The challenges of growing up in a couple.
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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)
I’ve been dating my boyfriend since I was 14. We’re both 23 now. He is the most kind, loving person I have ever met. I love him with all that I have. He is the love of my life, the man of my dreams.
We have grown together in so many ways, and have never grown apart. We talk about our life together all the time, and I imagine how wonderful it will be to live out that future. He is all I want.
I’m an introvert and have never been good at making or keeping friends. When my boyfriend came into my life, I dropped all the friends I had for him. The only people I hang out with are his friends.
When I was 17, I hurt my back in an accident and never got it treated. Now, I am feeling the effects. My treatment is going to cost $2,000. My boyfriend wants to pay for it, because I can’t afford it.
There was a time a few years ago when I was essentially homeless, and my boyfriend and his family took me in. I have been living with them since and am forever grateful.
Here is my problem: I don’t know why, but lately I’ve been having this desire to be alone.
I guess I don’t know who I truly am anymore because it has always been “us,” never “me.” And I don’t know what to do about it.
But, without my boyfriend, I lose my best friend. Without him, I don’t have a place to go. Without him, I have no cure for my back. Without him, I know I will go hungry some nights. Without him, I don’t know what to do with myself.
— Helpless in Love; Riverside, CA
I’ve written a lot about relationships.
But after reading your question, I don’t know if I’ve ever written about anything in which the stakes were higher.
That’s not to take away from the severity of any previous submissions. Each problem is serious to the person who’s struggling with it.
When it comes to your case, though, you stand to suffer more than hurt feelings or a broken heart. Your ability to eat, to move, to survive is at risk.
This, understandably, is a scary place to be. And it’s made that much scarier by the fact that you find yourself here because you’re now questioning what has always been certain.
For nine years, your boyfriend has been more than just your boyfriend; he’s been your family. Your love for him has been as undeniable as gravity, and the two of you have been inseparable.
Yet recently you’ve begun wondering what it’d be like to be alone.
These feelings are completely normal. But figuring out what to make of them and what to do because of them is where the challenge comes in.
As I see it, you have three options:
1. Stay Where You Are
When referencing your boyfriend, you said:
• You love him with all that you have.
• He’s the most kind, loving person you’ve ever met.
• He’s the love of your life and the man of your dreams.
And that was just in the first paragraph.
The two of you have been together a long time, especially given your (young) age. And despite your deep connection, it was inevitable you’d hit a stretch where things felt a little off. Every couple goes through their own form of this at some point.
And oftentimes, these rough patches are rooted in complacency.
You settle into a routine, and without knowing it, you fall into a rut. And the more you take things for granted, the more you lose sight of what’s made your relationship special.
The best way to reverse this is through gratitude. It’s complacency’s kryptonite.
It’s clear you have no problem expressing how much you love your boyfriend. But why do you love him? What do you love about him? What are the things he does, both big and small, that make him the man of your dreams?
Answer as specifically as possible, because it’s the details that will remind you what’s important and to appreciate what your boyfriend means to you.
When you’re grateful for what you have, you’ll stop worrying about what you don’t.
2. Go It Alone
Based on your above declarations of love, I hesitated to include this section. It’s hard to imagine you being happier without your boyfriend than you are with him.
That said, it could happen. Only the lucky few high school sweethearts have an interminable shelf life.
You’ve been in a relationship since you were 14, meaning you only got to experience a sliver of the highs, lows and outright disasters of teenage and young adult romance.
And the view of your future has always filtered through a couple’s prism, not your own.
You’re also still only 23, an age at which most people are trying to figure out what they want.
So it’s only natural for you to wonder what you might’ve missed out on or what you could be missing out on going forward.
Of course, there’s this inescapable excerpt from your submission:
“Without my boyfriend, I lose my best friend. Without him, I don’t have a place to go. Without him, I have no cure for my back. Without him, I know I will go hungry some nights. Without him, I don’t know what to do with myself.”
I’m not about to say you should disregard those realities and follow your heart out the door.
But what I will say is that you shouldn’t be afraid to bet on yourself.
After extensive soul-searching, if you decide you really need/want to go it alone for a bit, don’t let anything stand in your way.
Too often people stunt their growth because they sell themselves short. They’re convinced that the mountain is too steep, their will is too weak and the solutions are too incomplete.
But when you can find the nerve to start putting one foot in front of the other, you’d be surprised by what you can accomplish.
3. Spread Your Wings
This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition.
It’s possible for you to stay in this relationship while also building a life of your own. It’s what the healthiest couples do.
For starters, what about making your own friends? I know you said that’s never been your strong suit, but you’re not the same person you were before. And all it takes is one connection to open up a whole new world.
Beyond that, what about a hobby? What do you like to do? What do you like to do that your boyfriend doesn’t? Is there a class you’d want to take or an activity you’d enjoy?
Right now, everything you have runs through your boyfriend — your living arrangement, your family, your social life. And that makes it almost impossible for you to individuate. Which has led to this identity crisis.
But you have the power to change that.
You can meet new people and experiment with new experiences. And you can do it all on your own.
The best of both worlds are within your reach. And that balance they bring will be best for you — and your relationship — in the long run.
Action is Power
If you want to become a better communicator, decision-maker and risk-taker while also boosting your overall happiness, check out my video, “5 Strategies That Will Make You Unstoppable.”