What my 20s taught me about relationships

At 29 years old I like to think I’m seasoned enough to write an article about relationships and the lessons I’ve learned from them. But to be fair, I don’t have the best track record of long term relationships. They’ve (for the most part) lasted somewhere in the two year mark on average– always sort of hovering around one and a half years before I’d start to feel that familiar pang of anxiety. Oh – he seems different lately. Why does he have to be friends with that girl?! Crap, should I not have fought with him? Now I’ve messed it up! Worrisome, petty, stupid, and sometimes catastrophic thoughts that I’d torture myself with, almost anticipating the ensuing breakup.

The person I am today (in my relationship, and separate from it) is a very different one than who I was three years ago. I’m not quite sure if it was my mind and heart finally being too exhausted to go through the same patterns, or if it was me just growing up…maturing. I see stark differences in the way I feel about myself and my relationship today, when compared to all my previous experiences. Good differences. Freeing differences. Here are three things I’ve learned in relationships in my 20s.

Remember that time to yourself is as important as time together

I remember when I needed to plan everything around my boyfriends. I had a free night? Let me make sure I spend it with him. He had a free night? Yes, definitely make sure I spend it with him. My boyfriend likes country music? Oh, let me Google all the popular country songs, find the next, closest concert, buy tickets, and boom! Brad Paisley and the cutest cowgirl boots, done!

Since the ending of my previous relationship, a shift has happened within me, one that wants some of my own interests, a shift that desires my “me-time.” I’m not exactly sure what spurred this change in me, but I have an inkling that it had something to do with me finding CrossFit shortly after that breakup. It was something unplanned; I didn’t have any expectations.

But after that last breakup, I just wanted to try something different for me. And it worked. It worked in the sense that I now have some of the closest friends I could have ever asked for. Most of all, it worked for me in the sense that I have this amazing thing that I can call my own.

Time really, really does heal all

Bad breakups? I think I know a bit about them. I went to therapists, purchased e-books on getting an ex back, I begged, kicked, and screamed. Typing that out just now makes me feel embarrassed. But it’s true. It was just the way I dealt with my breakups – by not accepting them.

My first two relationships ended this way. That second breakup was with my daughter’s father. It was heart-breaking.  Not only was I losing this guy I loved, but that family I wanted for my daughter was destroyed, too. At least, that’s what it felt like the first year after we separated. But then, slowly things started to get better. Little by little I was realizing that I could most certainly survive without him, and my precious little girl would be more than fine as well.

I believe that that breakup prepped me for my future relationships. It taught me that despite how painful the ending of a relationship is at first, girl, you will be OK. More than OK. My next run at a relationship came about a year and a half later. And it’s funny to say now that I am proud of how gracefully I handled the breakup. No begging, kicking, or screaming that time.

You’ve got to let your relationship breathe

Have you ever watched a UFC match? You know, where maybe one of the fighters has the other in a guillotine choke, gasping for air and trying desperately to escape? Well that’s what I imagine some of my exes felt like in a relationship with me. I’m not putting all of the blame on myself for the demise of those relationships. But if I’m going to be honest with myself, then I need to admit that I held on too tightly before. I had a fear inside that compelled me to think I would lose this person if I wasn’t careful. Or that the new girl at his job might catch his eye. I couldn’t let that happen! So what was my go-to move? The handy dandy guillotine choke, of course!

I have learned the important lesson of letting my relationship breathe. It sounds simple, and it kind of is. Whereas I used to worry about what my boyfriend was doing the nights we weren’t together, I now appreciate them. If I used to over-analyze an argument we had, or him “seeming quiet,” I now make a conscious effort to just let it be. If I start feeling those old feelings creeping in, telling me to be on high alert of impending doom, I try to just let it be, and watch it drift away into the nothing it most likely is.

Now, I most certainly am not advising women to simply let everything go, and plaster on a fake smile. I’m just sharing what I’ve learned in my experiment in loosening up that grip a little bit. You’ll know when you have the right balance. I think I’ve found what works for me.

Karla Jean is based in the Bay Area, and has a sassy, hilarious, beautiful daughter named Layla. Her favorite things are hiking, lifting weights, iced coffee (more please!), and pretty-smelling bar soap. She’s also recently started a blog :https://litefully.wordpress.com/

[Image via FOX]

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