Stay true to who you are when you’re in a relationship

You ever watch Parks and Recreation? It’s one of my favorite sitcoms, but don’t worry, I’m not here to talk up the show or anything. Instead, let’s briefly talk about Rashida Jones’ character, Ann Perkins. One of her character traits is that she adopts the personality’s of the men she dates, which is best exemplified by this clip:

The personality trait adoption thing is played for laughs, but it does remind me of something that a lot of people do.

Many people, whether they’re dating casually, or in a committed relationship, compromise who they are to an extreme extent for their partners. Some people sublimate their personality, wants and needs, and even their own social lives to better suit their partner.

I’m all for making positive changes in your life, even if those changes are led by your partner. The longer you’re with someone, the more likely you are to share intimate parts of yourself with them. All that time together and your partner might realize things about you that you should change that would make your life better. If you have a drinking problem, and that problem manifests itself as a need to have a beer first thing in the morning, someone who has never spent the night with you might not realize you have a problem. You might not realize a partner spends more money than they make until you start sharing or splitting bills. Those are great examples of when, if a partner suggested a change, it’d be a good change. But, as I mentioned before, many people drastically change who they are for their partner, and not purely for positive reasons.

I’d be wrong if I said that no one has room to improve, because, ostensibly, what I write is considered “self-help” (though I generally eschew-y anything overtly self-help-y because most of the genre is set up like a confidence trick, or a pyramid scheme). We could all be better at something. But there is a part of you, of everyone, deep down, that shouldn’t change. Change your bad habits? Sure. Generally take better care of yourself? Fine. Change your personality, or interests, for the sake of someone else? That’s a bad idea.

Sometimes, that change is driven by an internal desire to compromise who you are in the hopes that it will make someone stay with you. Sometimes that change is driven by your partner, who wants to shape and mold you into their version of an ideal partner. Again, there is nothing wrong with changing and making compromises for the better, but compromising who you are for reasons that aren’t positive is a huge mistake.

Drastic changes to your personality probably aren’t something you need to do, despite insistence from your partner, or that little voice in your head.  It’s important to stay true to who you are, but it’s possible that you could be changing (or being pushed to change) without realizing it. You might not realize you’re changing, or being pushed to change, so here are some signs to help you recognize if you are:

You push you away friends and family

Whether you’re doing this because you’ve been asked or told you need to do so, or you just feel the need to, this is usually a sign that you’re not staying true to you. There are always exceptions here, it’s entirely possible that your family is toxic, and your friends enable bad behavior, but how likely is that the case? If you have healthy and happy relationships with family and friends and you’re pushing them away, that’s a bad sign.

You change who you are just to suit your partner

This goes back to my point about how change isn’t inherently good or bad. Change can be good, if it’s for a positive reason, but if you’re changing who you are to suit your partner, and for no other reason, that’s a bad sign. I’m all for positive change, but changing who you are so that you’ll make someone happy is a bad idea.

You stop doing the things you enjoy

Like it or not, we are defined by what we do. A writer is someone who writes. An artist is someone who creates art. A gamer, games. A blogger, blogs. And so on and so on. You may not be the career you’ve chosen, but part of who you are is defined by what you choose to do with your spare time. If you stop doing the things that you enjoy, the things you choose, things that define you, you’re losing a part of yourself. If your partner ever really appreciated you for who you are, you’re losing a part of what made them want to be with you in the first place. I’m not saying that you need to keep doing the same things for the rest of your life, because I think it might be weird for me to still be playing with stegosaurus toys but I FUCKING LOVED doing this when I was a kid, I think it’s important to recognize when you’ve stopped doing the things you enjoy for no other reason than to please someone else. Especially if the things you love are a significant part of your identity.

You compromise, they never do

No relationship is one without compromise. In relationships, you’ll compromise on things, big and small. You’ll do things for your partner you’re not incredibly enthused about, and they’ll do the same for you. A relationship without compromise, especially one where compromise only happens one end of the relationship, is doomed to fail. Very few relationships can survive if one of the people in the relationship does what they want at all times, and gets what they want at all times, at the expense of their partner. If you all you do is give, and all they do is take, are they really a “partner”?

If any of these things sounds familiar, or worse, if they all sound familiar, that’s a bad sign. You should stay true to who you are when you’re in a relationship. If you feel like you’re not staying true to who you are, you have to question the value of your relationship. If you’re being pushed to change who you are for a reason that has nothing to do with your own betterment, you have to question the value of a partner who would push for you to change.

While it may be easier to stay in a relationship if you bend to someone’s will, would you want to be with someone who wants to date a shell of you? A successful relationship isn’t one where you completely change who you are to keep someone around, someone who doesn’t appreciate you in all your complexity. It’s not worth it to lose who you are to keep someone who doesn’t appreciate you, so stay true to who you are, even if it means staying single a little while longer.

Good Luck Out There.

Also published on Medium.