If there’s one thing that is confusing, it’s the idea that falling in love equates to being totally consumed by each other. There are countless people who suddenly disappear into the depths of a new boyfriend’s apartment every single night, only emerging to hang out when the he’s out of town, or when they broke up.
Not only is it really hurtful to feel like a temporary replacement until WhatsApp boyfriend #3 arrives, but if you’re someone who doesn’t go all in to relationships, you start to wonder if you’re a robot who’s incapable of ~real love~ just because you still prioritize nights out and with the girls and focusing on your career.
Luckily, maintaining some aspects of singleness in a relationship is actually the best approach. Dr. Irene S. Levine, PhD, psychologist and professor of psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine, explains how having independence in a relationship only makes it stronger:
If you have really great friends, your partner won’t feel the pressure to be everything.
“Popular culture romanticizes the myth of the one and only, both in mates and best friends,” says Dr. Levine. “No one individual, neither a partner nor friend, can fulfill all of any one individual’s needs.” Putting your significant other on this easily-toppleable pedestal of perfect lover/only and only BFF/therapist only sets them up to fail. There are just things you can’t talk to them about like you can with different friends. “Friends are cathartic, helping us work out the kinks in relationships by having someone else to talk to and ask for advice,” says Levine.
Having a social life outside your relationship keeps you from getting bored.
As fun as double dates are, you should also hang out with your individual friends one-on-one (also, it’s rude as hell to discard your single friends when you’re suddenly in a relationship). “Having friends outside a relationship can help enrich the relationship between partners,” says Dr. Levine. “It enables both of them to have new experiences that broaden their interests and perspectives, and pursue passions that otherwise might fall dormant.” Being that couple who only hangs out together will get old. See your friends! Carve out time for them! You won’t regret it.
“There is something so aggressively boring about knowing EVERYTHING about your partner…”
If you invest time in your career, you’ll legitimately have more things to talk about together.
Having completely different interests or career paths that you’re passionate about only gives you more new things to discuss. And even if you’re both pursuing the same degrees or jobs, talking about your personal experiences can help you “better understand each other’s career trajectories and workplace hassles,” says Dr. Levine. “A nice mix of sameness and differences provides the best of both worlds.”
Having your own hobbies makes you more secure about everything.
Research shows that “self-complexity” (splitting your life up more evenly between your relationship, friends, family, career, hobbies, and so on) reduces symptoms of depression and stress. It’s pretty simple: if your entire life is about your relationship, then a small fight with your partner can feel like the end of the world. But if you have a solid network of friends, a career you’re passionate about, and a random rock climbing group you hang with every Thursday, everything feels way more proportionate.
Spending nights on your own helps you retain a healthy bit of mystery in the relationship.
There is something so aggressively boring about knowing EVERYTHING about your partner, despite it being heralded as the ultimate goal of a relationship. Both having aspects of your personalities that are just for you only boosts your intrigue and attraction to each other. Barack Obama said it best in a 1995 New Yorker interview about him and Michelle: “It’s that tension between familiarity and mystery that makes for something strong, because, even as you build a life of trust and comfort and mutual support, you retain some sense of surprise or wonder about the other person.”
Asking for alone time will let you know right away if your partner is controlling.
If you’ve made it clear from the get-go that you need some space to do your own thing sometimes – a perfectly reasonable request – you’ll know immediately if your partner is bad news based on their reaction. “Sometimes, pressure can come from a needy partner who requires constant care and reassurance,” says Dr. Levine. “Or one partner may presume that being more independent might be hurtful to the other person.” You should never feel bad for rain checking a routine and chill for the sake of a team outing at work, or that going on a trip with your buddies will make your partner paranoid about you cheating.
If you’ve done all of the above and still break up, you won’t feel like you lost a huge chunk of yourself.
If for no other reason, act a little single in your relationship in the event that you actually ARE single. “There are few things as painful as a breakup, especially if it wasn’t your decision but the hurt is worse if the relationship is your whole world,” says Dr. Levine. “If all your time isn’t channeled into one relationship, there aren’t so many missing holes to plug up.” Nothing feels worse than having made huge job or friendship sacrifices for the relationship, only to now be single and find yourself confused about what career you want or how to make new friends. Besides: having those things in the first place, whether single or dating, only makes your life better.
Why settle for anything less?