It was only after getting dumped at 25 that I realized one of the most overlooked things in a relationship. My fiance and I had spent practically every day together. Even when he moved out of state for law school, I drove up every weekend to see him. We talked on the phone almost every day. It was exhausting—and I couldn’t even tell. Back then, I didn’t know the value of real time to myself. That happened after the big split. That’s when I stumbled onto the joy of taking yourself out for dinner and a movie, or staying home to read. Time to yourself isn’t selfish. It’s how you make a relationship work. Soaking up every single drop of someone else’s time with a heart-shaped sponge, now that’s a little greedy.
You both need time to yourself You’ve probably read that maxim by Blaise Pascal, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Well, that goes double for relationships. You can’t spend all your free time with someone else, at least not without getting sick of them.
You need a couple of hours to yourself, for your own interests — hobbies, sports, games, or just being. You need moments to decompress. It doesn’t matter how comfortable you feel around someone. You’re still performing a self around them. You’re acknowledging their presence, even if you don’t look their way once or utter a single sound. It takes energy, especially for introverts.
You don’t know how depleted you are All the fights and disagreements you have get 10 times worse when you aren’t emotionally charged up. Half the time, you don’t know what the problem is. We’re taught that real love means you always want to be around them. This just isn’t true. All the little habits your partner has can grind through your last nerve. And suddenly you’re ready to punch them for crunching a chip too loudly, and it’s because you don’t know how depleted you are. I know happily married couples who can’t stand listening to each other eat after a stressful week. One friend recently told me this: “If he wants soup on Thursday night, I go into another room until he’s done.” Unfortunately, none of us have an icon that flashes overhead when our batteries run low. We have to pay better attention to when we’re run down. We need to tell them it’s not them — we just need to be alone. It’s healthy to spend a little time by yourself. And while we’re at it…
You need your own friends Sure, social groups can overlap. But you don’t have to go out to dinner with every single one of your partner’s friends. You don’t have to meet up for drinks every time they do. You can go do something else. And you should. Love means believing them when they say they’re just going out for a few beers. It also means having the emotional maturity to see that they need to spend time with their friends without you. And you need time with your friends without them.
You need your own interests Just because they love basketball, that doesn’t mean you also have to love it. You don’t have to like all the same bands, the same sports teams — or even the same Netflix shows.
Forcing yourself — or someone else — to do all the same things can melt the love off any relationship. Loving someone doesn’t mean turning them into a version of you. That’s not compatibility, it’s romantic cloning. Sometimes the strength of a relationship is measured by how much autonomy you give each other.
Love doesn’t melt two people into one
One of the biggest myths out there about love is that you’re supposed to put your old self in storage, or burn it. Suddenly you both can only do couple things together. One person has to drag the other along… to everything. If you don’t love hockey, then you can’t love them. Right? Wrong.
This is bullshit. Dragging each other along for every single thing you enjoy only does one thing —drive animosity. You’re not loving someone, so much as stifling them, including what you loved about them in the first place. It’s going to cause problems.
Stop feeling guilty
Part of getting to know someone is figuring out the things you both like, the things you like doing together, and the things you’ll let each other do on your own. This gives you balance. Come up with a schedule if you have to — it’s that important. If you feel weird about letting someone you love have a couple nights or afternoons to themselves every week, then something else could be going on. That’s the thing to address. What’s going on that you can’t let them have some space? It could be a problem with them, or you, or maybe just the lack of clarity, and no plan for how to deal with the inevitable fact that some of us want and need time to ourselves in order to give our best later. The last thing you want to do is break up with someone you love because you spent too much time together.