My girlfriend is my high school sweetheart — this is how we've made it work all these years

I technically met my girlfriend, Macey, in my first high school class, although we didn’t talk until lunch. She was reading a book to pass the time before the bell rang. I was also a reader, and it was central enough to my identity that I was on local TV once for reading so many books. I absolutely had to talk to her.

By the end of the day, she was telling me I could borrow the book as long as I had an open mind, because it was about religion, the LGBTQ+ community, and mental health. We talked for the rest of the hour-long bus ride home.

I don’t believe in love at first sight, but I knew one thing — I wanted to keep having conversations with her for the rest of my life.

alaina leary
Courtesy of Alaina Leary

We have been officially dating since January 16th, 2009, which was our sophomore year of high school.

We spent about a year and a half as friends before we started dating. Our relationship began quietly, as many queer high school relationships do: With two friends who liked each other testing out the romantic waters. Eight years later, we both have bachelor’s degrees, I almost have my master’s, and we live together with our two adopted cats.

Throughout the years, I’ve been a sounding board to almost all my friends and (younger) family members when they have questions about their relationships. I remember when my cousin asked me, “How do you know that you’re actually in love?” At the time, we were in high school, and my cousin was in the middle of a serious relationship with her boyfriend. 

I told her that when Macey walks into a room, the room changes and becomes better somehow — that I’m excited because she’s there, too.

Later, during a road trip across Massachusetts, she asked me, “How do you know she’s the person you want to be with forever?” The answer is that she’s the person I’m actually happy to be stuck in an airport with for a very long flight delay, even though I fall asleep and drool on her lap, and we have to split a Subway sandwich at 11 p.m.

We’ve watched the people around us find love, break up, hook up, get engaged, get married, have children, get divorced, and experience heartbreak — all while we remained together. That’s a bizarre feeling.

alaina leary
Courtesy of Alaina Leary

Every time I hear about another breakup, I’m left wondering:

How can we make it work long-term? What do we do to make sure our relationship lasts?

I’m not always positive I have the answers. Some of it has come down to luck — for example, we’ve never had to make a difficult decision about moving to another state for one of our jobs. But we’re also willing to put the work in, and a lot of our day-to-day involves compromise. We have to deal with questions like:

How will we split up our expenses? (Fairly evenly, but we maintain separate checking accounts so we can still surprise one another with gifts.)

Whose family do we go to for holidays? (We switch off, going to one household for Thanksgiving and Easter, and the other for Christmas. We try to go to as many non-holiday family dinners for both of us as we can.)

Who will cook dinner tonight? (We factor in things like work schedules, graduate classes, energy levels, happiness, and who likes to cook what. She’s always the one who cooks soup, and I always cook the shrimp broccoli alfredo.)

When we move, what cities do we prefer? (We have mixed opinions on this, but we always choose something that works for both of us.)

alaina leary
Courtesy of Alaina Leary

That’s not to say that we don’t fight, and we don’t make mistakes.

Like any couple, there are times when we’re faced with the typical issues, such as one person feeling unappreciated, or one person picking up too many household chores. When we’re fighting, the most important rule we keep in mind is that we’re fighting for our relationship and for a compromise that benefits both of us. We both really listen to what the other has to say. We’re both naturally empathetic and feminist, which makes it easy to avoid sitcom relationship pitfalls (like complaining because one of us earns more money or does more dishes).

We’ve watched our friends go through all the stages of relationships, and that has encouraged us to discuss what it means to be in love with each other, and whether we feel like staying committed was the right choice.

Because I love Macey, I’ve never wanted to feel like I’m holding her back.

Getting together at such a young age means we’ve both made compromises in order to factor one another into our life plans — but I don’t feel “cheated” out of anything.

I’m happy that I get to watch my soul mate grow and change as a person, and that I can support her through our education, career choices, and early adulthood.

alaina leary
Courtesy of Alaina Leary

Our friends often ask us: Do you need similar interests to stay together?

Because Macey and I are both such book nerds, we get this question a lot — especially when our introvert friends find themselves dating an extrovert, or a friend who hates video games gets serious with a gamer, etc.

I don’t think their is a universal answer. It depends on the two people involved. But I’ve always appreciated the fact that we love so many of the same things. We always have something to talk about, and a quick discussion stretches on for hours before we even realize it. But we’re still not identical, even though we share a lot of interests (like how Macey loves Futurama and doesn’t understand why I like Gossip Girl.) We don’t agree on everything, and often challenge each other’s opinions — which is great. I don’t always have the same perspective that Macey does on certain topics, and vice versa — but we can respect our differences.

The best advice I’ve been given — which I really take to heart — is to work things out and always say “I love you.” We don’t hang up the phone without saying it, even when we’re angry. When we’re in a fight, we don’t take it out on each other. Instead of saying, “I don’t love you,” we say, “I love you, but I’m not happy with you right now” — which is something my mom used to say to me all the time when I was a kid.

alaina leary
Courtesy of Alaina Leary

To me, the most important thing is that the decisions we make are as good as possible for both of us; I don’t want either of us to ever resent the other because we made a compromise.

It’s important to understand and accept the other person’s flaws and weaknesses, while also pushing them to be the best version of who they are. Macey knows that I’m quick to forgive, and often take all of the blame when I’m fighting with a friend or family member —so she’ll step in and tell me when the other person is being a jerk. I need that, because I internalize most interpersonal fights as my problem. It’s something I have to fix. I’m happy she can be honest with me when I really need her to. 

Although it’s sometimes a challenge, I absolutely love the fact that Macey and I have known each other for so long.

We’ve now been friends for almost ten years this September and we’ve been dating for eight, so we remember each other’s embarrassing and acne-pocked early high school phases. I got to see her grow from a teenager who was passionate about books and writing to a full-time MFA student. Maybe “our song” is a little cheesy (“Hanging By a Moment” by Lifehouse), but we got to see each other graduate from high school and college. We were together for all those first-time apartment mistakes (you can’t leave Pop-Tarts in the toaster oven for very long). Being in love with my best friend is a lifelong adventure, and it’s one that I wouldn’t change.

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