As a Jewish matchmaker I have conversations about love with singles from all walks of life and a common concern of many is a tendency to become lost in love – to become so enmeshed with another person that their own needs and wants become difficult to distinguish. Sound romantic? It isn’t. It’s emotionally unhealthy and leads to feeling dissatisfied and suffocated in the relationship, often culminating in a chaotic breakup with lots of tears and conflicted feelings.
How and why do we lose ourselves in love?
It starts innocently enough. We meet someone we like and we want them to like us in return. Our hormones are in overdrive and we find ourselves wanting to spend all our free time with this person, looking for commonalities and constantly evaluating our compatibility. We want to attract this person; we want to please this person; we want to be the person this person is looking for, so we present the ‘best version’ of ourselves, an idealized version of who we want to be, and as we learn what pleases and displeases the other person, we continue to conform so that we appear to be a good ‘fit’.
Are you beginning to see the problem?
When you’re so focused on being who someone else is seeking, you lose focus on who you actually are. A healthier approach to this oft-repeated pattern is meeting someone we like, wanting them to like us in return, and consciously deciding to show up as ourselves, knowing that if our true self appeals to this person, we are likely an awesome match and a deeper, more lasting connection will be made. So why aren’t we doing this? I think it’s mostly out of fear. Fear that we’re imperfect and our imperfections will be a turn-off. Fear of not being good-enough, fear of not being liked. But mostly, fear of being alone.
How do you fall in love without losing yourself?
First, you’ve got to let go of those fears, and that takes inner work. No one can do it for you. Confronting your fears requires introspection and brutal honesty – with yourself. That is the step numero uno. Once fear is removed from the equation, the following tips should come easy:
1) Spend time with your family and your friends: You know that friend who disappears whenever a new love comes into her life? Don’t be that friend. Don’t let couple togetherness consume the time that you previously put into nurturing your relationships with friends and family. A strong support system outside of the relationship is crucial. Don’t make your partner your one and only source of comfort, support, and encouragement. You need to know that there are people who have ‘got your back’ no matter what happens in the relationship, so never make one person your lifeline.
2) Nurture your hobbies and interests: Sharing hobbies is a wonderful way to connect with your partner, but you’re not identical twins. You’re bound to have some interests that simply don’t interest your partner and vice versa. Don’t give up the hobbies that you don’t share in order to concentrate only on those you do. Your hobbies and interests are an outlet for aspects of your personality that need to be expressed; don’t stifle them.
3) Spend time alone: Even if you think you don’t need alone time, you probably do. The only people I know who say they don’t need time alone and want to spend all their time with their partner are people who are insecure about their relationship. Even extroverts need some periods of alone time – if only to listen to that small inner voice that serves as our own personal barometer of what’s going on in our heads and our hearts. Alone time is good for both of you and wanting time alone is not an indication that you are not compatible or not ‘right’ for each other; it’s as vital as breathing.
4) Pursue your passions: This one is similar to #2 except it’s focused on your passions and dreams. Don’t give them up! Loving someone doesn’t mean that you have to give up on your dreams or your personal source of inspiration. Want to open a small business? Share that dream with your partner and continue to grow it alongside the relationship. Dreams and goals give our life meaning and purpose. Giving up your purpose and focusing only on the relationship can lead to feelings of insignificance and self-sacrifice – neither of which is going to make you a happy camper or a happy partner. Even if your dreams have to be delayed or adjusted because of current circumstances or relationship goals, be sure to keep some form of them alive.
5) Retain your independence: It’s fun to hang out together and it’s great to feel as though you’ve got a ‘partner in crime’, but healthy self-esteem and self-confidence come from knowing that you can take care of yourself and be more-than-okay doing so. A mutual reliance on each other is important in a relationship and everyone needs to feel needed, but there is a difference between knowing you can count on your partner and leaning on him/her for support versus becoming dependent on your partner for your own happiness. Genuine love is not dependence; love is a support, not a crutch. Don’t slip into the mindset that you ‘can’t live’ without your partner. You may prefer not to, but make sure that if you had to, you could.
6) Be yourself: Losing yourself in love means losing your sense of independent identity and finding yourself only identified by your place in the relationship. You eat, breath, and sleep the relationship; your every action is determined by how your partner will react or what he/she will think or feel about it (and you!). This is not good for you or for the relationship. You are unique in this world. There is no other person who shares your unique life experience or your unique perspective on life. Don’t extinguish that light in the flames of passion. You and your partner may have commonalities, but you are not the same person. Learn to be fully yourself and encourage your partner to bring his/her full self to the relationship and if neither of you really know yourselves, embark on a shared journey of self-awareness, just make sure you each have your own ticket to ride.