Dear Patricia: Do I have to change who I am to be in a relationship?
Published 25/04/2010 | 05:00
I'm in my late 20s and broke up with my boyfriend over a year ago. We had been together nearly two years. My instincts told me it wasn't right, although there was nothing I could put my finger on exactly.
He's lovely, intelligent, decent, and overall a great person. We got on well, but I just felt that something was lacking. It didn't feel right. I thought about him and missed him through the year while the relationship was off. I think that's normal, if the person is good, nice and sound, which he is.
We recently tried getting back together but I didn't put in much effort. The same instinct resurfaced -- the voice in my head! And it was as though a fog had come down on me, like a weight -- which is how I felt when I broke it off originally.
So I knew almost from the beginning of our reunion that I was going to end it again. I know that wasn't fair on him, but I had to give it a go, although I didn't try nearly as hard as he did. I think I did the fair thing ending it again, because he wasn't getting the treatment he deserved. But I miss him, just like I did for the year we were apart, and I think there is something wrong with me. He's brilliant and there's no logical reason why it shouldn't work.
I'm a very active person and like to do as much as possible. I wonder if that's part of the problem. I feel I'm not ready to restrict what I do just because I have to consider someone else -- not that he would have stopped me, but you have to think of the other person in a relationship.
I don't believe there is just one person, and one alone, for everyone in life. I'm a happy person and don't expect someone else to make me happy. But I hope there's someone out there who would just suit me and whom I would suit too. Or do you have to change who you are to suit someone?
Is it about making a decision to stay with someone, rather than really wanting to stay with them? I have lots of friends who are in happy relationships and who genuinely seem to be there because they want to be, and not just because they've chosen to be, as in doing some kind of project. I know couples can have difficult times, but surely it's possible to be happy with someone, without that voice in your head telling you it's wrong.
Do you make someone right for you, or are they just right for you without effort?
Stop exhausting yourself. If a fog descended when you were with this guy, then he's not the right one for you. Full stop. I'm sure he is a great person. Rightly, or wrongly, that's not enough. Some people just stifle us, put the brakes on when we try to undertake things, rob us of our life force -- and it's not their fault, or lack of love even on their part. People call it a personality clash. Actually I think it's intellectual incompatibility. It's about enthusiasm, the mind soaring, thinking up new ideas, grasping opportunities, being on the go in your mind as much as on the ground.
Of course you miss him. You weren't with him because you're desperately needy, or unable to be on your own, or scared that you'll never find someone else.
You were with him for good reasons -- all the good things about him, not least the fact that he obviously loves you. But you do need to be clear about one thing. You didn't break it off -- either the first or second time -- for his sake, because he deserved better. You did it for your own sake. Given he's such a nice guy, you must have had good reason. Respect that.
All relationships require compromise. That doesn't mean total self-sacrifice. Instead it means that we cherish the time, or the activities, that we carve out for ourselves, precisely because we had to choose them, negotiate with our partner about them, make them happen.
Going the road a partner wishes to tread can also lead to exciting new places, or very different new experiences. In your case, happily following someone you love might lead you to a new appreciation of tranquillity, stillness, occupying the moment. None of it involves a deadening fog. It's not a tiresome project. Forging togetherness is an exciting challenge.
Nobody is entirely right for us. How could they be? But it's not, as you suggest, a question of making someone right for us -- which would imply that we distort our real selves, or worse, attempt to change someone else, or worst of all, pretend things are different than they really are. It's about accepting that no husband, or wife, can meet all our needs. Some of those needs will remain unfulfilled, many will be filled by friends, family, children, work, and casual acquaintances who cross our path from time to time and touch a cornerstone of our true selves.