me something to look forward to and lifts the pressure off the relationship.
Be apart during time apart
We’ve all been there: Trying to spend time with someone who’s enjoying real quality time with their cell phone instead. It’s tempting to maintain constant contact with my partner during time apart, but establishing healthy boundaries allows me to enjoy the present moment more, whether that’s losing myself in a long weekend run or catching up with my friends over brunch. Plus, then we actually have things to talk about when we’re reunited.
Don’t stop seeing friends and family solo
No relationship is serious until it has my grandma’s seal of approval. But, while sharing your significant other with friends and family is one of the pleasures of a relationship, you don’t have to bring them along every time. I know that I’ll have a better chat with my girlfriends, or proper quality time with my family if I go solo every now and then. It also communicates to your loved ones that you value them enough to make time for them whether you’re single or not.
Stay true to your beliefs
When I was younger, seeing my parents disagree on something used to really freak me out, and I felt similarly about my dating experiences. Surely if we were perfect for each other, we’d agree on absolutely everything?
In hindsight, I can appreciate how impossible that would be. Being able to calmly disagree is a chance for my partner and me to show our respect for, and learn from each other. When I discovered that we’d voted for different candidates in a recent election, I was worried it meant we weren’t as compatible as I thought. By hearing each other out, though, we learned more about what we really value and became closer as a result. We don’t need one sole mind to be happy, just to be able to see things from each other’s point of view.
Don’t rush into next steps
When we first left college, I was desperate to move in with my partner, but we ended up living apart after taking jobs in different cities. Since then, I’ve grown so much as a person through the people I’ve met and the experiences we’ve shared, all of which I’d have missed if we’d rushed into living together.
When a relationship is going well, it’s tempting to look for the next step you can take together, but you have all the time in the world to enjoy each other’s company, so you can afford to take things slow.
Continue to have firsts without them
The longer you’re in a relationship, the more memories become shared — first weekend away, first apartment, even first fight! Of course I love sharing new experiences with my partner, but I also keep an eye open just for me, which is how I ended up enrolled in Greek class last year. Continuing to enjoy firsts on my own has helped me to stay connected to my independent self.
Originally published on June 17, 2020.