Learning in A Relationship

Since I’m in a new relationship, it’s hard to come up with something I’d rather write about. So, I’ll raze these pages with words and phrases pertaining to it. I won’t write about love, because I don’t think I’m in love (yet?). But I’ll write about romance in the way that my mind has started approaching it – that is, rationally.

I met *Ben towards the end of the spring semester, as I was finishing up classes and getting ready to head home for the remaining two summer months. The story is an interesting one, so I’ll grant a few sentences to it. At the time, I was taking a physics course with two of my good friends at University of Michigan. We were working on a prelab together, and one of my friends decided that we should finish it at a local Poutinerie. It was only upon entering that we realized the Poutinerie doubled as a bar and hosted multiple draft beers. Being the person that I am, I ordered a beer while we ate poutine and “finished up our prelab.” At some point, a guy at the neighboring table (not *Ben) approached us to confirm that we were, indeed, doing physics while slightly intoxicated. Turns out he was a mechanical engineer, and the prelab was done about five minutes later. And what do you do what you finish a prelab at a bar? You order a pitcher to split with the table of guys, of course. *Ben was one of the guys of the three-male group. And the story carries on from there.

Although we’ve been “seeing” each other for a while, my label of “girlfriend” and his label of “boyfriend” are relatively new. Regardless. You don’t need labels to learn things about relationships. The fact is, I have learned a lot from *Ben, and he has learned a lot from me (I think). And there is still plenty left for us to teach each other, no matter where this relationship goes. That’s the beauty of relationships – they’re never a waste. I might be shuffled into the category of “optimist”, but I’ve always found a silver lining in my failed relationships. Each one leaves me with a new piece of wisdom to incorporate into my being – to make myself a better person and lover.  

Being with someone who’s not nearly as sensitive as me (note: no judgment; being sensitive is not a good thing or a bad thing, it just is) has taught me how to manage my sensitivity, how to express it, to rationalize it, and to accept it. Just because *Ben doesn’t tell me how he feels about me doesn’t mean that he feels nothing. I’ve learned to adjust to this. I understand body language better and I’ve set a new baseline for my expectations. It’s not that I have changed them – they will always be high – but I’ve incorporated a level of understanding that was not present within my expectations before. Although I’ve self-diagnosed myself as an empath, I have a lot of room for learned-understanding, and for acceptance of who I am and who other people might not be. Perhaps you might look at it this way: I’ve learned to set aside my emotions for a time so that I can better explore the person who I am with. I’ve recently concluded (with the help of a family friend with a mind very similar to my own) that a sensitive empath can inflate his/her ego. Not purposefully, but as a result of his/her inherent method of human interaction. In my experience, I tend to assume that someone’s mood is reflective of how they feel about me if I am interacting with them when their mood is sour. But if you approach this rationally, it makes little sense to make this assumption. Individuals are constantly responding to their environment at random intervals. Something that happened ten hours ago might be the cause of *Ben’s impatience or frustration. Since I’m sensitive, I’d know if the cause of the issue was myself – it would be so obvious to me. So, if there is no obvious cause of *Ben’s mood that is related to me, I don’t take his touchiness personally. You’d think that after all the science classes I’ve taken this would be engrained, but…correlation is not causation. In situations like the one I just detailed, I remember that glorious phrase, give *Ben space, and wait. Lately, I only bring things up if his mood lasts. This method has been a blessing for me – I’ve stopped beating myself up emotionally for no real reason.  

I’ve also learned what I value in a relationship – what I need versus what I can compromise on. *Ben is the first significant other I’ve been with who is almost always interested in having an intellectual conversation. He has a certain level of depth that I search for in any relationship, romantic or platonic. This is something that I cannot compromise on, especially in a romantic relationship. It’s not that I’m deeper or less deep than the next person, but that I’m not skilled in the act of small talk. I’m bad at chit-chatting outside of the professional sphere. I don’t like talking about my day all the time. They’re all the same, generally, and they blur together. I’m bad at remembering unimportant things, and most things don’t strike me as important. But I do want to talk about net neutrality with my Economics majoring roommate who knows a good deal about policy. This doesn’t make me superior or inferior – it’s just a matter of how my mind functions and when it functions at its best.

*Ben is also bad at small talk. He’s probably worse than me. My brother (who is also  bad as small talk) and *Ben met a few weeks ago, and I carried most of the conversation. Until I realized that neither of them cared whether we sat in silence or not. And I shut up, and the energy felt infinitely better. When it’s the two of us, *Ben and I are either having a conversation about philosophy or the state of the world (or something of that nature), joking around, or sitting in a comfortable silence. These are the three options –we don’t talk about our days unless they were significant in some aspect. And that is just how our relationship functions, and one of the reasons that it works. We value similar things in that regard.

I took the “5 Love Languages” quiz online, and I’m thinking about asking *Ben to take it. Just to understand him a better. The results that I received were not necessarily informative – I already knew them to be true simply from being in this relationship. I know that I respond best when my significant other deliberately takes some time out of his schedule to spend with me. Some quality time, not just sitting next to each other watching TV. That’s how I know that I’m thought about and cared about. Which is also important to me – I’m someone who needs affirmation through showing or telling. However, this is something that I’ve compromised on in my relationship with *Ben. The biggest issue that we have now is that I need more affection and attention than he is willing to give. But there is a nuance here. It’s not that *Ben doesn’t care for me (and this I know from the times that I have seen or felt his affection), but that we have very different styles of communicating affection. I like to touch and hold my significant other when I’m with him, whereas *Ben needs more space. I like to tell my significant other that I think he’s cute and that I value him, whereas *Ben is less willing or interested in being vulnerable. This is just how we are, and I cannot change these things about either *Ben or myself. But what I can change is how attuned I am to *Ben’s style of communicating affection. I can pay more attention to the little things that he does and draw more from them than I would if he told me straight up that he cares about me, or made sweeping gestures to show his affection. I feel that I’m meeting him more on his side than he’s meeting me on mine, but that’s OK with me for now. I might change my mind down the road, but that’s for me to decide when I make it down said road, not while I can barely see it over the horizon.  

I suppose that the point of my prattling on is to say that I’m learning a lot in my relationship with *Ben. To be specific, I’m learning about *Ben as an individual, as well as about myself in the context of our relationship. This is a particular self that I cannot learn about in any other context. It’s one that I will continue to learn about (like the other selves that I embody) until the day that my roads end.


Images courtesy of: anonymous author