When I met my first boyfriend at the age of 20 I noticed an eerie phenomenon:
As soon as we started dating I basically forgot who I was.
It was as if I suffered from sudden amnesia and that my mind was a blank piece of paper that he could write anything he wanted on and I would do it, just as if I was a puppet.
From time to time I felt as if I had no borders and as if I consisted of a liquid substance, like mercury. Sometimes, in a conscious moment, I tried to shake off this strange, uncomfortable, cloudy feeling, but without effect, so I tried to ignore it. It was as if I was paralyzed, unable to gather myself together into a more defined form.
This phenomenon occurred during the whole relationship. The whole thing ended after a couple of months with him telling me that I was “too nice” and “too clingy”.
I was shocked!
I had tried so hard to make him love me.
I had tried to be the most attractive version of myself, to be everything I thought he wanted me to be. Apparently, this wasn’t enough.
When he broke up with me, I was devastated. I had no clue what I was supposed to do in a relationship so that it would last. But at the same time, I didn’t give up hope. My girlfriends assured me, that I would find the right guy soon.
When I met my second boyfriend just a short time later, I tried even harder to make him love me, to the point, where I hardly spoke. This way I tried to minimize the risk of causing any possible dissonance between us. This relationship ended even quicker than the first one, with him telling me, that he could not stop thinking about other girls.
After this, my heart broke into countless pieces and I fell into a state of numbness.
Does this sound familiar? Have you ever experienced something similar?
I had thought relationships were easy, that it was enough to like each other’s looks and to behave in a nice way, but apparently, I was wrong and things were much more complicated.
It was obvious that I was missing an important piece of information. Since this was all before the internet became available to the general public, I searched the library and bookstores for books about relationships, but I couldn’t find the answer.
The available books were all talking about couples, usually married, who were together for a significant amount of time. There was no book that told you what to do right at the beginning of a relationship when you met someone new.
They seemed to take for granted that people knew instinctively how to behave with the opposite gender. Well, I didn’t, obviously.
So what was the problem?
Well, the problem was that when I spent time with my boyfriend I wasn’t the real me.
I took on a fake persona, hoping this way to fulfil all of the requirements I thought he had for a girlfriend. What I did was deceit towards him and towards myself.
This approach lead to the opposite of what I had hoped for, which was love and connection. Instead, I became very quickly very boring and uninteresting for the guys I was with.
Of course, I didn’t do this consciously or with evil intent. I did this because
I had been trained by my parents to be a fake person!
They did not love me the way I was, to be the real me was actually quite dangerous because they often reacted very threatening or even violent if I dared to express my feelings or opinions as a child. My mother sometimes did not even allow me to cry when I was sad. So I shut down myself completely in their presence and basically felt nothing anymore.
I got used to having two personas: One was the “child without needs and wants“ at home and the other one was the rather assertive kid outside. At kindergarten and school, I had no problems voicing my opinions and defending myself verbally and physically. At home, I often walked on eggshells.
When I started dating in my early twenties my “child without needs and wants“ persona kicked in automatically. I was behaving with my boyfriends just as I did with my parents! As if his approval meant life or death for me. That’s how serious it was in my subconscious mind.
I did not see at the time, that having your own interests and opinions can bring VALUE to a relationship because I was never taught this.
All I was taught was that children had to be silent and not talk back to adults. So even if my boyfriends said something I did not agree with, I never challenged them. I also never told them which activities I wanted to engage in when we were together.
My first boyfriend for example, who was quite interested in fashion, always wanted to go to the town centre to look for new clothes. This is something I usually try to avoid and in my free time, I’d rather enjoy going for a walk in nature or visiting an art gallery instead of rushing from shop to shop to search for the perfect shirt.
However, I never objected or made an alternative suggestion about how we could spend our time together so that it would benefit us both.
In retrospect, my first two boyfriends were very superficial and materialistic which is the opposite of what I am. They were never a good fit for me to begin with.
If I had been my true self right from the start we would have never gotten into a relationship in the first place and it would have saved me a lot of sorrow.
Another area where I totally shrunk myself was in the area of education. I was a student at the time and my boyfriends, who were older than me, had no college education. Both had tried to further their education but failed and given up on it.
This was a touchy subject for both of them so I didn’t talk to them about the thing that was the biggest part of my life: my time at university. I never told them how I was doing or how I felt about my fellow students, my courses, my professors and my exams.
I also can’t remember that they asked me about it, but seriously how was it possible that I kept quiet about the very thing that occupied my whole week? Unbelievable!
Fortunately, I am wiser today and therefore can provide you with 7 strategies how you can avoid losing yourself in a romantic relationship even if you like me were raised to be a “child without needs and wants“:
1. Before you even remotely think of dating a guy you need to know who you are or you’ll end up very unhappy.
You need to know your likes and dislikes as well as your plans for life and the direction you want to go and which lifestyle you need to feel good.
What kind of standards do you have? For you it might be a standard that you want to marry and have children before you are thirty. So a guy who does not believe in the institution of marriage is not the right fit for you.
Today’s culture encourages us to be totally open-minded and to never put anyone into a box. I have paid dearly for being too openminded and having no standards.
You need to know what you want and don’t want from a man. What are the non-negotiables? A lot of times young women think it’s enough if a man looks good and makes them lough, they totally forget that he also needs to have a good character.
I encourage you to make a list of negotiable and non-negotiable standards for a future Mr Right now, because it’s too late to try to think about standards when you already have a crush on someone and your judgement becomes blurry.
2. If you are constantly fantasising about a guy, try to be more present in your own life.
Look around you: What needs to be done? Are you neglecting important tasks? Go, make a to-do-list and work on it. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and boost your confidence. It will also interrupt obsessive daydreaming where you idealize the other person and put them on an unrealistic pedestal.
3. Let the other person know who you are.
You don’t need to overwhelm them, just do it bit by bit. Listen to what they say and if you don’t agree in an important matter, definitely say something. Friendly, non-aggressive and respectful, but don’t hide your opinion, you have a right to express it.
Also, don’t pretend that you are less smart or less ambitious than you really are. If a guy says anything condescending, even if it’s disguised as a joke, concerning your plans and dreams and does not really take you seriously, it’s a sure sign that he is not Mr Right.
4. Romance novels and love songs aren’t exactly helpful either, on the contrary, they encourage the idea of you displaying a more attractive, agreeable and therefore false version of yourself to the other person.
Also, when you look at the lyrics of love songs, they constantly say things like “I can’t live without you, baby“, “life is empty without you, darling“, which is unhealthy and obsessive. You have lived all these years without the guy, you don’t really need him to continue to live!
5. Make sure you both spend time in each other’s worlds, with each other’s friends and families, persuing each other’s interests.
You BOTH need to make adjustments for each other, not only you!
6. Don’t put your life on hold for a boyfriend.
Stay in touch with your hobbies and friends. It’s important you keep a support net alive in case things turn sour with the new guy.
7. Don’t be afraid to say “no”.
If you don’t like to eat Döner Kebap or don’t like to visit the fun fair because it’s too loud then say so. Never forget, that this is not only about your boyfriends happiness but yours also! There needs to be a good balance. So don’t constantly put his needs before your own.
Losing yourself in a romantic relationship and then being rejected by the person you love because he thinks you are too clingy or not interesting enough, is very painful and leads to massive doubts and loss of confidence.
You will also very likely attract the wrong men if you pretend to be someone you’re not. Don’t fall into this trap and give your true self the opportunity to shine when you meet someone new.
You deserve that people love you for who you are!
Question: Which one of these tips feels the most helpful to you? How do you find ways to stop losing your identity in a romantic relationship? Please tell me in the comments!
Until next time,
[Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash.com]