“You need to act like you’re part of a couple rather than a single individual.”

This statement is something I’ve heard repeatedly from men I’ve dated, and I still can’t understand it. Every single time I’ve heard it, I’ve asked how I could better do that; I’ve asked what it is that I do that makes me seem as if I’m not trying to be a part of this ‘couple’, and I never get an actual response. I don’t get examples of times I’ve shown that I wasn’t trying to be part of that ‘couple’; I just get “I don’t know,” and that leaves me with absolutely nothing to do other than to either continue on the same path or constantly question whether I’m doing enough or anything at all. Really, it probably leads me to do a mixture of the two, which is a pretty messed up way to deal with a relationship.

Perhaps there are cultural differences that I’m unaware of, as my partners have not always been of the same culture as myself. I try my best to take someone else into consideration. I try to do small things: helping them out when they get busy with work, making sure things don’t get forgotten, and listening to problems that they may have. I attempt to do favours when they ask them of me, as long as they’re within reason. I make an effort to do activities that I wouldn’t otherwise do so that we can have things to do together.

But I know my limitations; I’m usually not as physically fit as my partner, so I request that they scale back if they wish for me to do things with them. I don’t like the atmosphere of gyms, so I tell my partners who do enjoy them that it’s fine to go without me. I don’t have the current stamina or endurance to climb mountains (or, rather, lots of stairs built into mountains, for my current location); it hurts my knees, but I can still do it. I just request that my partner scales down to my ability level when they wants me to join them because, otherwise, I feel as if I should’ve done it on my own. That seems like basic courtesy and respect to me.

I also request that my partner treats my interests and hobbies with respect, even if they won’t participate in them. I’m not insulted that they’re bored by things that I find interesting; it’d be difficult to find someone who is a 100% match for every interest. Just don’t tell me what I should do with my free-time; don’t tell me that my hobbies are ‘wastes of time’ and that I would be ‘better off’ doing something else. I may not enjoy many of your hobbies, but I certainly am not rude enough to try to ruin them for you.

When it comes to friendships, I never ask that my partners stop seeing their friends, but I do ask for advance notice of things like parties or dinners. I have social anxiety, so I need some time to prepare myself. I also need to know what kind of environment I’m entering. Is it a casual or formal event? How many people are going to be there? What will be expected of me at those events? At no point have I ever demanded that any of my partners stop going to events or stop seeing their friends; I just ask for information that would enable me to be more comfortable in those environments, allowing everyone to enjoy it more.

But – and this is particular to my current partner – when he points out that he’s stopped seeing his friends so that he could spend evenings with me, I find it a ludicrous example of things he’s sacrificing in the name of ‘being a couple’. First, I would never once ask him to do that, and I most certainly don’t agree with doing it. It’s absurd to think that a person should isolate themselves for a single person, regardless of what their relationship is. Second, I moved to a whole new city in a different country; I left my friends entirely, which means that I’ve literally sacrificed being able to spend time with them because I can’t. Despite the fact I’ve told my partner that I think it’s healthy for us to spend time apart and with our own friends, he makes a decision and compares it to one that I cannot possibly make because it’s not even an available option. If he wants to play the Sympathy Olympics with me, I don’t think it’s wise.

It’s also important to me to encourage my partner to make their own decisions and enable them to be more comfortable in their lives. When something has zero impact on me, I don’t feel the need to press the issue with them. If they ask me for an opinion, I’ll give it to them; I’m not going to interfere with something that isn’t going to harm us, them, or me. Do they really need to go to the library today? Do they have to conduct their business in the way you deem proper, or can it be done differently? If there are multiple ways or times to do something, I don’t see a need to get on their case about it. Let them be comfortable.

But compromise is something I find necessary. I cannot spend time and energy forcing issues where they’re too stubborn, even if it impacts us or me. My partner’s health is always important to me, but I cannot see a reason to keep harping on about something they’re doing if it’s only going to impact them negatively. If your partner enjoys a once-a-week single-serving ice cream, let them be; let them have a moment to enjoy something they like. It’s not hurting you, and it’s more than likely not going to be the nail in their coffin. And this extends to more serious issues than just being able to enjoy food.

I also acknowledge that there are times where, honestly, I shouldn’t have specific conversations. If they’re not conducive to anything, what is the point? Why continue pressing issues that have no impact other than to provoke an argument? If I know that discussing certain political events – Hillary Clinton’s emails, for instance – is going to leave us having an argument over something that doesn’t matter – technology and how people who oversee departments view it – and create a negative environment, I’m well within my right to express how pointless it will be for the conversation to continue. It has no bearing on our relationship, and it’s only going to lead to us being frustrated with each other. It’s not censorship; it’s simple boundaries, and you’re pushing them. What happens when the conversation is more serious and actually impacts one of us? It’s not going to end well.

With all of that in mind, I’d like to ask again: What can I do to make myself more a part of this ‘couple’? Because the only thing I can see is to be more submissive, passive, and do everything as I’m told without any complaint or suggestion.

And that definitely isn’t a healthy relationship, nor is it ‘being part of a couple’.

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