For the past year I have been doing all the things that I always wanted to do while I was in relationships in the past but for one reason or another just didn't. I found excuses or felt unmotivated or even distracted from the lack of motivation and creativity of my old partners. And so when my last relationship ended, over a year ago, I made a decision that I'd never allow the focus to drift off of myself again, and the only way to make that a reality was to immediately start making myself a priority so that whenever I was in a relationship again, the things that make me who I am would already be a sturdy foundation.
I recently started a new relationship a little under two months ago with a man who is very different from me as far as his interests but very similar to me as far as his way of thinking and the way he conducts himself in his life and in relationships. In a lot of ways, this experience with him has been a huge inspiration for me, both with writing and with continuing to develop other parts of my life (including my coaching practice) that I have been working on/thinking about for a while now. I've noticed that my focus has changed and altered just ever so slightly in the sense that now, I do find myself thinking about and considering someone else in my day-to-day life. It's been a really nice learning opportunity for me to continue to remember myself, all the work I am doing on myself at the moment -- as well as how important it is for me to keep doing all the things that I love even though I am in a relationship now. And it dawned on me the other night that it's actually more important than ever for me to keep doing the things that I love. I had a realization that in ALL of my past relationships, at some point or another I have given up the things that were important to me. Maybe it's that I dated "demanding" people who didn't want me to spend time on myself -- or maybe it was just poor decisions on my end and not knowing how to balance my priorities. But because of all of those experiences I've had in the past, I now have something I didn't have before, which is a steady, healthy relationship with myself and a life filled with things that excite, comfort, motivate and help me every day to keep moving forward in my life. And in thinking about all of this, I realized that another key component to relationships is really pretty easy and it all just comes down to reminding myself of this phrase: "Just keep doing your stuff."
The first few months in a relationship (or for the lucky ones, even longer), everything is new and still finding it's form. Personalities are still melding and hearts are still melting and it's still a dance with lots of butterflies, eye contact and hand holding. In a lot of ways, it's easy to get consumed by this and to forget that there's a whole life that exists outside of this person and these feelings. It can be so challenging to pull away from the person/experience/relationship for days or hours but what I am learning is that in order for there to be any chance of a healthy and long-lasting relationship, it's unbelievably important. It's very easy in the beginning to justify why taking time apart will do more harm than good, but it's actually the opposite, as painful as it might actually feel in the moment.
The man I am dating lives about 40 minutes from where I currently live. This is hardly a commute, but the way it works for both of us with our schedules is to hang out on the weekends and take 4-5 days apart during the week. In all reality, things could probably be shifted to accommodate us seeing each other more, but for now what we are both finding is that the space does a lot for both of us. Yes, just like any other woman newly in love, I am experiencing all of those amazing things and I love being with him. At the same time, having the time apart forces me to focus on myself and continue to do the things I love such as writing, exercising and going to yoga, as well as the things I need to do such as work and handle family obligations.
And on the other side of that, my boyfriend gets to do the same thing for himself. In a lot of ways, it's the best of both worlds because when we are together, we can really be together and when we are apart we both have the time to make sure we still focus on other areas of our lives that are of equal (or even greater) priority. I understand that not everyone has this situation and if we lived closer to each other, this might not be the case. But the fact that it's happening the way it is, is a constant reminder that no matter what, I need to keep putting myself first, at least in some ways.
Some people might argue that once couples move in together or get married or have babies, that all of this changes. People might argue that once living under the same roof, it gets harder and harder to "do your own thing" and the relationship easily falls into a stagnant, stale situation where "hello" and "goodbye" is nothing more than a peck on the cheek and a "see you later." But I think it CAN be different and, in fact, in order for things to be successful, it MUST be different. The excitement and joy of sharing a life with someone else is just that -- it's about sharing. And to me, sharing does not mean "becoming one" when it comes to everything but instead it means giving a little and taking a little. I want to experience the wholeness of someone else and their interests, as well as share the wholeness of myself and my interests. I want to learn about things I might otherwise not be exposed to as well as share things that the other person may not yet know about. I realize it's easier now, but even if I go down the road of marriage or kids or moving in together or whatever else, my intention is still going to be the same thing as I am doing now. The excitement can and will stay alive as long as each person is bringing themselves forward and sharing the beauty of who they are as well as their creativity, outlooks and sense of self. To me, there is nothing more attractive than that.
The truth is, people fall in love with each other because they really like and enjoy the other person and find them interesting. In my opinion, that's at least one component in the initial attraction. I don't want to date someone who is just like me, nor do I want to date someone who "loses touch with themselves" while in a relationship with me. I want my partner to continue to be the sweet, interesting, creative and successful person he is, regardless of me. And at the same time, I want to continue to be myself and bring forward the person that he was initially attracted to and the person that I have worked so hard to be in touch with. If I suddenly stop taking care of myself, stop doing what makes me happy and stop working towards my own personal goals in my life, the relationship is going to end. Realistically, I wouldn't want to date a version of myself who doesn't take care of herself or value her life, so why would someone else?
I think people have a misbelief that every free minute must be spent together, especially in the beginning, but in my opinion it's the space that really keeps things alive and keeps the passion alive. I want to bring my best self forward in a relationship and that means emotionally AND physically. In fact, being in a relationship has motivated me to work even harder on myself and in my life. It's motivated me to live the best life I can so that can be my starting point for sharing a life with someone else. I figure that if I (we) can start at the best and most positive and productive note, the only way things can continue to go is up. Maybe I have no idea what it looks like beyond this point, but I am more than wiling to keep going and see what happens.
In all honesty, the days of matching polo shirts may or may not come at some point. The days of sitting at brunch and working on iPads or reading newspapers instead of holding hands and whispering inside jokes and love secrets into each other's ears may or may not come -- but I am willing to do whatever I can to make sure that doesn't happen and part of that has to do with both partners continuing to "do their stuff." I've said before that my connection with someone else really begins with my relationship with myself. And in every romantic relationship, there are three relationships going on. There is the relationship I have with myself, the relationship my partner has with himself and the relationships that exists between my partner and I. And all of these relationships are a priority and not one is more or less important than another. I want my relationship to be successful (on all accounts) and I am willing to do things that may feel challenging in the moment, such as being apart from someone I love and want to spend most of my time with, but if the end result means a longer and happier relationship, then I see these things as being totally worth it. And in the end, all of this makes me live in the moment. It makes me truly enjoy every minute that I am with my partner and motivates me to work really hard when we're apart so when we're together again, it can be just as special.
I'm sure all of this will change and alter and shift with time, but if it's all built on a healthy and interdependent foundation, filled with the uniqueness of what makes both of us special and attracted to one another in the first place, I trust it will all end up in a way that truly works for everyone.
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