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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

How do you know?

<urrently in a healthy romantic relationship. According to me, at least, its pretty healthy. Well, relatively healthy. I think. I hope.

But how can I know? As somebody who has been involved in their fair share of ill-fated, un-communicated, ridiculous (and on one occasion, abusive) relationships, these days I spend a lot of time trying to ensure my personal safety, physically and psychologically. I try to think backwards and forwards about how my relationship affects myself, my partner, my academic work, my personal life, my family and my friends. I’m constantly questioning power dynamics, communication styles and (because I am a GSCA, after all) internalized oppressions.

My verdict? Until about one day ago, unclear. I love my partner. I know we communicate with respect and honesty, treat each other as each wishes to be treated and take time to discuss our needs and desires. We both put a heavy emphasis on clear and thorough consent when it comes to our physical relationship. We make time for each other out of complex lives and spend time getting to know each other’s friends and families.

But even as I considered all of that, I wondered: what if being in a long-distance relationship is ruining my connection to the Carleton community? What if my academic work is being affected by the change in my priorities? What if I’m neglecting friends at home in favor of spending time with my partner?

And then, a day ago, I decided to write this column. I flip-flopped on whether or not I was qualified; could I truly write about a healthy relationship? Did I even know whether my primary relationship was healthy? And then I realized: I did. I just knew.

Sure, I’ve had to make decisions about how and where I spend my time and energy. And yes, sometimes I blow off friends in favor of quality time with my partner. But we are all constantly making those choices and determining our priorities, whether its in the context of a relationship or not. The question, for me, is not whether the relationship can avoid all conflict, but rather how the relationship deals with the inevitable rough patches.

Which brings me to one of the most vital aspects of my current relationship: our ability to communicate, even in situations where our priorities and needs are different. For example, having seen two of my siblings involved in profoundly sad, painful and ultimately fruitless long-distance relationships, I was determined not to engage in one myself. When my partner finally raised the point, we were able to have an ongoing discussion, in which both of us spoke frankly, admitted our fears and determined our goals.

In my experience, these sorts of conversations are often bogged down by the fear of revealing that one partner is more in love than the other. When we ran into those moments in the discussion, we admitted to them, acknowledged them, and then were able to continue. Ultimately, we were able to agree that a long-distance relationship had risks that made me uncomfortable, and we came up with an explicit, clear arrangement about how to negate some of those risks: guidelines for how often we wanted to talk, whether or not we would be monogamous and even how to communicate if we felt we needed a break from the relationship.

Talking with my partner on the phone, kissing, sitting quietly and reading, going on adventures together–all of this brings me an extraordinary and sometimes surprising amount of joy. I see the world differently in the context of the relationship, and that’s a good thing. I wouldn’t trade my experience with my partner for anything, for all that it does change and complicate my life. And that’s how I know.

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