At the ripe old age of 20, I’m going to dispense some relationship advice. Not because I’m an expert, but I am fortunate to be able to say, without hesitation, that I’ve been in a relationship for almost four years and I don’t think either of us has ever been happier than we are at this point.
He and I met when we were 16, which makes me feel old. And the fact that I said that makes me feel old probably makes some of you reading this feel even older! Neither of us were looking for relationships – quite the opposite actually – but it was spring, and we were both in need of dates for our junior proms. We asked each other and thought it’d be best to get to know each other before we spent two weekends in a row together, so we kept hanging out… and here we are today. We’ve spent two years at different colleges and last semester we were thousands of miles apart while I was in Peru and he traveled the world. I figure we’ve got to be doing something right to be so happy after having distance and time make our path a bit more difficult than some people’s. So here are some things I’ve learned.
Nix the games in the bud.
He showed a lot of maturity at 16 when he told me he just wasn’t, “into playing games.” Puzzled, I wondered how that could work – when I was upset, I was just supposed to tell him? Where’s the fun in that, I wondered? And no more hard to get, I’m just supposed to put myself out there completely? That sounded scary. But I came to realize it makes solving problems and trusting each other a whole lot easier when you’re completely open about how you feel.
Wait a day, then you say.
When we left for college, I was sort of forced to pick and choose my battles, especially once we started our semesters abroad. When you can’t have a face-to-face conversation, it’s a lot harder to argue because you can’t kiss and make up, and even when you do resolve things it doesn’t feel very final. When all you can count on for contact is (maybe) a daily e-mail, it makes you think twice about what things are worth being upset about. Earlier in our relationship, sometimes I would get angry and overreact, say something hurtful, and later realize what I’d been angry about hadn’t been worth the rift it had caused. Waiting out the anger or annoyance, and seeing how much of it passes when you distract yourself, clarifies the real source of your frustration, and it’s not always the person you want to take it out on.
Show them you care.
When you’re apart, it takes a little more effort to show somebody you care. You can’t give them a backrub or cook them breakfast. Sometimes the best you can do is tell them how happy they make you, how much you appreciate them, and that you love them so much. Even when I’m having a hectic day, hearing those words helps me slow down, take a breath and smile, because knowing I’m making someone happy, I’m appreciated, and I am loved are all affirmations that I’m not doing so bad and at least one other person (besides me) loves me for who I am.
Which brings me to the fact that today is the day after Valentine’s Day. Why not post tips on the day of? Because as much as this is said, I’ll say it again: It’s important to try to make the other person feel special on other days of the year, not just the one when the whole world tells you to. This doesn’t mean that each day has to be sunshine and roses – though that would be nice. It means that doing something nice on any other day of the year will get you even further, since nobody expects to see roses sitting on their desk, nobody expects to get a special dinner cooked for them, just because. And that’s what makes those things so extra special.
This takes me back to Valentine’s Day ’07. To come across as the coolest girlfriend of all time, I told him I didn’t like Valentine’s Day, or flowers, or anything about it. In fact, I thought it was all pretty stupid. V-day rolls around, and guess who was upset because I was handed a grocery store rose (still in the grocery store bag) and a bar of chocolate. Yup, me. And guess who was confused as to why I was upset, since I’d made it a point to say I didn’t care about Valentine’s Day? Him. He was confused, because, in his words, “If you say you don’t care, I’m going to believe you don’t care.” He’s learned to read my subtle little “no-means-yes” signals better since then, but when you’re honest, there’s no confusion or misunderstandings and usually everyone is happier.
These all sound so cliché, especially this one, but I can’t emphasize it enough. I seem to get sick more often than your average person. He has seen me at my best – admittedly, in high school, when I ran 3-5 miles daily and had tons of spare time and energy to put into my appearance – but also at my worst, with bloodshot eyes, tissues stuffed up my runny nose, and my retainer in. I know that he loves me because he still tells me I’m beautiful when I feel lower than low, and I love him for all of his own sorts of craziness too. We’ve weathered some tough stuff together, pushed each other to be better, and always always always been honest with each other about our strengths and weaknesses. If you’re not yourself with that person, they can’t get to know – and love – the real you, and then you can’t form a real connection. So be as purely you as you can be, starting from wherever you’re comfortable, and I think you’ll be on a good path to getting to know each other, truly.
What’s your recipe for a successful relationship? Would you even listen to someone ten-twenty-thirty years younger than you on relationship advice?