It was my fourth anniversary with Kevin. Four years sounds like a long time to some, but after the third year, time feels suspended, like you’re no longer bothered to count anymore because you know this relationship is pretty much permanent. Four years is a milestone for me—I’ve never had a relationship last longer than a year—but it’s a milestone long past for one of my good friends who has been dating the same guy since freshman year of high school, so it’s been like, eons, as far as the rest of us are concerned. When we were still in high school, they had been dating for four years at that point and I was dating my then-boyfriend for a couple months, I remember asking her how she “coped” with having a long-term boyfriend. The usually bubbly and talkative girl took me by surprise. She told me that she’s actually felt, at times, incredibly lonely because no one else has had a boyfriend for as long. She’s had to go through and figure out a lot of kinks on her own. I suddenly felt sorry for her. The rest of us often jeered at them and their seemingly perfect and all-consuming relationship, and I never even stopped and considered how isolating being in a long-term relationship could be. And then she surprised me again. “I learned to cope,” she said, “by not talking about my relationship to anyone.” It suddenly struck me that though she could talk for ages about Ryan Gosling or her latest bag obsession, it’s true, she never really talks about her boyfriend.
Four years into my own relationship I now realize why she chose to never speak of her relationship. It has nothing to do with trust in your friends or maintaining an air of mystery, it’s simply that, when you let other people into your problems, you encourage a lot opinions that could sometimes lead you astray. It’s a weird thing, confiding in a friend about a boyfriend. The whole time I’m talking, if it’s a single friend, I see her apathy seep through the sympathy she tries to muster and she usually ends up siding with me, which achieves nothing at all besides me feeling more justified in my anger (so bad news for him). If it’s a friend in a relationship herself, her first sentence is always, “well Charlie and I…” and the comparisons go on, as if what happened to her is somehow supposed to change how I feel about my boyfriend. In short, talking to my friend always ends in two ways. Either she agrees with me and I’m angrier, or she doesn’t agree with me and I’m left explaining myself over and over again to get her to side with me. When we talk about our relationships, more often than not, we’re seeking encouragement and concurrence. Anything they say au contraire is what we already know but merely do not want to recognize.
I remember a while ago, my boyfriend and I had one of the biggest fights we’ve ever had and we were on the brink of breaking up. My gal pal of the time was infuriated for me and implicitly encouraged me to break up with him. But somewhere along the venting and confiding, I realized she was only so keen on me breaking up because she broke up with her boyfriend not long ago and it was the best decision she’s ever made. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the best decision for me. I ended up not breaking up with my boyfriend (obviously), and that was the best decision I’ve ever made.
That’s not to say you should never speak to your girlfriends about your significant other. Sometimes you need to vent, sometimes you need comfort, sometimes you need to be talked out of a ridiculous notion. But more often than not, I’ve realized that nobody knows your relationship better than you do. As much as your friends have your best interest in mind, they can only speak from personal experience and, well, no two couples are the same.
I then started practicing silence when it came to other aspects of my life. When I started this blog, I actually began creating content weekly for three months—in secret. I gave myself a writing schedule, I shot looks with my boyfriend whenever we had a chance. I gave myself deadlines and quantitative goals. And I told next to no one. In a childish way, somehow I felt like talking about it would jinx it. Turns out, in a way, I was right. I watched a TED Talk recently on the psychology of success (because I’m still totally convinced I’ll end up as a troll under a bridge). Apparently, if you set a goal such as “I’m going to lose 5 pounds this month,” then tell your friends and family about it, you’re less likely to succeed. That’s because having the satisfaction of saying it out loud tricks your brain into thinking you’ve already done it, therefore making you more likely to give up when it comes to actually following through. So when I finally launched in January, in the midst of warm congratulatory messages, I felt the most at peace and rewarded for completing this goal I had set for myself.
It was when I learned to shut up about my relationship, my goals, my worries that I finally learned to listen to myself. Part of this growing up thing has opened my eyes to the importance of tuning it all out and just banking on myself, and trusting myself to make the right choices, because sometimes I’m the only one whose opinion matters.