When Macey and I started dating in high school, I had no idea what to expect. I was excited about our future but really couldn’t comprehend what that looked like—where we might be and what could change in three, five or even ten years.

In the past ten years, we’ve grown a lot. I don’t think I could have imagined exactly where and who we are now when we first started dating, but I’ve also learned really valuable truths about love and what it takes to build a life together.

A good relationship takes real work.

This comes as no surprise to other couples who have been together for years, but relationships take work. All of the relationships in our lives—with friends, family of origin, chosen family, coworkers—take some amount of work if we want them to continue to thrive. We’ve all probably had that experience where one of our friends never bothers to put in the same amount of effort and the friendship just dies. Even though Macey and I started as best friends who developed a romantic relationship after, it does take emotional work to keep our relationship going.

Sometimes that looks like me taking some time to write her a letter because I know she’s had a hard week or booking her a massage. Sometimes it’s sitting down to talk about something difficult I’m going through that I need help with. Sometimes it’s managing one of our expectations about how to spend a holiday.

And relationships don’t, or shouldn’t, just take work when things are headed in a bad direction and life is challenging you. It helps to build this work in when things are good so that you’re always equipped to communicate and figure out problems together.

We all change—and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Macey and I are not the same people we were when we started dating. I literally changed my first name almost five years ago. We both went through exploratory periods during college when we were trying to figure out what we wanted our careers to be, and now in our mid-twenties, we’re still figuring out how that might change.

Most people fear change because they assume it’ll be for the worst, but I know many of the ways I’ve changed in the last ten years have been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve become more grateful and less jealous. I’m miles more confident in myself and my abilities. I’m a better communicator, especially when I’m sad or stressed out. It helps to embrace change instead of running from it. We can all get nostalgic and there’s nothing wrong with reminiscing about the old days with your partner, as long as you’re both happy with who you are now (and if you aren’t, you’re actively working on it).

Jealousy is almost always your problem, not your partner’s.

With few exceptions, jealousy is usually your problem as an individual, not your partner’s problem. Unless they’re lying to you or engaging in other deceitful or toxic behaviors, you need to really look at why you’re jealous.

I always thought of myself as a naturally jealous person, someone who would even get upset if my best friend was hanging out with someone else. It took some time, but I realized most of my issues with jealousy were my own doing—I was self-conscious and projecting my own fears and anxieties onto the other person’s actions.

A little jealousy in a romantic relationship is normal because we all get jealous during our lives (whether it’s over someone’s really exciting vacation or their promotion). What matters is what you do about it. I learned to tackle jealousy as an inside job and not a problem with my relationship, and I can honestly say that I rarely get jealous now.

Sometimes the other person knows what you need even more than you do.

The most beautiful thing about being with Macey for ten years is how well we know each other. There are times when I just need someone to listen and acknowledge my pain, and times when I need someone to tell me to push through or give me advice on what to do next. Macey and I often know what each other needs, and we also know well enough to ask.

We know each others’ strengths and flaws well. When I’m having a hard time saying no to someone, it’s often Macey who reminds me that I struggle with this and need to prioritize myself more.

We need a community.

There’s a dominant narrative in American culture that we all need to settle down with one person and start nuclear families. It’s a very cisheteronormative view and excludes a lot of people, including polyamorous people, some asexual and aromantic folks and people who build multi-generational homes or who live collectively.

In the past ten years, Macey and I have learned over and over again—we need a community. And we put in a lot of effort to make sure we’re maintaining healthy, productive relationships outside of our romantic partnership. We see our friends, chosen family and families of origin regularly. We spend time with people together and apart, in one-on-one situations and group settings. We show up when people need us to. Our lives are not centered around each other and it’s important to prioritize the many other beautiful relationships we have.

Our friendship comes first.

It sounds strange, but we were best friends before we were in a romantic relationship. I was terrified of losing our friendship when we started dating but the reality is that our friendship has saved our romantic relationship dozens of times.

We put our friendship at the forefront of our relationship. If we’re having a particularly tough fight, we take a step back and try to prioritize our friendship. What would best friends do? How would your best friend handle this? Is there a way we can figure this out so no one winds up hurt?

It’s also helped us think about the ideas we’ve absorbed about what romantic relationships look like from the media and people around us. We’re all given messages about romance that are toxic, like that you should keep throwing grand romantic gestures at someone if you want them to forgive you. Putting our friendship first has helped us learn what a healthy partnership looks like and what we actually want ours to be.

In the next ten years, I know we’ll learn even more—and I can’t wait.

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