Writing by Jodie Matthews // Photograph by Federica Santolamazza
Healthy relationships are wonderful things. They make you feel happy and fuzzy, you’re secure, and hopefully, in love. You get to experience your life with another person. Most relationships, even the best ones, will have at least one little problematic area. Maybe you don’t communicate that well, maybe you’ve got some kind of ‘bed-death’ going on and you can’t quite remember what sex is, maybe you’re going through the actual-hell-on-earth that is long distance, or maybe you’re losing yourself.
I’m in a happy, brilliant long-term relationship (not to brag too much) but like everyone else, we’ve had issues here and there. From this cosy bubble, most of my single friends seem to lead the most daring, independent lives. People are going on adventures. I’m not talking about actual, off-track ‘I’m walking the length of Spain alone’ adventures (although I do actually know someone who’s doing that). I’m talking about different careers and experiences. My friends are living in different countries, taking internships, touring and volunteering. They’re learning more and more about themselves as each day passes.
When you’re in a relationship, a lot of the time that would be spent on self-discovery can be spent on discovering your partner. You learn about their passions, their experiences, their opinions. You learn about them because people are amazing! Why wouldn’t you want to know everything about the person you love? Your experiences can become wider and wider apart from those of your friends. You and your partner have lived through the flustery can-barely-breathe-when-I-look-at-your-face period (thank god because that shit is tiring) and now you’re settled and you’re seeking out creature comforts. You’re getting older and you want a house, a job, a comfortable lifestyle so that you can stay happy and comfortable together.
I’m not championing the relationship or single side here. I don’t think it’s better to be paired up, or by yourself. I do think though, that when you’re single and you spend those moments alone with yourself, you learn to prioritise yourself. I think that that self-preservation can get a bit cloudy when you’ve been with someone else for a long time. You live together, sleep together, eat together. You watch the same shows and go out together. They see you cut your toenails and pluck rogue hairs. They know you, and they know you pretty damn well.
When I’m single, I’m gross. I’m vile. This isn’t hyperbole, though I wish it was. Wherever I’m living becomes a state. I leave my pants on my bedside table and sleep with books in my bed. I find cigarette ash on all my clothes and sometimes I forget how to use a washing machine. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself, and I do, but I do it in a shambles. I pick up a new project every other week, work entirely on impulse and inspiration without any actual motivation, visit friends constantly and stay up until 4 am for no good reason other than that I wanted to make something. Single me is erratic. I never know when to stop. Single me is also the most creative I’ve ever been, albeit in a very roundabout way.
When I settle into a relationship, bit by bit these characteristics start to hide. Hide, not disappear, because I’m always going to be the girl who wakes up with a lighter and a false nail stuck to the side of her face because she never cleared the bed. It’s never an active decision to hide some of my less favourable characteristics, it’s just something that naturally happens. You spend a lot of time with someone else, you get out of your own head a little more and learn the act of compromise. Staying up until four on your type writer to hammer out existential poems on toilet paper becomes a little less interesting (read: pretentious) and a little more impractical– ‘please don’t do that I have to go to work at seven’. Now you want to go and buy a kettle and teeny tiny glasses with lemons on and different types of kale to try because together you’re trying to get homely and healthy (read: still a bit pretentious). The change in your interests isn’t fake, it’s simply a shift.
All of this is natural! I promise.
The little niggly problem that can arise from this is that you stop doing some of the things you enjoy. They get lost in your cosmic cleansing, the hobbies brushed away at the same time as the 3 hour long baths. There comes a time when you need to sit yourself down and have a long hard chat, preferably not in public. Take a step away from the show you and your partner are binge watching, and try and remember what you used to do in your evenings. Ease yourself back in bit by bit. Take some time to read. Go out with your friends alone. Think about what you’d be doing if you were alone, and go and do it. I promise your partner won’t mind, and if they do, you’re better off without them.
Recently, I’d found myself in a bit of a funk. I felt like I hadn’t done anything creative since I left university. I was wrapped up in my 9-5 work life and my home life and I felt like I’d forgotten how to be myself. I’d moved 300 miles, and I was busy being happy and responsible, but I felt like my creativity was a hornets nest hidden at the top of a tree. Way too far away and much too scary to try and grab. So slowly, I started reading more. Then I started writing more. I connected with people on the internet and expanded my circle, so it was wider than it ever had been. I picked up the knitting I hadn’t touched in a year and powered on with my wonky, mismatched scarf.
My sense memory kicked in and all of the things I’d paid no attention to for so long started to come back to me. I’ve started making embroideries, I’m collating a zine with writing and art from a host of other brilliant women. I’ve become better at what I do, because now I don’t work fleetingly on impulse and inspiration alone. I’ve learnt to motivate myself, because I know I have to fit things into the schedule we have. When I start to feel stressed by what feels like a billion new projects coming at me every week, I stop and remind myself that I used to do exactly this, but before I did it on my own. Now, my partner helps me. We choose threads together and find colour matches, we look over submissions together and he edits my work for me when my eyes feel too blurry. When we’re binge watching a show, my hands are busy twitching and sewing and knitting away as I create something. My work-to-life balance is better. I don’t pull all-nighters to create something or stitch until my fingers bleed. I set time aside to spend with my partner, and as difficult as I can find it, sometimes I ignore emails for days, because once I’m home from work, all I want to do is relax and spend together. I’m happier and our relationship feels even better than before.
Forget flowers or three orgasms in a row, finding yourself in your relationship is the best thing you can do for your partner, and yourself. No matter how much your interests, opinions and life shift, at your core you are the same as you were before. I want you to put as much effort into finding and loving and taking care of yourself as you put into your relationship. If you want to thank me, I’ll be sewing a piece of kale to some cloth, or something equally pretentious, because that’s just what I do.[share]