It’s Saturday morning, and I’m waiting in line at REI to buy $80 climbing shoes when I realize something: There’s a very real chance my boyfriend and I are morphing into the same human being. That’s because a year ago, I would have cited my fear of heights to get me out of anything that involved ascending much higher than my local New York City’s street level. (“I can’t go to a rooftop bar with you! It’s too high!”) But after several months of dating, my love interest somehow convinced me to try his go-to hobby of rock climbing, and I was into immediately. I fell in love with a human being, and now I own climbing shoes! Expensive ones! I’m still having fun, and I’m still happy—romantically and otherwise—but a nagging voice in the back of my head keeps asking: Am I losing myself in this relationship?
Dominique Samuels, PsyD, resident psychologist for relationship-health app Emi Couple, says patients often come to her wondering just that, whether they’re sacrificing their own individuality and melding into their partner’s identity. So, if you’ve ever experienced a similar thought, at least take comfort in knowing you’re hardly alone—and, according to Dr. Samuels, there are a couple reasons you may be feeling this way.
2 reasons for wondering whether you’re losing yourself in a relationship
1. You’re afraid of commitment. You think you’re losing yourself in a relationship because you’re nursing a very real desire to actually stop your relationship from getting serious. In this case, Dr. Samuels says to evaluate whether or not this a relationship you actually want to continue pouring energy into.
2. You’re not clear on how healthy attachment looks. Sometimes, important foundational questions need to be answered and understood, like what’s too independent? And what’s codependent? “The best way to address these issues is to communicate with your partner, and with yourself,” Dr. Samuels says. Clinical psychologist Jordana Jacobs, PhD, previously told Well+Good that you may be codependent if you talk about the person constantly, easily excuse their bad behavior, or find yourself overly caring for them.
To decipher which camp you more likely fall into, Dr. Samuels says it’s important to zero in on when exactly you tend to grow concerned about disappearing into the person you’re currently dating. “Before agreeing to do or change anything [about yourself and habits], really think about why you’re saying yes. Are you hoping that the other person will return the favor? Are you hoping this will garner lovability points? Or do you, genuinely, want to do or change it?”
In my case, this introspective order means checking out why I’ve suddenly suspended my fear of heights (or, at the very least, made an exception for indoor rock-climbing walls). Is it because I want to impress my boyfriend, or is it because I really, truly want to scale plastic walls in my free time?
After some deep thought, I realized that even though he introduced me to the sport, I’m the one who bought herself climbing shoes and feels compelled to put on a harness even when he’s not around. Similarly, after I dragged him to his first hot-yoga class, he continued to flow on his own. (He’s even buying his own mat! I’m a yoga-influencer!) Sometimes we join each other in our partner-adopted sports, but not always. It’s something that bonds us without shackling us—and Dr. Samuels says this situation is the goal (phew).
Will my partner think I’m stealing their hobby by developing a shared interest?
Since it takes two to tango (in a monogamous relationship, that is), I ask Dr. Samuels how to talk to my S.O. to make sure it doesn’t bug him that I’m encroaching on his sport. It turns out that setting boundaries about when we want to share our activities and when we want to keep them to ourselves can prove useful, she says. “For example, if one partner is a runner, then maybe if you take up running, too. Ask if they want to run with you. If they don’t, be curious as to why. Perhaps that is a time they meditate on life? Maybe they are competitive and don’t want to put that on the relationship? Maybe they don’t want to feel resentful if you are faster or slower? There are so many reasons, but most of us jump to ‘you don’t want to be with me.'”
This step can often boost your sense of mutual intimacy, because you either get to spend more time together doing the shared activity, or you get to learn why someone loves to do a certain hobby alone. “Priorities shift a lot, especially when careers have become more stable, families are started, or loved ones get sick. Provided that you check in with yourself, communicate with your partner, and make calculated decisions together authentically, you should be okay,” says Dr. Samuels. “[I don’t] mean you won’t ever lose yourself a bit—you will likely do so. But go get that part back, or reinvent the lost part into something else.”
Who knows? Your partner may be the reason you find your life’s calling, find a new way to spend your free time, or get over a lifetime fear of ascending tall things.
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