For the past 5 years or so, I’ve been in and out of relationships. Most of them have started with magical stories and ended in drama, tears, and excruciating heartbreak that I mitigated by finding someone else to take their place. This pattern has left me confused, dependent, and skittish. Now, after actually committing to take some “alone time” as an adult, I’ve been able to process them and move on.

Moving on, for me, hasn’t been consistent or comfortable at all. Wrestling with ideas of what could or should have been coupled with simply missing someone else (or multiple people) is hard for me to do without just running to the next person, inserting someone new in a place I’m not ready for them to take. Sitting with hard emotions and facts is the greatest challenge for me in my adult life.

Consequentially, taking time alone has allowed me to see and think through what an adult relationship looks like, as the person I am and want to be. I know many couples that made it through high school and college dating to be married as adults, and it’s beautiful. I applaud those who can stick by someone through all of the questions asked during the constant transition: What do I want to do? Where am I going to live? How am I going to live? I overthink all of these questions, and have driven significant others crazy with my plans and whims, which most of the time did not involve them. It would have done everyone a service if I had realized earlier that I was in exploration mode and needed to be alone, and that’s okay. Better late than never.

After some thought, here are a few conclusions I’ve come to regarding what an adult relationship looks like, or what I’d like it to entail.

How To Cultivate An Adult Relationship:

1. Take your time.

Get to know this person before committing to them. This takes time. There is no formula: three dates plus DTR (Define The Relationship) conversation plus commitment equals relationship. Just let it happen, and relax. Enjoy that person, or a few people, and let something progress from there, if it does.

2. Be careful of too much too soon.

Creating ideas of what your life will look like together forever feels great at the beginning of a relationship. You’ve found your person, and life couldn’t get any better. However, from my experience, relationships that go from zero to sixty in a few weeks will burn out and end just as quick and heavy as they started. Prolonging conversations about marriage, children, or a home together gives everyone some time to be sure, and it’s okay to not be sure for a while, even years. You’re just dating, and talking about these things at the beginning when you feel like this person hung the moon and the stars is probably not a good idea, no matter how sure you are. 

3. Throw out the laundry list.

Of course, there are core elements I’d like a person to have, but I’ve narrowed them down quite a bit. You both will grow and change, but a person’s character does not; the core desirable elements should be based on character. The experiences you’ve had together and the friendship you’ve built also does not change. I used to have a long list of the qualities I’d like that man to possess, but now I’m seeing that how far he can run or how much taller he is than me doesn’t really matter that much anymore. Instead of being impressive, I’d rather him just be honest. Losing the laundry list frees two people to be themselves, and isn’t that a main point of a healthy relationship anyway?

4. Your emotions = Not their responsibility.

Sure, transparency is really important to connecting, relating, and building something that lasts. However, transparency and emotional dumping are not one in the same. I had a terrible habit of relying too heavily on a boyfriend to carry what I was dealing with, because I had no idea how to deal with emotions on my own. My circumstances or situations would consume conversations, thoughts, and actions, and I would act as dead weight in the relationship instead of an active participant. An essential part of growing up for me has been becoming steadier in handling myself, by myself.

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Being an adult is less about liking yourself all the time and more about finding and accepting yourself. You don’t have it all together, and neither do they. This won’t go away upon turning thirty, either. I think the biggest recurring mistake I made was not having any grace for myself, which made it impossible to have grace for anyone else, especially someone I’m trying to do life with.

A solid relationship starts with you.