When I met my current partner, Mark, at 25, I had been single my entire life. I had dated around casually and definitely had my heart broken a few times, but I had never been in a real, serious partnership.
I had basically become an expert at being single.
I knew the exact cues to leave a couple alone if I were third or fifth wheeling (which happened a lot). I knew how to position myself in the group photo so as not to come between any of the couples but also not look like the single loser friend. I had completely detached myself emotionally from Valentine’s Day – it was an opportunity for half priced chocolate and only an opportunity for half priced chocolate.
I don’t really have a great answer as to why my first relationship didn’t happen until I was 25, other than it just didn’t.
People love to question why single people are single. They also love to assume that it’s a problem that needs to be fixed.
For me, it wasn’t.
Don’t get me wrong, there were definitely times in high school or college when I wanted a boyfriend very badly, but eventually, I grew to appreciate all the benefits of being on my own.
It sounds cliche, but I truly did get to know myself in those years. I made decisions that I might not have had I been in a serious relationship (like my move to New York City); decisions that helped me to grow leaps and bounds.
Without a partner, my friends and family took up the entirety of my heart.
I went on vacations with my friends’ families and my own parents became equally close with my friends. When my best friend starting dating her boyfriend (now fiance), we all went out to dinner with my parents so they could meet him.
They love him and are probably about as excited about their wedding as they are for my sister’s.
Because of these relationships I had built, adding a partner into the mix proved to be a bit of a balancing act. Mark fit in seamlessly with my friends and family, but making space for him in my emotional life was a completely new and seriously enlightening process.
Single-ness is a hard thing to unlearn – especially when you’ve been doing it for a quarter of a century, and it didn’t take me long to realize that there was a serious learning curve when it came to being a partner.
About month or two into my relationship, I was having a bit of trouble with a friend.
This person had done something that upset me and I confronted them about it, and it made things uncomfortable between us. The whole thing was making me feel kind of sad and weird, but I didn’t mention anything about it to Mark at first.
It wasn’t that I was trying to keep anything from him – it actually just didn’t occur to me.
Why should he be bothered with something that had nothing to do with him? It wasn’t that huge of a deal, and I could handle it on my own.
A week or two later when I was feeling particularly stressed, I blurted out something about the situation between me and my friend. When Mark asked me why I hadn’t mentioned it before, I told him the truth – I didn’t think it was necessary.
He wasn’t offended that I didn’t confide in him, but explained that he was there for me and wanted to share my experiences – the good and the bad.
That moment was the beginning of my understanding of what my relationship – or any relationship – is truly supposed to be about. I started to realize that this person was offering themselves to me in a way that no one else I’d dated ever had, and I’d be an idiot not to trust him.
A little while after this incident, Mark and I had our first real fight.
My friends and I were planning an upcoming dinner party – something that we did every few months to get everyone from our old improv group together. Historically, it had been a “no significant others” type of situation; not really written in stone, but kind of an unspoken agreement.
Mark and I were out at a bar one night and I mentioned the dinner party. When he asked if he would be coming with me, I explained that he wasn’t disinvited, per say, but that we just generally didn’t bring boyfriends or girlfriends to this get-together.
As a person who had been in long-term relationships for the majority of his young adulthood, Mark was confused.
And as a person who had been single their entire lives and relied solely on friends for my social life and emotional support, I was confused by his confusion.
This led to a difficult, somewhat painful (but very civil) discussion about our relationship and expectations (I’m exhausted and antsy just typing that sentence). I was totally new to conversations like this, and it was uncomfortable and upsetting and confusing. I knew how much I cared for him, but I also was still operating in the headspace of a single person.
It was suddenly very apparent to me that fully and wholly welcoming Mark into my life was going to result in a lot of changes.
And that I really wanted to make them.
It was truly the beginning of seeing him as my partner and realizing how much I wanted him by my side.
If you’re only going to allow a person into certain aspects of your life, you’re never going to grow past a certain point. All of my previous “relationships” had stopped at this point – they were casual, superficial, removed from any kind of real emotional effort. I wasn’t at all familiar with the protocol for moving past that point.
But I found that once I jumped into my relationship head on, it wasn’t so hard after all.
In fact, it was pretty damn easy.