I’m an independent girl. I travel the world alone, run my own business and do my own taxes.
But I also love being in a relationship. I crave the closeness and intimacy, wearing my heart on my sleeve and sharing it with another person.
As you might know if you’ve been following me for a while, I’ve been with my boyfriend for over a year now and we even live together now. In Phoebe-from-Friends‘ words, I feel like I’ve found my lobster.
It wasn’t always like that though. Throughout my four year stint as a university student I was pretty much your ultimate single girl – zero commitments, aside from RSVPing yes to every single party invite that came my way.
At first I didn’t mind. I’d just broken up with my high school sweetheart and it felt like I was discovering the dating world for the first time. But eventually my singledom started to get to me.
Was I that unlovable? Why were all my friends falling in love while all I had were phone numbers I had no interest in dialling? Would I die alone, surrounded by cats (who I’m allergic to so my demise would likely come pretty fast)?
If you can relate to any of the above, I dedicate this independent girl’s guide to healthy relationships to you. Because you matter and you will find your lobster someday, whoever he or she may be. Let’s get started…
Are You Ready?
Relationships are hard work. Don’t let anyone sugarcoat the truth and tell you otherwise. But for the most part that work shouldn’t feel like a chore, because you’re convinced the other person and the life you are building together is worth it.
Despite all the work healthy relationships make your life much easier and more enjoyable. But there is a time and a place for everything and sometimes you’re just not ready for something serious, no matter how wonderful it may be.
Maybe you’re backpacking around Asia and enjoying your freedom to be whoever (and with whomever) you like.
Maybe you aren’t over your ex yet. Maybe you’ve been hurt so badly that you need time to heal and cannot give your would-be partner the love they deserve.
Maybe you’re just really enjoying being single and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Seeing as you are reading this post I’m going to assume you are ready, but make sure that you work through any possible obstacles first.
And no, travelling a lot is not an insurmountable obstacle. It’s possible to have a beautiful loving relationship and travel the world. It all depends on…
Finding The Right Person
Finding the right person is without a doubt the most important – and often the most difficult – part of being in a healthy relationship.
The 21st century has turned dating upside down. Relationships of reason have been replaced by relationships of feeling. Instead of being angry at our parents for choosing the wrong match, we only have ourselves to blame as we’re the ones in charge.
But having the power to choose who you share your life with, as impossible as it can seem, is a huge blessing. Here are five tips to help you find the right person, not just a person-shaped placeholder you tolerate until something better comes along…
Know what you want. Before you schedule a month’s worth of dinner dates, take time to think about what you want from a relationship. In short, define your priorities and deal breakers.
I love travel so I knew I would have to find someone with a similarly severe case of wanderlust. I also place high value on fun, so it was important to me that my would-be partner had a good sense of humour and an adventurous streak.
Identify your deal-breakers – not small picture stuff like wanting someone who also also likes sushi, but questions of children, religion or life goals.
Luckily I didn’t have to compromise on much with my boyfriend, but there was one thing. I always used to date people my age but Peter is a few years older than me. Twelve, to be exact.
Written down it sounds like a lot, but it very rarely comes up. Sure, we didn’t watch the same programmes when we were little – not that we would have anyway, having grown up in different countries.
But we want the same things out of life… and is a shared love of Charmed really the best basis for a good relationship anyway?
Identify the things you are completely unwilling and unable to compromise on, but try to let the smaller stuff slide.
Give people a chance. Know what you want, but don’t treat dating like a science experiment. Throw out the list and go with your gut. Aside from the obvious deal breakers we just talked about, give people a chance if being around them makes you feel good.
This is doubly true of superficial characteristics. Your dream partner may be a blond Swede, but if someone hot-blooded and dark-skinned catches your eye don’t write them off.
It works the other way, too. Have you ever dated someone who seemed perfect on paper, but you lacked a spark? That little je ne sais quoi is important and you’ll both be better off if you rely on your heart instead of blindly following reason.
Don’t rush it. When I was single people always told me the same frustrating thing: “It will happen when you least expect it.” It used to drive me crazy! That is, until it actually happened…
Making your search for love the epicentre of your existence is never a good idea. It puts pressure on all your social interactions and might actually make you less likely to find what you’re looking for.
Who would you rather date – the girl or guy comfortable in their own skin, or the one desperately searching for a missing puzzle piece? You catch my drift.
Go outside your social circle. Whether you believe in soulmates or not, it seems like madness to expect your immediate surroundings to provide you with the person you’ll spend the rest of your life with.
To paraphrase Einstein, the definition insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Instead of relying on dumb, take matters into your own hands.
Not meeting the one at your local dive bar? I hate to say it, but… DUH. Try online dating, join a new class, strike up conversations with handsome strangers.
There is nothing wrong with trying and the worst thing that could happen is expanding your social circle or just having a hilarious disaster date story to share with your friends.
Get emotional. Getting physical is important, but don’t forget to get to know the other person on a personal level as well. Being able to locate someone’s G spot is great, but getting a glimpse into their brain will help you decide whether they’re really the one for you.
Building Healthy Relationships
A good long-lasting relationship is the start of a great adventure. If you work at a relationship it will grow with you over time and add a new layer of depth to your life.
But how are healthy relationships built? Here are my ten most important tips…
1. Be there. In order to form a meaningful connection with someone you need to spend time with them. That doesn’t just mean being physically present, but being present in the moment.
Being mentally there is much more important so don’t worry if you’re in a long-distance relationship or off seeing the world every month. Quality always trumps quantity.
2. Be playful. If you don’t have fun together, why would you even bother with this relationship? Yes, this extends to being physical. Not everyone is fully comfortable with intimacy and building up the necessary level of trust may take time, of course.
But if things aren’t fun and being around the other person doesn’t feel easy, I’d consider it a big red flag.
3. Be vulnerable. Being emotionally open is one of the hardest things you have to do in a relationship. Laying all your feelings bare is absolutely terrifying.
Nobody is perfect and, as much as I hate to say it, neither are you. But guess what – the only person expecting you to be perfect is also you!
Be upfront about your flaws and shortcomings. I’m not saying you should talk about your paralysing fear of velcro (looking at you, Kimmy Schmidt) on your first date. But don’t try to keep it buried forever.
You don’t want someone to fall in love with the idea of you – and in many cases, the quirk you find embarrassing will seem cute to the other person anyway. By shedding all pretense, you’ll encourage your partner to do the same which is the basis of all healthy relationships.
We’ve all been hurt before and put up walls to protect our hearts. But if you don’t allow yourself to be hurt, you are also not giving yourself permission to love.
4. Be a good listener. We humans have a funny tendency to form an opinion and then twist everything that happens afterwards to confirm it. But don’t assume you know someone, let them tell you and – most importantly – show you who they are.
Communication is the key to healthy relationships, so don’t just wait for your turn to speak and really hear the other person out.
5. Be a team. People often say that your partner should also be your best friend, and it’s hard to disagree with them. If you can’t get along on that most basic of levels, I’m not sure this is a relationship worth fighting for.
But beyond just being friends, you have to be a team. A UK study found that 13% of couples reported no longer having common goals. It may not sound like much, but sharing the same dreams makes for longer-lasting relationships.
If you feel out of sync, discuss your goals and make sure you’re working towards them together.
6. Be individuals. Being a good team is important, but whatever you do keep your separate identities. Your hobbies, your friends, your alone time – these are crucial in keeping your relationship ticking along smoothly.
If you let go off your individuality, you will not only be bored out of your mind – you will start to rely on the other person to meet all your needs and keep you entertained. And no one is capable of that.
7. Be honest. As I’ve already mentioned several times – and as you no doubt already know – honesty is one of the most important features of healthy relationships. Honesty also means not being afraid of conflict.
You should be able to disagree and defend your opinion without being mocked or humiliated. I’m not saying you should have screaming matches loud enough to wake the neighbours – just know that you don’t have to agree on everything.
8. Be equal. As a feminist (a word people love to mock but I will always embrace) I consider gender equality extremely important. Keeping your relationship balanced is a must and you owe it to both yourself and all the women around the world.
Both of you should have an equal say in how you spend you time together. If you live together and both work full-time, you should also split house work and all the other boring stuff equally.
9. Be loving. No matter how long you’ve been together, you should always make time for romance. No matter how busy you are, pick one night a week and spend it together without distractions.
More generally, give each other lots of compliments and be respectful. That also means accepting your bae’s little flaws and not trying to “fix” him or her.
10. Be trusting. Unless the other person has done something to betray your trust, always give them the benefit of the doubt.
Killers of Healthy Relationships
Even healthy relationships can go through rough patches. Maybe one of you is really stressed at work and doesn’t have much free time. Maybe you are travelling and the long distance is taking its toll on you.
All that is completely normal. Fighting is normal. But in the 21st century that can be a tough pill to swallow. We’re so used to instant gratification that when things aren’t going according to plan, we disengage. I’m particularly guilty of this myself.
I’m ashamed to admit this, but Hollywood has managed to infiltrate my brain with its promises of rainbows and butterflies. I want to be happy, every hour of every day. And when that doesn’t happen (because duh) I assume things are broken and start panicking.
But if you are both in love and just battling with normal human ups and downs, don’t immediately jump to conclusions and only focus on the negative. Have a conversation, work as a team to right the wrongs and get through the tough times together.
Having said that, there are a few red flags and things you should not tolerate…
Cheating. Cheating on someone is the ultimate betrayal of their trust. Some relationships can recover from this, but many don’t.
Won’t commit. If the person you want to be with is refusing to commit, they’re probably just not that into you. It sounds harsh but it’s usually true. I’ve been there, assuming I would eventually be loved if only I was more this and less that. Guess what though – it never happened.
Jealousy. I think some level of jealousy is understandable, but if your partner is prone to wild outbursts they clearly don’t trust you.
Controlling behaviour. A couple consists of two equal individuals who choose to be together. A relationship where one person thinks they’re the boss is many things, but healthy is not one of them.
Netflix & chill, or nothing. If your relationship is all about sex, something is clearly wrong. Unless that’s the way you both want it – in that case you do you (as well as doing them).
And that’s it – the end of my independent girl’s guide to healthy relationships. This advice obviously isn’t all the be-all and end-all of love, but it’s a good start.
What is your best relationship advice?
Disclaimer: This post was written by me and brought to you in partnership with Status – an online hub of wonderful relationship advice.