Two friends, a guy and a girl, chat over email about relationships. Both are in fairly new (separate) relationships and have found some things about being in a couple pretty surprising – they’ve agreed to share their conversation with us here:
Danny: OK, so let’s talk about it. It’s kind of different being in a relationship than anyone ever told me. There’s plenty to read about dating and finding the person to be in a relationship with, but actually navigating that relationship is very different from the impression you get on the “outside”.
One of the weird – but nice – things that happened was that the first few friends (all in relationships) who found out about me and my girlfriend were indecently swift to dive in with suggestions of double, triple, quadruple, I think we even got to a quintuple date idea!
Amelia: To me, it feels like the message with that sometimes is, that we are more valuable and worth investing in together, than as individuals – like our social currency has increased.
Danny: Honestly, I’ve not seen many of these invitations actually materialise; I was quite looking forward to the uptick in dinner party invitations, but that’s not happened yet.
Amelia: Yeah, but might I just point out you kept your relationship under wraps for quite a while. Just you wait!
My concern is that the church community often seems to reflect this perception that couples are more valuable than singles. It’s reflected in leadership, sermons, small groups and social activities. It means we miss out on a richness of fellowship and valuable wisdom and support when we’re single.
Young families may assume that singles are too busy or not interested in spending time with them and their children. On the other hand, singles may not think to offer to host a lunch or babysit. We need to leave these assumptions about each other at the door.
Danny: Well, I was quite chuffed, when single, to be added to the cooking rota for a family having a baby, just because I wasn’t married didn’t mean I didn’t want to play a part.
Amelia: OK, that’s encouraging to hear; I hope more people look for those opportunities. Whether you like it or not your friendships change. I’ve had a friend who’s ghosted me since I got into a relationship (yes this is a real thing), but I’ve become closer to other friends and I’ve made new friends.
Danny: You can get really self-conscious about this, trying to over-analyse how other people are reacting to your coupledom. Sometimes I think friends are ignoring (ghosting) me, but actually they’ve just been incredibly busy. Even before I got together with my girlfriend, it wouldn’t be uncommon to not see people I consider good friends for several months at a time, apart from maybe a casual hello at church.
Amelia: When I was single I had grand plans that when I was a couple I would continue seamlessly being an awesome friend, available as much as ever. I have failed completely.
Danny: Yeah, I had so much disdain for couples who submerged into their relationship and vanished from trace, but now I regret my judgement. It’s hard. There’s one relationship I want to prioritise, but plenty of others I don’t want to lose. For those I’m closest to, it’s made me a lot more intentional about making sure I see them, especially people I don’t see as part of my week to week routine.
Amelia: I completely agree. You want to prioritise your relationship while also investing into your friendships. On a practical level this is hard and on an emotional level it’s hard too.
Finding a balance has been harder than I anticipated and now on this side I wish I had been more gracious with my couple friends! As a people-pleaser, I especially struggle with disappointing some of my friends or managing the challenges they felt now that I was in a different space.
Danny: I don’t people please so I don’t care. Joke.
Amelia: Except you’re not joking!
I’m a huge advocate of doing relationships in community and so my friendships have become even more important to me in this new season. I don’t want Alex and I to become isolated from friends. I want input, support, accountability and wisdom from our friends.
Danny: I’ve become very conscious of having to work at this, at getting to know people as a couple rather than just as an individual. I’m still me, and I’m the me people have known for years, but I’m not just that.
Amelia: So one of my difficulties with being in a new relationship is, that since being in a couple I rarely get asked about anything other than my relationship.
Danny: I think that’s a guy/girl difference – I get quizzed incessantly by my female friends whereas very few guys raise it, certainly not straight away, and rarely, apart from my close friends. But one (female) friend of my girlfriend who I know separately couldn’t wait to pounce the first time she saw me after finding out we were going out!
Amelia: This is a very good point. Guys never ask; it’s always the girls! On a recent trip to visit family and friends in New Zealand the majority of my conversations were about Alex. Hardly anyone asked me about my life in London i.e. travel adventures, friends, volunteer work or my super cool new job that I was beyond excited about.
Danny: And then there’s the people who don’t say anything directly, but try and be subtle asking probing questions which you know are only because they’ve seen THAT photo you put on Facebook the other day.
Amelia: On that note I was BEYOND excited when you finally posted a pic of you and your girlfriend. I appreciate that my nearest and dearest are excited for me and let’s be honest, relieved I had finally “found” someone. However I was disappointed that my life had seemingly become the sum total of a relationship.
Danny: I’m going to stick up for their curiosity here – it’s the new news. To be honest, if I’m comfortable talking to someone, it’s one of the main things I’d want to talk about. Hopefully the novelty will wear off and they’ll remember I have other things going on, and when the novelty has worn off, I hope people will still want to talk about it.
Amelia: Fair enough when something is new. But it’s not new now. Time to ask about things beyond my love life, people! And then it’s the marriage question. This starts about five minutes after you’ve become a couple. You will get asked this All. The. Time. There is no point fighting it. You just need to accept it and come up with a witty response so you don’t look like a deer caught in headlights like I did the first few times.
Danny: Three times in one week people ‘jokingly’ brought it up: “Hope you’re not getting married before me!” (says person who’s getting married in two months).
Amelia: I know! A friend recently eloped. I got a text from a mutual friend wanting my reassurance I wouldn’t do the same thing!
Now, let’s talk about something dear to my heart: shared diaries are God’s gift to busy millennials.
Danny: If only it was that simple…
I know many would balk at the idea of a shared diary too soon in the relationship, worrying about “what it means” or that it signals too much commitment. I think people need to just get over this and embrace it, for the sake of your sanity.
Danny: Having a shared diary would be great, but I’d have to get my girlfriend to embrace technology and ditch her paper diary. Instead we just have to sit down, her with her paper diary, me with my phone, and map out the next month or so.
Amelia: Honestly, so grateful that Alex is electronic! You know how weird (OK, OCD) I am about planning, I couldn’t cope with paper.
Danny: I just remember hers a month at a time. It might verge on the stalkerish.
Amelia: We set up a shared diary really early on. I would like to say it was because we were both busy. But really it was on account of my OCD-ness about organisation and forward planning. Thankfully Alex didn’t run a mile. He is very accommodating of this quirk… and all the others.
Danny: Life was so crazy for our first couple of months that it became essential, but when I started suggesting planning ahead it was a huge leap to book in every time we’d be able to see each other for the next month, and put key events in half a year ahead. I like to plan.
One of the great little things is having mapped all that out, finding bonus time, one of you has something cancelled, and you can spend a casual afternoon in the sun.
Amelia: Being an organised person like Danny I completely sympathised with him on this. We would have long conversations trying to figure out how to plan while coming across as being totally relaxed about not planning… Our other halves probably saw right through it.
But word of advice, Danny: don’t share everything. Keep some mystery in the relationship. Alex doesn’t see my over-zealous number of gym appointments that I routinely ignore. Or cheeky wine dates with the girls.
Danny: There’s no keeping secrets when the page is open in front of you, unless she has a second diary where all the fun things go…
Amelia: There is definitely a fun diary.
But relationships can be fun, too! Over the last few years many well-meaning people have emphasised how much hard work a relationship can be. And most relationship books and the plethora of advice available on the internet focus on the work. So I’ve been prepping myself for lots of work, and honestly, feeling slightly dubious about the effort that would be required should I ever take the plunge.
Danny: I kind of freaked out at one point that it wasn’t hard work, and thought maybe we weren’t doing it right, weren’t putting enough effort in, because if we were it would hurt, a bit like exercise; if it doesn’t hurt it’s not worth it.
Amelia: You also freaked out in general at the beginning. And OK, so did I. Being analytical is both a blessing and a curse. However no one told me how much fun being in a couple could be. So I was in for a surprise of the best kind.
Danny: I’ve surprised myself too. It’s been incredibly fun. And I’m happier than I expected. Not that I’d assumed being in a relationship would be a torturous trial that I would have to force myself to endure. But I enjoy learning what it’s like, and getting to know someone else has been more fun than a socially anxious introvert like me would ever expect.
Amelia: I’ve laughed so much these last few months that I’m pretty sure my stomach muscles are more defined. Well they look it to me. Before breakfast. If I suck in. And stand at a certain angle.
But I’ll admit it’s not laughter 24/7. There have been sighs of frustration, rolled eyes and even tears. And yes, relationships require effort and can be hard at times. But through all of that and through the challenges of life, you want to have someone by your side who brings you joy and laughter.
Danny: I know it’s not all smiles, especially when the other person watches the next episode of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt without you.
Amelia: Oh that is awful. Waiting to watch episodes is the foundation of a healthy relationship.
Danny: I know. It was our first argument. And it happened in public, in front of friends.
So this might cross the too much information threshold, but I’m an analytical sort of person, I like to think through situations, work out the pros and cons, determine the cost benefit balance, do a little SWOT analysis, and come to a conclusion.
Amelia: You are the most analytical person I know. Do you remember how, a few dates in, you had a range of questions you wanted her to answer ahead of a DTR conversation? Homework. It was essentially homework. I said perhaps it was a bit much.
Danny: True story, I took that advice, along with another helpful response: “No. That’s a HARD no.” I know relationships don’t work like that. There’s plenty to consider and talk about. I’m not sure it’s possible to talk too much, and as an external processor, that’s good news.
What’s surprised me is that emotions matter too. Shock horror! I still wince a little at couples with their delightfully smug photos and cutey pie names for each other on social media, but being in a relationship has brought out my soppy side. Sometimes it makes me want to throw up.
Amelia: You’re talking about me and Alex here, aren’t you? Just you wait. You’ll cave and do it too and I will be right there to say: “Ha!”
Before Alex I considered myself to be a fairly unemotional, rational person. My friends can attest to the fact I was fairly contained and a compartmentalising pro. However relationships really do bring a lot of things to the fore. And you can’t emotionally pack things in the proverbial box.
Consequently, I’ve become highly emotional. Lucky Alex. On the plus side I’ve learnt how to embrace that emotional side in a healthy way.
Danny: Although I still don’t really get it when you see couples walking down the street with their arms around each other as though they perfectly tessellate.
Amelia: Tessellate? WHAT IS THIS WORD DOING HERE! SERIOUSLY?!?!?
Danny: But it’s just not true! And walking with arms around each other is a bit of a hazard on busy London streets. Fact: it doesn’t work!
Amelia: Sorry, but I find it so weird thinking about you having your arms around someone!
Danny: I think one of the main things for me is, I’ve learnt a lot about myself, but it’s also shown me how much I’ve got to unlearn. I’d got pretty good at ‘adulting’ over the past decade, and suddenly having to adjust to not being the independent person I prided myself on being, has been a bit of an awakening.
Do you agree with Amelia and Danny? If you’ve recently begun a relationship, have you experienced any surprises, good or bad? Let us know in the comments!