Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: I’m 29, female, in the first healthy, reciprocated romantic relationship of my life. Before this, I had only demented best-friends-with-benefits situations. I’ve been in my current relationship for two and a half years. I feel safe and loved, and we moved in together.
The problem is I’m constantly wondering if certain things are omens, or totally normal, or byproducts of my personality, or none of the above. Things like, sometimes he annoys the crap out of me, sometimes I want to be alone, sometimes I’m not attracted to him at all, things like this.
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I always think if the habit annoys me now, what would it be like in 30 years?
He is one of the best people I have ever met, and I don’t want to lose him. But I might be slowly losing my mind, thinking either that I’m sitting on a pile of evidence and can’t see it right, or that I’m inexperienced and needlessly worrying. I use something you wrote a while ago: I think, do I want to keep seeing him? The answer is almost always yes. Is that enough to ask?
DEAR MARYLAND: I’d suggest getting more specific, asking yourself: How have I addressed what bothers me? For example, when he annoys you and you want to be alone, are you:
• Mentally backtracking to see whether there are any common denominators, like too much noise or togetherness, too little sleep, or … ? Are there ways to anticipate and even pre-empt your crabby spells?
• Building some breathing room into your life together? Is there space at home you can call your own? Have you built breaks from each other into your schedule? Are you able to say, “I need to be alone for a bit, thanks,” without touching off a dreary conversation about whether you really love him?
• Checking occasionally, once you have these pressure-release valves working, to make sure you still feel like you and aren’t pretzeling yourself just to make this work?
That’s really the unifying thread — feeling like a good, comfortable version of yourself. If you can find and remain in that comfort spot through any doubts about your relationship, then that’s the kind of normal you’re after.
That, and feeling lucky to be with him, versus feeling lucky to be with somebody. I say this not because you’re a first-timer after some bad experiences, but because we’re all tempted to some degree by the path of least resistance.
I’m an introvert and sometimes I retreat into my so-called “bubble” and recharge. This isn’t a bad sign for my relationship, it just means we are self-aware. Learning how to be you in a relationship is hard, and it IS a learning process. Communicating what you need or find particularly “annoying” is part of a healthy relationship. And be open to receive that same feedback from him.
DEAR ANONYMOUS: Combine this with what another reader suggested — to be sure to communicate things you appreciate about him, too — and it all sounds good, thanks.