Relationship tips for us independent people

I’ve always been really independent. I started going to sleep-away camp across the country for four weeks every summer when I was seven, and my mom used to write me letters complaining that she was homesick for me. I like doing things on my own, so I am as surprised as anyone that at 26 I am currently six years into a committed relationship. I wasn’t the girl who planned her wedding at ten years old or doodled potential last name changes on the cover of my notebooks (and while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being that girl, my most thought out wedding plan even now is having it catered by Chipotle). As a kid, I always pictured my twenties like that country song about the girls living in little apartments eating Spaghetti-Os. I’d travel, swap dating advice, and eat tubs of ice cream with my best friend/roommate, and cycle through scores of potential suitors before finally settling down at 35 with Shawn from Boy Meets World. But instead, I met my partner — who turned out to be more of a Cory than a Shawn — at 20 and things just kept going well. In some ways, having a long-term partner in your twenties can be great. At least half the time someone else cooks me dinner. Someone will almost always play me in Mario Kart. (And, you know, the loving each other unconditionally thing.) But in other ways, maintaining the singularity that has always defined me while maintaining a relationship with a significant other can be tough. Here are some ways I’ve found to keep the relationship strong while still being as independent as ever.

You don’t have to live together.

Just because you love someone, doesn’t mean you need to share a secondhand couch and a loofa. My boyfriend and I waited five years before officially moving in together, because neither of us felt ready. Despite what sitcoms have led us to believe, moving in together does not have to be the “next step” in a relationship to prove that you love someone. Instead of moving in, my boyfriend and I rented separate apartments, with roommates, that were within walking distance. By cohabitating with friends, we avoided being a couple constantly in joint hibernation. It’s impossible to stay cuddled up watching re-runs of 30 Rock all the time when your roommate really wants to get sushi or is getting dressed up to go out to a fun party. My boyfriend certainly wasn’t going to live-tweet Bollywood movies with me while drinking wine and eating expensive cheeses until we fell asleep on the couch. Plus, you get to relish having your own room as long as possible, and nobody can voice their opinions about the amount of lacy pillows on your bed.

You don’t have to come as a package deal.

Sometimes my friends completely neglect to invite me to things. At first it makes me sad, but then I remember that when you are part of a couple, sometimes your friends get stuck seeing you as an amorphous couple blob, unable to disconnect from Netflix, wine, and woolen blankets long enough to participate in other types of fun. It’s not my friends’ fault; maybe they think a specific outing seems too “single-y” and I won’t be interested, or maybe they assume that I am already booked for a dinner and movie date for the next ten thousand Friday nights, so I won’t be free. But I try to make a point to my friends that my boyfriend and I are not that couple that went to my middle school who wore matching jeans and black turtlenecks on Fridays. I still care about who they are talking to on Tinder and would love to help them decide who to swipe right for. I make an effort to invite friends out for dinner or coffee or drinks; I don’t always bring my boyfriend when I’m invited out; and I often don’t come along when my boyfriend is going out with his friends. I love it when my boyfriend and I have mutual friends, but it’s important to have friends that just belong to you and to spend time with them alone.

You can still travel solo.

Before I met my partner in college, I was traveling around Europe and met a woman from New Zealand who was hiking across the UK by herself. When I asked her why she was doing it, she told me she had just gotten engaged and wanted to make sure she could handle living on her own before she tried living with another person. Traveling alone in your twenties can be really important for discovering who you are as a person (for instance, it turns out I am a person who cannot get enough of free historical walking tours, and sometimes when left unattended in a foreign city will only eat gelato), and also, it’s fun. It was really important to me after college to travel on my own, so I saved up and spent six months working abroad in Australia while my partner worked on his PhD in the US. Long distance doesn’t have to be a deal breaker. Between smartphones, Skype, and Facebook, I was able to bother my partner at work even when we were living halfway across the world, technically during different days of the week, just as much as I did when we lived in the same city and time zone.

Be alone as much as you need to.

If I was being sold at a pet store and my requirements were listed on my terrarium, they would include “4-6 hours of alone time per day.” I love to be alone. I love to shop alone, take walks alone, go to the gym alone, go to the movies alone. Being in a relationship doesn’t have to limit your alone time. I used to feel guilty about asking my partner to leave me alone after we’d spent an entire Friday night and Saturday morning together, but not anymore. I realized that a lot of times I was inviting my partner to do things with me that I actually wanted to do by myself just because it felt impolite not to. If you want to be alone, but feel guilty not inviting your significant other, you should stop. Alone time is healthy and amazing, and for some people, it’s necessary for survival (as listed on their terrarium requirements). Now when I need alone time, I let my partner know that, honestly, I don’t want to talk to any humans anymore. Then I go to a coffee shop, or go for a run, or go to the zoo by myself because animals don’t count against alone time.

Even if every single person you know is married, you don’t have to get married ever if you don’t want to.

I can’t sign in to Facebook lately without seeing a photo of a newly-adorned left ring finger, or a wedding album, or a picture of a fresh-faced newborn baby. I have never wanted to get married in my twenties, and before I met my partner I wasn’t sure I wanted to get married at all, but I would be lying if I said seeing all the marriage hype hasn’t sent me into a few confused panics. Shouldn’t I be married by now? Is there something wrong with my relationship because I’m not excited to choose complimentary wedding colors? It’s easy to get swept up in wedding madness, especially when it seems like everyone I know is throwing bouquets and being photographed in Las Vegas donning a bride-to-be sash. For some people, marriage in their twenties is the right choice, but my partner and I both don’t feel ready for marriage, and ultimately, I think that’s totally OK. Personally, I’d like to complete a few personal goals before tying the knot, like writing a book or consistently remembering to wash my dinner dishes before going to bed. Being the couple that still isn’t married after six or ten or even twenty years together doesn’t make you weird or dysfunctional, despite what that one aunt might insinuate. Relationships move at different speeds, and for the fiercely independent, the thought of legally binding yourself to another person can be overwhelming, and you definitely don’t have to do it until you are 100 percent ready (or do it at all).

Lucy Huber lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan with her boyfriend and their three cats. She has an MFA in non-fiction creative writing from the University of North Carolina, Wilmington. She likes to cook, read, run, and find ways to slip into normal conversation that she can juggle without sounding too braggy. You can follow her on Twitter @clhubes.

(Images , via.)

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