Looking back at my first ever serious relationship, I can’t help but wonder how I could be so blind. It took me three years to stop ignoring the signs and admit that it wasn’t going anywhere. They were there from the very beginning, but I chose not to see them.
I would not admit it back then, but the reason for my denial was the fear of ending up alone. It was quite irrational since I was twenty at the moment. But because I’ve never dated anyone prior, I believed that my boyfriend at the time might be the only person that was destined to be my partner.
So I stayed with someone who made me unhappy for three years to learn the hard way that no matter how old you are, settling for someone who doesn’t make you whole is far worse than being alone. Taking a risk is better than spending the rest of your life, wondering if you could ever be happy or feel truly loved.
I don’t believe in soulmates. That concept never resonated with me. But I do believe that there is someone out there who can make you whole. Someone who wouldn’t make you question whether it could be better. But to meet that person, you have to be honest with yourself when it comes to your current relationship.
1. You don’t talk about the future
When I first started dating, I thought that I would seem desperate if I asked my partner about his willingness to commit.
So I kept quiet for two years, having no idea if I would end up spending my life with that person, only to learn that we had very different outlooks on our future. And after finding out the truth, I stuck around for almost a year more, thinking that I could change his mind.
I’m not talking about going over the band options for your wedding, but when you invest your time, energy, and heart into a relationship, you have every right to know where it’s going.
Bringing up future plans can be hard, but it's not something you should be afraid to do. It won’t make you seem desperate. It will only show your partner that you respect yourself and value your time enough, not to waste it on something that doesn’t go anywhere.
If you have doubts about your partner's intentions, don’t be afraid to ask them. If they want to be with you, they’ll be glad you brought it up and showed your interest. But if they don’t, the best thing you can do is accept it and move on.
Don’t fool yourself into believing that you can change someone. Wanting different things from a relationship is a good sign of a bad match, and in my experience, it’s something that is not likely to change.
2. You don’t work on your relationship together
When I was dating my first boyfriend, we didn’t fight much, but when we did, all I wanted to do was to talk it out. I did not want to repeat the same mistakes. My goal was to come out of each fight as a stronger couple. But all my partner wanted to do was to stop fighting and play video games.
When my current boyfriend read a book on relationships after our first serious fight to better understand me, it almost made me cry. It felt like a huge gesture after being with someone who put zero effort into us. And I still think it was.
If someone is interested in your relationship, they will do everything in their power to make it work. And they will support and appreciate everything you do for the same reason.
Anyone who dated in the past knows that relationships are not easy. They require a lot of work, and it takes two to do enough of it to make it work out in the long run.
3. All they do is talk
It felt nice to hear that my partner loved me. He would say it pretty often, and I liked that. It made me feel good about myself, and it made me feel loved. At least for a short period of time.
But I didn’t feel loved when I had to go to the pharmacy alone in the middle of the night to get painkillers for myself because he was too busy watching a live stream. I didn’t feel loved when I got zero help around the house and was constantly asked to do chores, as cleaning and washing the dishes was a “girly thing.” I didn’t feel loved being a hopeless romantic, going on zero dates, and being criticized when arranging one.
The list was endless, but those three magic words made me ignore it for too long.
My current partner showed me that actions do speak louder than words. If someone loves you, they will let you know without having to say it. And they might say it too, just to make sure.
If your partner can’t stop talking about how much they love you, but their actions tell you the opposite, it might be time to question their words.
4. You can’t spend all your free time together
Even though I spent a lot of time at my boyfriend’s place, I still rented my own apartment for years. I only showed up there once a week, but I felt like I needed to have that place to escape.
I blamed it on the fact that I‘m introverted. I need to spend some time alone once in a while to recharge and restore my sanity. But this was never the case when it came to people I’m close with. Even spending weeks with my college roommate was never a problem. The truth was that in three years, we didn’t get close enough for me to feel comfortable living together.
My current relationship was the complete opposite. We lived together for over a year, surviving the lockup, doing everything we can together, spending 98% of our time in each other's company, and you’d think I would go insane by now, but I’m happier than ever.
Even though relationships can be pretty hard, spending time together should come naturally. If you’ve been dating for a while but the thought of spending every day together still terrifies you, it might be a sign that they’re not the right person for you.
The biggest realization that helped me stop fooling myself and get out of a dead-end relationship was accepting that people rarely change, especially if they have no interest in doing so.
I believe that those three years I’ve spent with someone who is no more than a bad memory now were a waste of time. But I’m still thankful for them. If it wasn’t for my failed relationship, I might’ve taken my current partner for granted, and our future could’ve worked out differently.
It helped me learn what love is by showing what it’s not.
It showed me that walking away from someone is better than spending every day, wondering if you could ever feel truly loved.
But the most important lesson those three years taught me was realizing that unhappy relationships might last for years without any change, and the only way to make it better is to walk away from them. And I’m forever grateful for that.