#42 TRENDING IN Relationships 🔥

Maintaining Individuality to Strengthen Your Relationship


October 26, 2023

Trust me, an hour without a text or call back is perfectly normal.

I know it’s hard to ignore that nagging impulse to be interconnected with your future ‘spouse-to-be’. That one text or call back seems to be all there is to life in every moment not obligated to school, or work. Even a good night’s 8-hour rest tends to be a passing thought when you can FaceTime for hours on end manifesting dreams of 3 kids, a glorious golden Labrador, and a massive penthouse on the 60th floor of a skyscraper overtaking Central Park.

But that text or call won’t always come when you expect it to.

I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Because of my introverted nature, I was never the most outgoing or popular guy. I was always satisfied with the idea of having one consistent person I could share every experience. On top of that, I, like most teenagers, wanted to start exploring my sexuality in relationships.

Growing up, I watched Whitley and Dwayne start off as random strangers and grow madly in love every day for six seasons on “A Different World”. I loved watching Quincy navigate life, while falling in and out, and then finally back in love with Monica in “Love and Basketball”. My dream was to love someone the way these fictional characters presented love to me.

For this reason, not only was I in a relationship for most of my teenage years, but I quickly allowed my partners to see vulnerable sides of my character on such a consistent basis. I figured that by being so open to this one special person all the time, my declaration of love would be enough to live happily ever after. Without noticing, I began spending every waking moment trying to nurture the relationships, which at one point developed into toxic codependent habits I deemed necessary to ensure my favorite person stayed in my life.

Turns out, it’s a turn-off to be too attached to your partners in the way I’ve just described. According to a New York Post article, “Forty-one percent of those in a relationship would leave their partner if they didn’t allow them to have ‘me-time’”. ‘Me-time’ in this sense refers to moments for an individual in a relationship dedicated to being alone or separate from their partner. In those moments, each person in the relationship is allowed the time and space to strengthen the aspects of themselves that are individually important.

Oftentimes in relationships, it’s easy to neglect those moments of me-time, figuring that every thought, action, and experience would be so much easier to enjoy with someone else. With those rose-tinted glasses of love, partners are inclined to forget what made the relationship work in the first place: your individuality.

My version of me-time was playing and watching basketball. Since I was 5 years old, first entering kindergarten, I was witness to Kobe Bryant, and then LeBron James as they carved history through the NBA with all-time great performances. Most of my free time as a kid was spent mimicking those moves I saw on TV with freshly cleaned socks as my basketball and a makeshift carton as my hoop.

Later when I grew into my body a bit more, I was able to get shots up with kids slightly older than me at the neighborhood park and solidified a serious passion for basketball. Most of the friends I developed through middle school and eventually high school came from our mutual desire to play the sport we held so dearly in our hearts. We would meet up religiously, whether it be after school on basketball courts across the street, or on weekends in our respective neighborhoods.

Dating made all that time connecting with friends and satisfying personal desires feel nonexistent. Don’t get me wrong, I love my girlfriend; we’ve been together for God knows how long at this point. However, I would be remiss not to say that most of the time, I felt entitled to the things we would do together as a couple. If I didn’t see my partner more than 3 times in a week, it was because…

well, it never happened.

In that way, I’ve found that maintaining boundaries in relationships to promote healthy individuality can be a hard and complex process.

In my senior year of high school, with college applications and subsequent decisions looming, it became a lot harder to keep up with the unlimited time I was so used to giving to my partner. Whereas I used to leave immediately after the last period’s bell to meet my partner in the courtyard of my school, I found myself forcing time for tutoring after school with teachers I had to impress before college recommendations were due. My girlfriend had a curfew of sundown, which meant that there would be no chance we would be able to see each other on weekdays.

I had to make decisions that shouldn’t have been hard to make. But the drug of love and attachment made those moments of me-time, even to secure my academic success, feel illegal. Every time I would send that “not today text”, it felt like a knife I was forced to drive into my partner’s back.

It doesn’t help that social media at times feeds into those feelings of betrayal.

I vividly remember one solo bus ride home on the B43 at 6 p.m. after office hours at school. Outside the bus, the sky was dark, spitting out unsteady, soft rain droplets on the windowsill. I was scrolling through TikTok videos when one scrolled across my screen.

The video was pretty much still, just a drone shot of the Brooklyn Bridge on a rainy day. There was a paragraph plastered in the middle, essentially speaking from a woman’s perspective about how she needs consistent attention to remain happy in her relationship.

Not money, not gifts every day, just time and attention.

We live in a society that doesn’t confine itself to a certain definition of what a ‘healthy’ relationship looks like. The line between mutually beneficial interdependence and toxic codependency is consistently blurred. It doesn’t help that social media platforms like TikTok and otherwise broadcast totally different opinions about what constitutes a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship. I enjoyed Doctiva’s article on the toxic relationship between social media and relationships, which points out the sense of “Insecurity [that] creeps into the relationship, along with jealousy and the need to put up a farce”.

That’s exactly how I felt at that moment. I felt insecure and maybe a bit jealous of those who had the luxury to give their partners all the time they desired.

I didn’t know how my partner felt about all of this, so I texted her that same bus ride, and we talked through it. I found that the initial text bringing up the topic of individuality and feeling comfortable embracing each other's individuality was harder than the conversation itself. My partner made me feel validated in the idea that as long as we communicated through times when time had to be divided into other aspects of life, there would never be a reason to feel bad or unaccomplished in the relationship.

I find that the allure of relationships, aside from emotional comfort, is the idea of becoming an elevated version of yourself because of the positive influence your partner brings. After all, who doesn’t want to look back at their relationship and be proud of the progress being made. We all secretly desire our own versions of that bad bi--- ‘Jay-Z and Beyonce’ power couple.

However, it’s almost impossible to become greater together if there isn’t space to thrive as a person in your own rite. Even in spaces that hold loyalty and interdependence to a high degree like relationships, it’s important to maintain a sense of self-reliance.

As I transitioned into college life, I was able to return to the things that made me happy and validated. With the time set apart for studying, playing sports, and hanging out with friends, I feel better in the time my partner and I set apart for each other. Now, we even look forward to the stories we collect while going on separate journeys throughout the day.

Not all individuals in relationships look the same or require as much attention. The balance between me-time and relationship time looks different depending on each person’s varying life circumstances. In saying that, I would advise every teenage person in the dating world to find and establish a healthy balance for themselves of personal time while in relationships.

Enoch Naklen
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Writer since Oct, 2023 · 10 published articles

Enoch Naklen is a current Baruch freshman born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. He enjoys multimedia blogging and basketball in his free time.