Love: the word is on our mind at all times, whether or not we actively recognize it. When you’re in a relationship, it’s inevitably a constant narrative in your thoughts. When you’re not in a relationship, the successes (or, perceived successes) of every last relationship around you plays into the constant narrative of your subconscious. And God knows if you’re not committed, you’re likely scrolling a social dating app, waiting for the next “match” to roll in. We’re plugged in and hooked up, waiting to hook up. Raise your hand if you’re another millennial feeling truly exhausted by yourself and the world around you.
Getting through the first quarter of my life has sure-as-hell not felt like an easy process. As I’ve gotten older, my anxiety levels have risen. I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating if I’m “doing it right” (whatever that means) and far too much time tearing myself down when I’m convinced I’m not. My emotions have overflown into permanent creases between my brows. I’ve experienced feelings of being in power to completely powerless and back again, in full circle. After enough dating failures, the themes of love and vulnerability now seem more terrifying to me than ever before.
It’s no secret: relationships don’t magically get easier as you get older, but you do steadily become wiser as you continue navigating your way through them. After mulling over my various relationships, I realize there are invaluable lessons to learn here. Through the panicked missteps, the teary memories, and the “what the f*ck am I doing?” moments, there are so, so many invaluable lessons. The following sentiments will give pause to anyone looking for the tools to better navigate love in their lives amidst a quarter-life crisis.
Honesty and communication are two easy words to throw around, but they mean everything.
No matter how stress-inducing or anxiety-ridden a topic may feel, force yourself to talk it out with your significant other. We spend far more time than we recognize mentally building up and playing out situations before they ever become reality. In fact – we do it so often, we create self-fulfilling prophecies built to work against us. The majority of those stressors simply lie within the first step: taking initiative to address the source of stress. Once your topic is on the table for discussion, it’s incredible how easy it gets from there.
You won’t always like the people you love.
Sounds silly, but it’s true. You and your partner will never see eye-to-eye on everything. If you’re Type A and they’re Type B, you will butt heads over plenty of trivial things. You will find your “soulmate” to be difficult and insufferable at times. And that’s OK. In those moments of blind, infuriating, impassioned frustration, quietly remind yourself of the many reasons why they’re such a wonderful asset in your life. And then breathe in. And then move on.
Assess which battles are worth picking.
(It’s a facet of not always liking the person you love.) When you’re on a road trip, one person says stop for gas here, the other says stop for gas there. When you’re camping, one person wants to sleep with a rain fly, the other wants to keep it off… We’ve all been there. The little battles aren’t worth wasting your breath – or mental energy – over. There will always be bigger fish to fry in a relationship. Hold off on picking battles for the bigger fish.
Creating space and time for yourself are important.
If either person in a relationship doesn’t see the value in this, stormy waters are dead ahead. There’s nothing more magical than fostering time and space to grow as an individual. Self-development is a concept we don’t take into account often enough. In turn, self-development is what makes you a stronger partner and a stronger friend.
Traditional tools are not beneath you.
For example: the world-famous relationship self-help book The Five Love Languages. I thought the concept of it was trash. Alas, it is truly enlightening. Occasionally, being a millennial is not unlike being a teenager: we’re painfully certain that we’ve “got this.” We’re so plugged into our narcissistic selves/lives, how could advice from previous generations possibly benefit us? Before you play verbal offense, bite your tongue. Tap into your humility and take the traditional guidance when it’s given to you.
Learn how to properly negotiate with your partner (…or at least learn what that means).
We all have negotiables and non-negotiables. Through the unavoidable pain points of a relationship, discuss where you’re willing to negotiate (in regards to altering habits, behavioral tendencies, lifestyle choices) and what absolutely won’t budge. It’s crucial for you to recognize the aspects of you that make you unapologetically who you are. Some things simply aren’t negotiable. However, if you’re not properly labeling what is versus what is not, you’ll continue to drag aggravation and contention into both your lives.
Make time for special moments after the honeymoon phase begins to wane.
Don’t let the novelty of the “date night” permanently fade away. Take into account what your partner appreciates, and then make a point to bring more of that into your routine as a couple. Shake things up if it feels like it’s been a while. And if you don’t have the means to go all-out, bring a little excitement into the daily agenda. Go on a silly shopping trip to Walmart. Find a new way to pick out a television series together. Or even just hold their hand and tell them why they’re special to you. Little moments go such a long way.
Recognize where you’re willing to make compromises in the long run: they’re inevitable.
The more serious a relationship becomes, the more compromises you’ll be expected to make in order to keep positive and healthy momentum. Compromises can feel like giving up a piece of yourself. But when you’re done thinking about your immediate self, remember what the big picture looks like. The big picture calls for two team players who willingly meet each other in the middle – time and time and time again.
And for the love of God, set your phone down more often.
We’re all so painfully guilty. With each additional day I’m alive on this planet, I recognize more and more that nothing positive comes as a result of regularly checking my phone. So, set that shit down and enjoy what’s in front of you. Once it’s gone, you’ll be so sad you weren’t more present. Trust me.
As humans, we hold onto this dreamily painted picture of how a relationship looks. We imagine staring into the eyes of our partner as the world falls around us. While that sounds lovely, it’s time to reinvent the image of a successful, functional, happy relationship. Envision yourself and your partner, holding hands and walking parallel with one another. You face the world together as each challenge and each success fall onto your shared path.