I made a different funny face for every ridiculous reason Barry gave for his decision to stop dating his fabulous new love interest (she doesn’t like rock music; she’s shorter than most women he dates; he’s not sure if his son would like her kids — who Barry himself hasn’t met). Then, he got quiet.
“I know I set out to find a relationship, but maybe a relationship would be too much,” he said. “I’m just getting a sense of myself, and I don’t want to lose it all over again.”
Ahhh. Barry was in a common conflict, and a misunderstood one.
Barry did have a LOT going on. His business was in a major phase shift and required much of his time, a dear family member’s health was failing, and he was busy with part-time parenting. But he, and his new friend Jennifer were both two years out of a divorce, and craving companionship. Besides, she seemed very busy with her own work and kids as well. The two were clearly at that juncture that every new couple must face — create a vision and step in, or fade out. What to do?
There’s no way around the fact that when you start seriously dating someone you care about, your life will change: hopefully, mostly for the better.
And yet, independence, that highly praised aspect of living in our modern world, seems at stake in intimacy.
Especially when they go sour, but sometimes even when they’re good. Thoughts and feelings about your relationship can be all consuming at times, and eat into your productivity, and eating and sleeping habits. It’s a pretty common sensation, and very natural.
Yet, if you want to be in relationship without “losing yourself” the first order of business is to clear up the misconception about what you really lose when you enter intimate relationships. In addition to gaining comfort, companionship, sexuality, play, affection, etc. there are some very real losses. You will lose time to yourself, you may need to shift some behavioral habits you enjoy but that don’t work in a partnership (oh the things we do when we are alone!), and ultimately, the ability to make decisions for your life all by yourself. In addition, you lose the luxury of not having to report to anyone about anything.
People often confuse these very real losses with “losing themselves”. But time, habits and behaviors are not essential to your core. They are circumstantial. Who you are is separate from them. People do lose themselves in relationships, however, when they stop advocating for their needs. When they stop having difficult conversations because they have not been taught a less inflammatory way of having them. People lose themselves in relationships when they abandon themselves to please another or win approval. Pleasing another is not a problem, unless it involves chronic self-abandonment of some kind.
Barry was naturally afraid, but also, confusing the losses of a certain type of freedom and things that are important to him, for the loss of self. Once this was straightened out, he had a better view. He knew the next steps were about continuing to move forward, while taking it slow.
If you are in a relationship, and feel you have lost yourself; if you are starting one and fear you are at risk, or if you sort of want to be in one but feel apprehensive, here are four guidelines for you:
1. Honor the real losses you are facing: Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes. Even changes for the better require tumult and occasionally significant loss. When we don’t pay attention to our feelings about the things we are losing when we step into love, we may use those uncomfortable feelings of loss to push our partner away. If we don’t honor them and allow grief where it’s due, even as we are excited about our new partner, we may project something negative onto them and make them feel responsible for our discomfort.
When you recognize and face your losses, the pain doesn’t have to get played out between you.
2. Take time to digest: You can’t reflect on the gains or losses of your relationship — new or old — unless you make some time to do so, alone. When you honor instead of forgo your solitude, you are able to digest the impact the relationship is having on you. In this way you do the opposite of losing your self. You instead allow for the conscious evolution of self. When you are in the throes of falling in love, sometimes taking space and time away from your partner isn’t so easy to do. It’s worth the effort.
3. Allow your definition of freedom to change: We all have this idea of freedom that is based in part on our first experience of adult freedom, and in part on an archetypal notion of it that includes the exploration of unchartered land or sea. That feeling of Ahhhh! I can do whatever I want and sleep with whoever I want, is an experience we have early on when we realize our parents don’t own us. To a person in a different phase of life, that definition is not always so freeing, it may feel stale. Many people cling to that first experience and definition of freedom to their disadvantage. They lose touch with parts of themselves that may want to evolve and experience freedom in a different way, for example, the freedom of how to give and receive love, and create stable, meaningful relationships.
4. Learn the skills you need to stay in your authority in relationship: This one can be a long process that involves learning new habits and growing up. I coach people on how to do this privately, teach an amazing 7-week online course Intimate Authority, and I also offer a 45 minute mini-course that you can take right now! How to Be in Relationship without Losing Yourself takes a deep dive into the concepts shared here, asks you clarifying questions and teaches you valuable information so you can feel more relaxed, more satisfied, and less frustrated in love.
Check out How to Be in Relationship without Losing Yourself and discover
- More of what you really lose when you lose yourself in relationship
- Three concrete things you can start doing right away to stay more connected to you while loving another
- A four-part model for creating relationships that are right for you
Interested? Sign up now