We all have them. The friend that rode into the sunset and never came back.
That, one day, introduced you to their new partner, telling you you’ll see a lot more of them, only to disappear from the face of the earth the next day. It’s not like we mind. At least not initially. Their new blob-like, unanimous, hydra-esque coupleness was insta-annoying anyway.
First, you could only get them in twos, even when you asked just one person to hang. Next, they played the permission game, collecting approval stamps from their partner for everything from Friday night poker to scratching their ass. Finally, once they realized the toxic nature of this dynamic, they both settled into the friendless couple’s perpetual compromise: they stay at home.
And so it’s not just one, but two people that disappear. Until all you’re left to do is ask: what the hell happened? What happened is that two perfectly fine people fell out of life — and into co-dependency.
Can’t Blur What’s Not There
The reason the stereotype of the inseparable couple is so pervasive, so easy to recognize, is that most of us have been this stereotype ourselves. I know I have.
Your friends are too nice to point it out, you’re too in love to notice, and before you know, you’re cruising on autopilot on the relationship freeway, dreading not just your lack of friends, but the very thing you gave them up for, dying to take the next exit.
In Eat, Pray, Love, Liz Gilbert says it’s an issue of boundaries — specifically the fact that we tend to have none. And, often, it leads to the same result.
“I disappear into the person I love. I am the permeable membrane. If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time — everything. If I love you, I will carry for you all your pain, I will assume for you all your debts (in every definition of the word), I will protect you from your own insecurity, I will project upon you all sorts of good qualities that you have never actually cultivated in yourself and I will buy Christmas presents for your entire family. I will give you the sun and the rain, and if they are not available, I will give you a sun check and a rain check. I will give you all this and more, until I get so exhausted and depleted that the only way I can recover my energy is by becoming infatuated with someone else.”
All relationships need compromise. But if you never take a break from it, if you never put yourself first, you’ll live in a constant, self-induced state of being undermined. And, since suppression only ever ends one way, we eventually take the most extreme break we can think of: we break up. Or, worse, cheat on our partner.
In the meantime, we’ve managed not just to lose touch with a lot of folks we care about, but we’ve also completely forgotten who we are. Who we were. And what path we were on. Because we only stayed in the carpool lane.
There are a lot of problems with this, some too subtle to notice, others too obvious to point out. But there’s one we almost always miss when we’re completely self-, nay, partner-absorbed.
It’s not just you who loses. It’s literally everyone.
Finding a False Positive
Art isn’t a competition. With more good art, everyone benefits. There might be a lot of art that few people find interesting and much art people wish was better, but none of those hurt anyone by merely existing. At worst, they’ll leave us indifferent. So generally, the more art the better. Especially if you define art the way Seth Godin does:
Art isn’t only a painting. Art is anything that’s creative, passionate, and personal. You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances. An artist is someone who uses bravery, insight, creativity, and boldness to challenge the status quo. And an artist takes it personally. Art is a human act, a generous contribution, something that might not work, and it is intended to change the recipient for the better, often causing a connection to happen.
When you disappear into a relationship, it’s not just a matter of you losing your sense of self, it’s also a matter of us losing your art. That’s because self-discovery can’t happen in a vacuum. Art is a side effect of finding yourself.
When we’re single, we’re obsessed with creating our own path. With learning, sharing, improving, making. When we begin a relationship, we often stop.
We stop discovering ourselves because we’ve discovered someone. But that someone’s not us. It’s another person, and it’s no reason to quit our own little journey. But we forget and get lazy.
I see it all the time. People are writing or volunteering or really enjoying their dancing class and poof, they stop. It’s Resistance in its worst form: love. Now, all this energy that used to go towards discovering themselves and their larger place in the world is spent on affection for just one.
Until it all fades away.
All Your Wonderful Gifts
Transitioning from singlehood into a committed relationship isn’t easy. But it’s easy to gloss this over when your stomach is full of butterflies. To forget a transition is needed at all. But it is.
You don’t need to nail it or do it all at once or even get it right the first time. But don’t lose yourself in someone’s eyes, someone’s heart, someone’s life. Your time here is yours and yours alone.
If you give up too much of it, you won’t get what you want out of anything. Especially a relationship. Don’t make your partner the center of your life. Make your life the center of your life. Include not just your romance, but everything that’s in it.
Work. Purpose. Family. Friends. Loneliness. Confusion. Discovery. Art. Us.
If you stop changing yourself, finding yourself, reinventing yourself…you stop being yourself. You’ll stop being who your partner fell in love with. And you’ll rob us of all your wonderful gifts.
So go ahead.
Fall in love with someone. But don’t fall out of love with yourself.