My boyfriend and I got really lucky in the dating lottery for how we came across each other. You can read about that fun story here.
I never thought I’d be one of those people who “celebrated” little relationship milestones, probably because I never thought I’d meet someone who I’d want to do those things with. Still, it feels good to look back and see how our relationship has adapted and molded to fit our lives. Here are some things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Sacrifice for the right person
When we first started dating, we had to make a lot of sacrifices — and by that I mean rearranging weekend (or even single day) plans because we had to drive four hours to see each other. Neither of us regret any of those moments, don’t get me wrong, but we learned how to sacrifice for the other. He would rearrange his schedule because I was busy coaching or I would load up some homework and projects on other days so I could be fully present when I visited him.
We also had to learn about priorities. With someone new in our lives after some time being single, we learned how critical it is to involve someone else in our plans. Sometimes it was as simple as remembering we should ask the other about their dinner plans and sometimes it was as big as “Hey, I have a crazy weekend. Can you be the one to come visit this time?”. Every time, we took advantage of our improving communication skills and awareness of each other to work through things.
2. Take advantage of time
In the nine months of us dating, I think we have texted every single day. If there’s an exception, it’s because we spent that day together in person. We are always finding new things to talk about, memes to share (yes, we are that couple), and fun articles. It isn’t always the “hey, hi” boring conversation. We are finding ways to learn more about each other every chance we can.
It was also important at the start of our relationship because we didn’t have all the time in the world to spend with each other. We had a day here and there, sometimes we were lucky for a weekend, and most of the time, one of us still had something to do in our individual lives that couldn’t be rearranged. We made sure the time we did have was spent sharing moments together. The time in between was spent still learning the little things.
3. Communicate without fear
From the get-go, we were upfront about the kind of relationship we were looking for. We discussed what that looked like for each of us and determined if either of us ever got to the point where the other didn’t fit that future/relationship, we would make a change or let go.
That established early on how our communication happened. We didn’t shy away from subjects because “it was too early in the relationship” or “we didn’t want to know the real answer” or, according to his input on communication, “we’d figure it out once we got there”. We’ve talked about what our future looks like individually and together. We’ve discussed marriage and what that might entail for us. We’ve talked about other “sensitive” subjects that might make people think we are going too fast. Establishing ourselves at the start of the relationship gave us the comfort zone to talk about these things, free of judgement.
Because of our completely open communication channel, I am perfectly content sending this article to him pre-published (and I did). In fact, just a few weeks ago I asked if he would be okay if I started writing relationship articles. He was honored that we had the type of relationship I’d found worthy of writing about. At the same time, I also respect his privacy and would never want to make something public that he didn’t want shared. It isn’t because either of us are controlling, or he has to review everything I write. I do it because I love his input and I trust our foundation. If I said something wrong, or shared something too personal (like our marriage discussions), I’d find a different way to express it or just leave it out.
4. Individuality is still important
We also established early on that we still wanted to keep individual lives. Getting into a relationship doesn’t mean you need to change everything you do and essentially become a clone of your partner. He still has his hobbies and I still have mine. The key is supporting them, even if they aren’t your favorite thing.
I love him, but I will never get into rocketry in the same manner he does. I think what he does is cool and interesting, I love going to launches with him, and I love that he includes me in that part of his life. He also knows that I’m not interested in it like he is. He appreciates my support, knows I will be there for him, and has his own outlet and community of other passionate rocket folks.
The same goes for my writing. I have a writing group that occupies my Wednesday nights and a writing passion that takes up free moments here and there. The best thing is, he supports me in all of this. He reads my books, cheers for my articles when I send them to him, and is genuinely curious about how I’m doing in that world. He won’t get into writing himself, at least right now, but his encouragement is always there.
And we both have the understanding that if, for whatever reason, we don’t want to participate or be involved in that activity for the day, we aren’t afraid to talk about it. It ties back in with our communication abilities. Not only do we have individual lives that sometimes conflict with other schedules, we also get tired or don’t really feel like participating in things. We can talk about where we stand and accept each other’s decisions.
5. Getting out of our comfort zones
Having a significant other who is invested in their own growth as well as yours helps push you outside your normal comfort zones. There are always things I’ve wanted to do with someone else. Now, there’s nothing wrong with doing things on your own, but sometimes things are more fun with someone else. Like hiking and passing the camera between us for new perspectives, or movies where you are both invested in the story and get to discuss the plot and things you noticed afterward. I’d never have tried German food if he hadn’t taken me to a German restaurant on our first date. He’d never have gone camping on one of our weekend trips if I hadn’t talked about parking my car and finding camping spots the previous winter.
He knows I want to grow as a writer and he allows me the space to do so. I know he is invested in his community group and hobbies, and I know that some evenings apart can help us grow as individuals. Having a solid structure, and even some overlap in our values, has helped us understand what we each find important in our lives and help push each other to stick to our schedules.
It also helps us challenge each other to grow — for us specifically, we grow socially. Neither of us are the life of the party, but we have our social circles and ideas of fun outings. Sometimes we accept a “no” when the other doesn’t want to participate, but oftentimes we encourage the other to try something new. Besides, it’s more fun to try new things with someone you love!
6. Working through differences
No matter how much we get along on the surface, we still have a lot of differences. We have different personalities, different backgrounds, and different methods for handling situations. It means that we have inevitably come across differences that some people might consider their “deal-breakers”. These things could be related to anything — kids, religion, music, hygiene, music, habits — and can be a huge wedge driven between two people.
While he and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, and not because he’s 6’7 and I’m 6’1, we always talk about things that we disagree on or have different perspectives on. With a healthy view of communication, we are able to take a step away from the “conflict” and listen to the other point of view without judgement. We still might not come to the same agreement, and we can figure that out together, but we always walk away with more information and a better understanding of the other person.
7. There are always surprises
Sure, we talk about literally everything (and constantly) so you might think we’ve run out of things to learn. The great thing is, there is always something we haven’t quite come across yet. Sometimes, though, those surprises actually catch you off guard.
It’s important to know that no matter how much you love someone, you can’t change their past. And it’s not your job either. What you can do is be supportive, learn from an observational standpoint, and refrain from the “you should have done this” or “why didn’t you handle this a different way”. Healthy communication can help you talk through some baggage that maybe you didn’t know about. No person is flawless, and if they are willing to be real with you, they trust you with that information. It’s not your job to change who they are, it’s your job to be supportive and make it work.
There’s always something new to learn, and there are obviously lists of questions out on the internet that can help you dig for some things you might not always think of off the top of your head. We actually follow a book with 101 questions to ask before you get married. I don’t think much of the information discussed has been shocking, but we have had some really meaningful conversations about it all.
8. The importance of values
I’ve casually mentioned it a few times already, but values are a huge part of our lives. The great thing about foundational values, our establishment of what is important in our lives and where we place our priorities, is that they are generally the same between the two of us. We understand what is important to us individually and those things align with the other’s values. What is truly special about those foundational values is that we came to them from different perspectives.
Our personalities differ, and while we head in the right direction, we don’t always follow the same path. Now, just because his path is different than mine doesn’t mean we are destined to fail. In fact, it’s the opposite. We learn different things along our route, and we can share those things with each other without requiring the other person to ditch their route and hop on our path. We keep our individuality while still maintaining our course, understanding that our destination is the same.
Now, if our values were opposite or different, we’d probably have a much harder time getting along. We’d constantly be pulling each other off their path or trying to compete with them about who’s route is better, not realizing the destination is completely different. In the end, we were interested in starting a relationship with someone who shared the same foundational values as us.
9. Relationships are non-transactional
I come from a background of intense competition. There is a winner and a loser and I was never going to be the loser. I think a lot of our brains are actually trained to think like this in nearly everything we do. I have to be in the front of the line, I have to get there the fastest, I have to finish the task first. We are constantly keeping score with those around us so we can figure out who we are better than.
Relationships need to work in the exact opposite way. If I constantly kept score with my boyfriend, I’d be winning. Just kidding, I know exactly where we stand and that’s equal. We don’t keep track of who went over to who’s apartment to hang out. We don’t care who the last person to buy dinner was. We take the most convenient of our cars to trivia based on the type of day we’ve had. It doesn’t matter who got a “better gift” or “more thoughtful/creative present”.
We do things for each other because we love to do those things for each other, not so we can get something in return. While there needs to be a healthy balance (we can’t keep taking from the person without giving… we aren’t vampires), the more weight or value we place on each thing we do compared to what the other person does, the more unhappy we are going to be.
I think most issues in relationships can boil down to communication problems. When we set up our system of communication early on, it wasn’t always easy. It takes time to build trust with someone new, and when you talk openly about “sensitive” subjects like I mentioned above, it can take some adjustment. It wasn’t always perfect, but we had a solid foundation in which we trusted and built our relationship on. In the end, we have found a rhythm that works for us and learned to grow with each other as well as on our own.