“‘Tomorrow, if we got divorced, I would be sad, but I would be okay.’”

Beau adjusted his baseball cap as his left hand held back tightly wound dreadlocks, exposing bright tattoos and a rubber wedding band. In the year since I initially reached out to him about a joint blog post, he had married his girlfriend of 2.5 years, who he was now quoting.

“How does it make you feel when she says that?” I asked. I knew how it made me feel, and I took a big sip of my beer, bracing myself for the next 40 minutes of the interview at an Arizona coffee shop in early-April.

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Beau looked back at me, but with a smile on his face: “I feel very happy for her because that’s a very empowering thing for somebody to say, right?!” He continued to grin, visibly pleased.

Arizona Coffee Shop

“Your happiness should be the most important above everything,” Beau said. Like many of his Facebook and Instagram posts, I knew the words would make hopeless romantics squirm, uncomfortable with the selfish notion that one’s happiness should come before another’s, especially a partner’s. And as a natural people pleaser, the idea felt frightening to me, too.

However, it’s also the reason why I chose to interview him. Beau is a friend of mutual friends, fellow Crossfit enthusiast and yoga instructor. Over the years since briefly meeting him at Crossfit, his candid posts and re-shared articles on relationships have been a welcome, refreshing break from the naiveté of inflated love stories that often saturate social media.

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A Selfish Past

“I wouldn’t let my girlfriend wear shorts to the gym,” Beau admitted. “Like, she wasn’t even allowed to talk to my best friends while we worked out together.”

In former relationships, Beau set high expectations for his girlfriends and restricted what they were allowed to do, down to their friends. “I was a big person on not letting my girlfriends have guy friends because I’d be like, ‘What would another guy give you that I can’t? I should fulfill that for you.’”

His conservative upbringing in North Dakota, where women typically stayed at home and catered to men, could be to blame, but Beau knew the ultimate source of the toxic insecurities: “The biggest thing with me was I didn’t know myself in any relationship.”

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I sat on the other side of the outdoor picnic table and recalled when I was sitting opposite a guy just like that who slowly brainwashed me over two years. My college boyfriend didn’t just ban guy friends, he also questioned and controlled everything, including my girl friends, my creative aspirations, my Hello Kitty nail art… he didn’t even like the name “Annie.” Without recognizing it, my identity steadily morphed into the Stepford Girlfriend image he had created. By the end of junior year, I wasn’t sure who I was or what I wanted anymore. And I was over being called “Anne.”

The Result

While we once sat on opposite ends, we had come to a similar place.

For me, 10 solid years of self-reflection has resulted in figuring out who I am and what I want, including too many random hobbies and interests to manage, many guy friends and girl friends and no time to even care about manicures anymore. Somewhere over the course of a decade, I proudly reclaimed the “i” in “Annie.”

For Beau, self-reflection has shown him how to improve his relationships, including the one with himself: “If we could take a step back and do a little self-development and learn to really enjoy who we are then we wouldn’t have a reason to be jealous.”

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The healthy marriage he and Katy have cultivated is a product of the work he has done and the similar viewpoints Katy shares. They maintain a relationship built on authenticity and a strong sense of self, along with:

  • Less fear
  • Less codependency
  • Less expectations

8 Ways to Not Lose Yourself In a Relationship

“The hardest thing is to translate this all into how to get somebody to make the changes,” Beau said. “How do you get someone to think that way?”

And it’s not just recovering douchebags or romance junkies who need the help. Almost anyone is in jeopardy of ignoring pieces of themselves when they like someone, myself included.

So, what can you do?

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1. Be so focused on growth that you don’t have time to worry about someone else’s past or expectations of the future.

“Do you have expectations for your relationship?” I asked Beau.

“It sounds over the top to answer ‘no,’” he replied. “I’m so focused on myself that I’m not thinking ahead to put expectations on it. Everyday I try to grow myself, and I try to support her growth. And that’s about as far as it goes.”

Whether that means a focus on your fitness goals or exceling at your career, put similar energy into your personal growth as you would your relationship growth.

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2. Make your own rules.

“You could almost write a book on what the typical relationship in America is supposed to look like,” Beau said. “Don’t let society’s expectations run your relationship.” Beau and Katy were married in Mission Beach along with 20 of their closest friends, the whole weekend costing them a mere $5,000. The wedding was entirely on their terms, similar to their relationship.

The only “rules” they set are ones they’ve created, including not discussing “what if” scenarios and a 24-hour rule to individually reflect for a day if an issue comes up.

3. Keep things in-house.

“Do you tell other people about things that come up in your relationship?” I asked. It was a question I had been considering even in regards to first date details, and the capacity friends and family have to derail your experience with their own imposed expectations.

“People give you advice based on their experience, what society has told them, and their beliefs,” Beau said. “But those beliefs aren’t yours.”

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4. Remember the benefits of allowing space.

“Say it’s one of Katy’s friend’s birthdays, right?” Beau said. “And there’s a dinner on a Tuesday night, and they go out to dinner then out drinking…”

Since Beau wakes up early to coach, he’ll head home after dinner, and Katy will continue to go out with her friends. They’re okay with other people questioning their intentions because they know the benefits of different paths sometimes. He’ll be happy that he was well-rested to do a great job at the gym, and Katy will be happy that she hung out with friends, resulting in joy when they get home the next day rather than resentment.

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5. Be more present.

“People are never present enough,” Beau said. “You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.” Beau and Katy never use the word “forever” in regards to their relationship. Not only does it add unwanted pressure, it also assumes that the future is predictable.

Similar to making the right food choices each day to preserve your health, Beau and Katy take their relationship one day at a time without the crutch of a promise or any excuses to be less than their best in the present moment.

6. Be complete on your own.

“Never make the other person you’re with your everything,” Beau advised. “That’s huge.” Beau and Katy don’t view themselves as two halves: “You’re not the other half that completes me, I’m whole already.” By both showing up as 100%, the relationship is just that much more full.

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7. Know yourself. Like, really know yourself.

“The more you know yourself,” Beau said. “The more you know about your relationship.” With his long dreadlocks, tattoos and black painted toenails, Beau describes himself as “not girls’ picture perfect guy.” However, he knows what a rad person he is from really getting to know himself. “Believe in yourself, love yourself and know that you are enough.”

Besides, he’s seen the effects of authenticity through his relationship with Katy. “You will not believe how in love you can be with someone when you let them be 100% themselves,” Beau said. “When you see someone growing into this person who loves themselves, it makes you that much more in love with them.”

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8. Support the opposite person and hold each other accountable.

“I think one of the biggest things is to always hold each other accountable for keeping your own lives,” Beau said. One of my favorite things that Beau mentioned during the interview is that relationships are just as much about support as love. While Katy supports Beau’s yoga practice and passion for cars, Beau supports Katy’s nursing career and spontaneous girls’ trips to San Diego.

“Sometimes their happiness in certain areas of life doesn’t include you. And it doesn’t have to.”

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LA Coffee Shop

At 7pm this past Sunday, the soft light of Santa Monica’s golden hour shown through the large windows of Bodega where their ‘no laptop’ rule was in effect, turning it from a coffee shop to wine bar. I sat side-by-side next to the guy I like just after working on this story. He was the same cute guy who met up with me a month before there as I finished up Beau’s interview questions before heading to Arizona.

“Would you like to come over for dinner… or do you want to keep writing?” he asked. The idea of breakfast for dinner at his place sounded like the perfect Sunday evening, even with an anticipated May 15th blog post. Before I could imagine post-pancakes cuddling over Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee any more, he added, “And just to let you know, I like when you do exactly what you want to do. You should always do what you want to do, whether it’s with me, your friends… anyone.”

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The Happy Medium

Somewhere between egocentric and self-sacrificing is a place that benefits both parties – a spot where the self is preserved, and even enhanced, when with the other person. It involves believing that when you’re at your best, you can be your best for them, too. It’s being present in the moments that you’re together, and being just as present in your moments alone. It’s an outlook that counters fear with trust, that survives less on co-dependence and more on support, and one that focuses less on expectations and more on choice.

“I always tell people I don’t want Katy to love me because she follows my expectations; I want her to choose me every single day,” Beau said. “And when you don’t give someone expectations, they will usually exceed any expectation you could have thought of.”

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Doing What You Want

As he dropped me off at home after Bodega and hugged me goodbye, he called out, “Can’t wait to read the blog post!” Writing is what I wanted to do that night. And I didn’t even realize that the support of that choice is what I’ve wanted just as much.