Relationship Identity Crisis

When I started dating I was terrible at balancing my individuality with who I was in a relationship. I think it was because my parents were strict. I generally wasn’t allowed to do what my friends were doing, but my boyfriend had to adhere to my parent’s rules in order to see me. But also, relationships are shiny when new and when you’re “in love” nothing else matters.

While it’s amazing to be in love, it’s also important to find and maintain an identity regardless of your s/o. In high school my boyfriend and I did everything together. We were young and generally hung out in groups, so it wasn’t much of an issue. Even though I was totally engrossed in my relationship I was asserting a personality I thought was my own. In reality I was pushing my expectations on my then-boyfriend. It was until many years later I realized that by oppressing him I was growing into a person I didn’t like and didn’t want to be. I was not focused on my own goals, but instead our “shared” goals.

Even though I had somewhat of an epiphany around twenty-two years old, I jumped right into another relationship. This time I would go for someone a little more “in control.” It was someone I met in law school, who was socioeconomically and culturally different from me. It wasn’t someone my friends knew or related to and the change was jarring.  I was engrossed in my “law school lifestyle” and my attempt at fitting into a culture and class I did not belong to. To say I changed to fit what I thought my boyfriend wanted me to be would be the understatement of the century. I began teaching myself Hebrew and started a class for conversion. I kept kosher (he didn’t even keep kosher).

Needless to say, me changing everything about me and loathing where I came from did not lead to a healthy, long lasting relationship. While I genuinely loved what I had learned about judaism, I felt rejected because I could never be what he wanted.

Ultimately, I moved on, but was emotionally damaged and just looking to find someone new. So less than two weeks later I met someone and proceeded to waste the next two and a half years of my life. It turns out, because I really didn’t know who I was, that I ended up with someone even more judgmental and controlling. But in true “lost Danielle” fashion I challenged myself to be “good enough.”

I spent the next couple of years trying to be treated like a girlfriend to a guy who wanted the benefit of a girlfriend without any of the obligations. So, the lost Danielle tried to be as thin as he wanted. I grew my hair out. Did my nails the way he liked. Bought clothes that were too expensive for my then law school budget. Not only did it never satisfy him, it created an insane amount of resentment. I remained a heightened version of someone I hated. It caused strains in my relationships with family and friends, who I was lying to about my relationship.

About two years into that relationship the real epiphany came. I finally realized it was his issue and not my own. I was ready to leave just yet, but I knew I had to prepare for an exit. In those last six months I started taking care of myself. I started hanging out without him (which I never did). I started going to tons of fun workout classes and reading self-help books (insert eyeroll emoji here). I had started working toward a better version of myself without him.

When we broke up it wasn’t the drama that it had been so many times in the past. I packed my stuff, left and went back to a version of me that was me. I spent the next two years single, meeting all different types of people, partying, making mistakes and worrying about myself. I mended relationships with other people and I got my confidence back. It was the best thing I could have done for myself.

Once I knew who I was I could figure out what I wanted. What I would accept and what would be unacceptable in my next relationship. I wasn’t going to waste anyone’s time with anyone who did not accept me exactly as I am, imperfect as hell. It took me years of dating to prioritize balance between who I am as an individual versus who I am in a relationship and when it’s the right relationship those things don’t have to be different.

Danielle Montalto-Bly