The one thing that is constant in life is that nothing stays the same. Sometimes things change slowly, so that one day you turn and look behind you only to realize that everything looks different. Other times, change happens so suddenly that it knocks you off-kilter and leaves you stunned. Then there are moments in life when one tiny, seemingly insignificant moment can change everything you thought that your life would be.
For me, that moment came at an event I attended after work on a Thursday in April. I was invited by friends, and even though I was struggling with insomnia at that time and hadn’t slept the night before, I decided to suck it up and drag myself out because, dammit, I wasn’t letting insomnia steal my life! While sitting on a couch, talking to my friends, a tall and handsome man sat down next to me and said hello.
Six months and 20 days later, that man is still sitting next to me on the proverbial couch. I never expected to be in a relationship again. In a small town, in my 30’s, a single mom…the odds were largely stacked against me and I truly believed I would spend the rest of my life single; and I was honestly okay with that. Now my future looks entirely different, and I realize just how suddenly life can change and become something you never planned or expected.
Now here I am, writing to you about relationships instead of how to navigate life as a single, independent woman. Don’t get me wrong — the independent woman part will not ever change! The difference is, now I’m learning how to be a partner; how to focus on someone besides myself (and my kids, obviously); how to compromise and communicate and keep a relationship strong and healthy.
That has been an extreme change for me after spending the biggest part of the prior 10 years single. I had a lot to learn about relationships. And Michael being fresh out of a divorce when we met, was re-learning what he thought he knew about relationships. From the start, we talked about what we needed from a relationship, and what we needed to do to make sure we built a solid foundation, and to prepare for the days when those new warm and fuzzies wear off and things “get real”.
Just over six months in, that time is now here. We’ve transitioned from wanting to spend every waking moment together and putting everything else on the back burner, to needing to take back some time for ourselves individually. This is most definitely new territory for me. I’ve rarely made it past a couple of months before the guy decides the new has worn off and he’s ready to cut and run before the word commitment starts getting tossed around. Now here I am, so far into a relationship that we’ve actually begun moving out of the first stage of a relationship and into the second.
Last weekend we got some much-needed time together without kids and responsibilities. But at the end of it, on Sunday afternoon, as much as I missed him the moment I left his house…I loved going home. I was so far behind on laundry because I’m never home on the weekends to get it done. I have projects I’m behind on, a reading list I haven’t kept up with, a book I’ve written one chapter of and haven’t touched basically since I met Michael. But most of all, I haven’t had any time to myself. I really loved just being home, by myself, free to do what I want to do and recharge my batteries.
In fact, I’ve been a little moody lately, and it wasn’t until Sunday evening that I realized the reason for that is I’ve neglected myself entirely. I’ve been giving my time to my kids, my job and my boyfriend, and there’s none left for me. I was feeling so depleted and didn’t realize why. I had projects I really wanted to work on (like turning my family room into a movie-watching space, and finishing up some landscaping) and not finding the time had me feeling aggravated. And the boys and I both seemed to be fed up with never having any clothes in our drawers and closets because I could never find time to get them folded.
As soon as I realized what’s been bugging me, I told Michael we should talk. So that night after the kids were in bed I told him how I was feeling, and he agreed that he’s been feeling it too. It felt good to take some time to myself this week and get some things accomplished, but after a couple of days I realized a new potential problem — going from neglecting everything else to be together, to neglecting each other to do everything else. I quickly realized we were going to have to find some middle ground, pronto, to keep the relationship strong as we navigate this change.
So last night, after dropping Logan off at SRE, I drove over to his house and we sat on his back porch and talked. We talked about how much time we needed to be spending on ourselves individually, how much time we needed to give to each other, making sure we make the most of the time we do spend together, and any changes in what we need from each other in light of this new phase of the relationship.
One thing I can say for certain is that figuring this out is tough. He is entering his busiest part of the year at work, and both of us have busy schedules and demands on our time. I jokingly asked him how people actually find time to sit down and watch TV in the evenings, because I have no idea where I could find an hour to watch a live television show! The majority of my TV watching happens on the chromebook or my phone while I’m cooking dinner or getting ready in the mornings or folding laundry, and it happens in piecemeal…meaning I can’t sit down, start an episode, and watch it through to the end without stopping.
So if we can’t find an hour to sit and watch a show, how do we make sure we find the time to spend on each other? The sad reality is, what you give your attention to is what’s going to flourish. And what you neglect will die. I mentioned this last night while we were trying to figure out how to balance our time and talking about how hard it is to manage.
Then I said this — “for our relationship to stay healthy, then after the kids it has to be the number one top priority. It has to come before work, housework, hobbies, social life, everything. Because if it doesn’t then it will start to unravel. I think we need to keep reminding ourselves of that.” Then I asked him, “is that still what you want? Are you still willing to do that?” Without hesitation and with conviction, he said “yes!” I told him, “then as long as we both feel that way, this will work itself out.”
Relationship novice that I still am, I feel that may be the master key to relationships. It has to remain a priority always, to both parties involved. You can’t get complacent or take it for granted. You can’t neglect it while giving attention to other things, and you can’t be selfish. No matter what else is going on in your life, your relationship always has to receive an adequate amount of attention in order to stay strong.
This is tough when you have other things that also need your attention — kids, work, school, kid’s extracurricular activities, taking care of a home, keeping a family fed, exercise, hobbies… That is what Michael and I are working on finding a balance for. We have a tentative plan in mind, and we will see how it works. And if it needs some tweaking, then we will do that.
Most importantly is communication. Staying in contact when we are apart. Speaking up if something isn’t working, or if one of us needs something we aren’t getting or needs something different. Being fully present with each other when we are together. Being understanding of each others’ personal lives and demands on our time and trying to provide support where we can. Just sitting down and discussing our needs and how to balance them last night drew us a little closer together. Feeling a sense of camaraderie with a person will do that.
Changes are going to come. They are inevitable. Life changes, and people change with it. And when you’re in a relationship, two people are changing both separately, as well as together. I’m pretty proud of us for being able to see and tackle the change from that euphoric, warm and fuzzy newness of the first stage of a relationship, into whatever is coming next.
So what is coming next? For me, I’m going to be setting up a projector in the basement family room for movie nights. I’m going to take time to do yoga and face masks and paint my nails (new self care post coming soon??). I’m going to take time to catch up on reading and get some more writing done on my book. (I made Michael promise that he wouldn’t spend all of his “me” time working and would take some time for his hobbies too) I’m going to take more pictures, and share more with you on Instagram. I’m getting ready for the holidays by putting together wish-lists, planning a party, planning my family Christmas, and finding some fun outings to attend, like a hot chocolate bar and Small Business Saturday (more things coming soon to the blog!).
Even though balancing time is hard, I’m pretty excited to get to spend some more time on myself. I’m really looking forward to all that is to come as we finish out 2019, and I’m really glad this transitional period came when it did because it will help me set realistic goals for next year. As always, there will be a year-end review coming up after Christmas, and a goal-setting post to kick off the first of the year. The time between now and then, no matter how busy, will be spent with a full heart ❤