It seems be boring (and obvious coming from me) but the risk of losing yourself in a relationship is a direct reflection of the diligence you apply to working on yourself before you enter a relationship.
Many of us focus on the particulars of where and when we will find the partner of our dreams; someone ambitious, bilingual, generous, attractive, 6’’3 over, good with kids, fantastic cook etc. etc. etc. With the laundry list of ideals laid out on the table frustrations are piqued when those scribbles don’t miraculously manifest into the dream partner. Unfortunately if this is our primary focus then it is misguided. Those of us who venture into the lala land of wishing for a perfect relationship before knowing who the fuck they are and how to enjoy life alone will start any relationship lost and end it completely destablized.
If you are not grounded as an individual then you will never not lose yourself in a relationship. You will always be swayed by whatever strand of life captures the attention of your heart. That’s because love is powerful, feelings are intoxicating, blinding and beautiful and we want to follow our hearts when they are being tugged. We should never stop doing that. However, precautions need to be taken when that tugging turns into a complete heist and we’re left sacrificing our individuality and living as an extension as the other half.
I am critically aware of my tendency to lose myself in a relationship. I don’t lose my sense of self as such but I do find myself traipsing circles mentally with the anxiety of the deeper mechanics of the relationship, either that or i’m busy (subconsciously) self sabotaging. The tricky balancing act of lusty love bubble vs. independent adult life quickly becomes a landslide when letting those things that are important to us; travel, recording home cooking classes, sun baking alone, getting drunk with friends or compiling photo albums of polaroid pictures fall by the wayside. With all of your normal interests swept under the metaphorical rug and left to fester with negligence there’s so much more time to prioritise the needs of the relationship and your partner. Seems altruistic right? Not at all. If you are thinking about your partner, and the relationship and your partner is thinking about themselves (and sometimes the relationship) then who is thinking about you? Ahhhh correct. No one. This is the exact recipe for losing yourself, in the most literal sense.
I like to call this ‘cannibalising’ because you are essentially eating yourself into an existence that is defined only by another human. Sounds dramatic and kind of gross but at least it doubles as a deterrent.
How can we avoid the emotional and physical mess of losing ourselves in love?
Spend time alone: Whether in a relationship or not we all need time alone to recharge. In a relationship we are prone to spending less time alone and more doing anything and everything with our lover. The need for alone time doesn’t dissipate with the change of relationship status. Even if your alone time is only a daily walk, a trip to the supermarket or spending a few hours in a different room make sure you’re doing it, and regularly. It’s a point of sanity.
Have separate friends: Naturally you will make friends as a couple but don’t forget who your friends are, and be fiercely protective of them. It’s not childish, it’s survival. These are the people that will be by your side whether you are single or not. It’s important to continue to nurture these relationships because they serve as a natural reminder of how it feels to be truly you. Time with these friends should be treasured and treated as a priority. Similarly it’s good to encourage your partner to spend time with their friends without you.
Never give up your hobbies: All of the things that you loved to do before your relationship should continue to be part of your life. Some of them you may find yourself wanting to share with your partner, maybe they’ll come to yoga with you on Saturday morning, but keep other interests sacred so they can serve as your own private outlet.
Keep the mystery alive: Smothering anyone in terms of time or space is not attractive, sexy or sustainable. A clever circuit breaker for any relationship is travelling separately: either with friends or alone. The saying ‘distance makes the heart grow fonder’ is real talk and a little bit of time spent separately can not only give both individuals a chance to do whatever the fuck they want but it can reignite desire through mystery.
Do a quick sense check: Are you actually turning into your partner? It’s normal for us to undergo a human strain of osmosis with people that we spend a lot of time with; adopting behavioural traits, speech and sometimes even style but if you catch yourself unable to express your personality on your own terms because its disappeared then you’re officially starting life as a chameleon.
Be really clear about your values and needs: Everyone is different when it comes to how much solo time they need to fill their cup of independent happiness, what hobbies they would never dream of compromising and the friendship traditions they plan on keeping until they’re 85. Communicating this with your partner as early as possible will avoid the unnecessary awkwardness that comes from trying to share one personality when you lose your own.