Does Who You Date Change Who You Are?

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Do you ever click over to an ex’s Facebook page and wonder what would have happened if the two of you had ended up together? It’s a fun "what if" game, but Czech photographer Dita Pepe took it one step further, by casting herself as the wife in a series of portraits with a variety of different men. In one portrait, she and a guy are in bathing suits and bare feet; in another, she is sitting on a bed surrounded by babies. The concept, according to the artist in a statement, is to “realize how different partners influence each other.”

And while the artist clearly choose extreme situations, it’s not a stretch to say that choosing a different partner could lead to a whole different life than the one you’re living right now. That’s because, when we choose a significant other, we also choose how we spend a significant amount of our time. The longer you both spend together, the more you create habits, routines, and quirks that are likely different than the ones you shared with your ex—or the ones you had by yourself.

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“The most rewarding, high quality relationships are those where both partners enter into it with the mindset that they’re a team,” says Danielle Dowling, a Los Angeles relationship expert and life coach. “But different partners bring out different aspects of your personality and interests.” Maybe you and your ex were all about hitting the latest restaurant openings while you and your current guy prefer to try gourmet recipes at home. Or you and he seem most in sync while laughing hysterically while you and your ex seemed to bond best by having intellectual conversations. It’s not that either of you consciously decided these particular bonds would bring you together; it just happened because it felt fun and natural for both of you.

And as long as you like who you are when you’re with him, then there’s no need to analyze how the relationship has changed you, reminds Julianne Cantrella, a New Jersey based relationship coach and matchmaker. “When things are in sync with a significant other, you’ll be able to let your hair down and act like yourself. The unique chemistry you and he share influences which part of your personality is brought to the forefront,” says Cantrella. “It shouldn’t feel like a conscious decision or a personality you chose,” she explains.

And remember, it’s totally normal not to share every hobby and interest, reminds Cantrella. While sharing similar goals for the future is key for compatibility, if, say, you miss checking out trendy bistros, that doesn’t mean you should table it just because he’s more into cozying up on the couch. Inviting him out or going out with girlfriends can fill that niche no problem. But if you always find yourself missing elements of your “old” life or feel more like you’re playing a part than being you, it may mean you need to dig deeper into what about the relationship is causing you to hold yourself back.

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