Credit: Anant N S via Creative Commons

My love life: maintaining your individuality in a relationship

Is it possible to be more than just a half of a “greater” whole?

Since I was 16 and was first asked to be someone’s girlfriend on a park bench (with our friends trying to look like they weren’t looking), I have always found myself more content when in a relationship. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed being single, and facing Freshers’ Week unattached helped me put myself out there; going on Tinder dates helped me figure out what I wanted. However, when I’m not with someone, I miss the sense of belonging you get when you’re part of a couple, and I feel a sense of haste to find someone. I could delve into all the possible reasons why I’m more at peace with a partner (you could make cases for internalised misogyny, chronic need for attention, or the fear of being alone) but whatever they may be, I don’t particularly enjoy single life. 

I have now been in my current relationship for around two years, and we recently moved in together, during the coronavirus pandemic. You might be thinking that is a recipe for disaster, but after living alone for two years, I’m enjoying having someone to come home to. At least so far, we haven’t fought more than usual, and we aren’t sick of each other yet. We’re enjoying navigating what is the most serious relationship either of us have been in, and supporting each other through that. However, something that has been on my mind is how much of myself is now tied to this relationship. Before living together, we thought in terms of “you… and I”, not “you and I”. Birthday cards and Christmas presents were from each of us separately, not together. I have become part of a new separate entity, thought of primarily (if not only) in conjunction with another person.

Don’t get me wrong, I love that my partner gets invited when I do, and that we are becoming more involved in each others’ lives. I’m happy not to take up the whole bed anymore. I’m happy to cook meals for two. I’m happy to incorporate a figurine of Iron Man into my home decor (maybe happy is a bit of a strong word there). However, I’m not sure I want to be just someone’s “other half”. I am a whole person. Does half of me have to bow down to this new entity? Do I have to accept I am no longer enough by myself?

Of course the answer is, no. But how simple is that in practice? I know people who have gone through a breakup and have to reintroduce themselves to themselves; figure out who they are again, because part of their identity has been given away to this thing which made them so happy, but now no longer exists. I have felt that way after a breakup before, too. But as I navigate a relationship where our lives are ever more intertwined, and take steps which I never have before, I wonder if I am losing my sense of self along the way. If this were to end badly, would I still know who I was? Or even if things go well, will I still be as comfortable attending a party or telling a story without my partner by my side? Will I still have confidence in my own personality without relying on the person I so enjoy spending most of my time with?

I think the current restrictions have heightened these fears. After all, with uni work completely online, I spend most of my time in our flat, only leaving to go to my part-time job, go for a run, or nip to the shops. By and large, my existence is here, with my partner. Whilst I’m enjoying the increased amount of time we get to spend together (considering we had to plan to see each other amongst our busy schedules this time last year,) I do sometimes worry I am nothing without the life I am creating here. Nothing without the person I am here with. 

I have to remind myself that this is untrue. I am so many things without this relationship, and I can acknowledge that without that meaning I don’t want to be in it. I am a writer, a reader, a musician. None of which my partner has much interest in. Reconnecting with these creative outlets has been important in maintaining my sense of self and individuality. It is sometimes hard, especially when you have uni deadlines or need to pick up extra shifts, to put your remaining energy into anything more than easy-watching Netflix shows. But I know that if I pick up a book or my guitar for a while, I will feel more in touch with who I am without relying on anybody else. I love spending quality time with my partner, but I can’t let that mean I never spend quality time with myself, and I need to remind myself that I am more than half a person. 


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