I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve cried at airports. Whether I’m about to embark on a 15-hour journey or simply saying goodbye. I’ve started to ignore the funny looks I get or the way airport staff act as I go through passport security in floods of tears. I’ve been in a long-distance relationship between Manchester, UK and Huntington Beach, CA for over two years. It has been two of the most incredible and most difficult years. I’ve cried too many times but I’ve also been able to navigate through my early twenties with freedom. Granted, my boyfriend is incredibly supportive in everything I do, but having space (literally) to grow and develop my passions has helped.
Life is confusing but a long-distance relationship allowed me space to grow
After graduating from university, the world seems overwhelming and scary. There are so many things that I can do and it’s hard to choose which one is right for me. Being in a transatlantic long-distance relationship has its negatives. It costs a lot and you have to have the ability to travel across the world pretty frequently. The other hard part of a long-distance relationship is obviously the distance. Being away from the person I love is tough and it takes a lot of work and dedication to keep the relationship going strong. When we are apart though, it gives us both the time to focus on other things. Yes, we talk a lot and we don’t just forget each other, but being apart means we can be free to hang out with friends, work on our passion projects and get a feel for what makes us happy outside of our relationship.
Relationships aren’t the only good thing
I’ve seen countless friends in relationships change the plans they’ve been talking about for the past 4 years to fit in with what their partner wants to do. I’ve heard excuses as to why they’ve changed their mind or why doing this new thing is actually something they’ve always wanted, but deep down inside, I can see that it’s all just an elaborate cover up for the fact their life is being dictated by someone else.
I have been prone to falling into the trap where my relationship determined my happiness. Obviously, relationships should be a source of happiness, it is someone you care about and an important aspect of your life. But it can’t be everything. In relationships, individuals need space to learn who they are. Especially during our early twenties, we need to figure out what makes us tick, what makes us excited and what we want to spend the rest of our lives doing. When relationships start to become all we want, that is when we start to lose ourselves and our passions. It’s easy to do this, believe me, I’ve been there.
Be you and everything else will work out
I’m not saying that everyone has to jump into a long-distance relationship in order to grow and thrive. You can maintain your own individuality and sense of purpose while having a significant other. The key thing is to stick to your passions, hang out with other people and don’t become consumed by them.
A healthy relationship allows each individual the chance to become themselves while also having the support of someone you can trust. If the relationship breaks down because you have gone after your dreams, then that relationship wasn’t the end game. Someone else is going to come into your life and you’ll both be able to achieve your goals.
How can you keep your independence?
There are really easy ways that you can ensure you keep your own independence while in a relationship, and they’re actually pretty fun.
1. See your friends. At the start of a relationship, it’s normal to want to spend every waking second with your new partner. It’s exciting, it’s love and it feels great. But, don’t let this set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Make time for your other friends. This way you get to spend time with other people who mean a lot to you, it gives you an outlet to talk about anything that might be bothering you, and it keeps you rooted to you.
2. Do things alone. Before you met your partner you probably had hobbies or things you liked to do. Keep doing them. Don’t let the things that were important to you slide because someone else has come into your life. It’s important to keep doing what makes you happy. It’s fun to try things out together but don’t let all your individual activities become a shared activity.
3. Stay true to who you are and what you want. If you had a university that you’ve wanted to go to since you were 5, don’t let someone turn you away from that. If they’re the right person then they will support you through this journey and be there on the other side. If you have always wanted to travel to South Asia but your boyfriend doesn’t want to, go! Don’t put your life on hold or sacrifice the things that are important to you because that’s what makes you, you.
4. Love yourself the most. You have to continue you to put yourself first. Don’t sacrifice your own mental wellbeing for someone else. Care for them, love them, and do your best to make them happy but set boundaries and look after yourself. If you are not loving yourself then you are not going to be able to love someone else properly!
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Photo: Valentin Antonucci on Unsplash; Louise Baker