The Internet is filled with articles on how to decide when to end it, how to recognize when your relationship is toxic, codependent, one-sided, stagnant, asexual, manipulative. But we don't talk all that often about what defines a happy relationship. Picture it: You're dating someone new. You're waiting to feel the toxic stagnant codependency. Where is it? Months go by. Still nothing. At some point a corner of your brain dares register the thought: Could this be one of those? Could I actually be happy?
To help you answer that question, you lucky thing, here's a completely unscientific list of 31 ways to know you're in the right relationship:
1. Fear it.
If you're afraid of commitment, best to work that out before you put yourself in a situation where it's hoped you'll eventually commit.
2. Hide anything more significant than a surprise party from each other.
That includes exes, cheating, debt, STDs, chronic illness, felonies, whether you want a marriage and/or children, genetic abnormalities (if you both want kids), a strong desire to live somewhere else, professional failures and successes, doubts about your sexual orientation, a strong preference for un-vanilla sex.
The truth will come out, and if you're with someone you feel the need to conceal any of this from, he or she probably isn't right.
If no one's hiding anything, why are you looking? Going through your significant other's email, phone, Facebook account, or journal strongly indicates that you don't trust the person you're with. You're also violating his or her trust in you.
4. Hide the relationship from other people in your life.
If you're unwilling to introduce the person you're dating at appropriate junctures to the most important people in your life, that's usually a bright, flapping red flag.
In general, if you have a good thing going, you can't wait for him or her to meet your friends, siblings, parents, the guy at the deli, and you wouldn't have any qualms about presenting this person to professional acquaintances, people you knew in college, family friends, even your ex.
5. Think you're superior.
If you feel that your significant other is your inferior in any way you know matters to you in a mate -- morally, intellectually, socially, financially or professionally -- you're never going to respect him or her as much as you hope to be respected.
The best relationships make you feel that you've convinced a person more exceptional than you to love you.
6. Resent the other person's success.
Professional jealousy can be as poisonous to a relationship as constantly thinking he or she is flirting with your best friend. It also suggests that you're spending a lot of time comparing yourself to a person you supposedly adore, rather than sitting back and marveling at how amazing he or she is. In a good relationship, you quit (or refuse to ever engage in) the one-upmanship.
7. Let any substance or behavior come before the relationship.
Any addict or over-user of a substance or behavior is cheating on you with his or her drug of choice. You deserve more.
When something the other person does annoys you or turns you off, you don't push it to the back of your mind and hope it will go away, because it won't. You bring it up in the moment or sometime in the next 24 hours.
9. Damage property, animals, children or each other during an argument.
You think this goes without saying until you read something like this New York Times "Modern Love" and realize that human beings can rationalize staying with someone who leaves holes in their walls.
On the other hand, if you damage a vase or two in the heat of a different kind of passion, totally fine.
10. Challenge each other on personal issues in front of other people.
You know which conversations you shouldn't be having at brunch with friends.
11. Depend on each other for things no one can or should supply.
If you're looking to your significant other to resolve your emotional issues, make you more responsible/successful/adult, support you financially, improve your social standing, expand your group of friends, provide you with the family you never had, or make your parents finally accept you, it's possible you shouldn't be in a relationship at all, or at least not yet.
12. Begrudge each other time with your respective friends.
You can't be everything to your significant other, and why would you want to be? Sounds exhausting. Friends enrich your life, will accompany you to do things that your significant other may not enjoy, and keep you from getting tired of the person you're seeing.
Besides, if the relationship doesn't work out, those friends going to be the ones coming over to your house, dragging you out of bed and helping you rejoin humanity. Be good to them.
13. Lose Yourself
This is easier said than done, especially when the relationship is going really well. As tempting as it is to never leave the house (maybe never leave the bed), you keep doing the work, exercise, volunteering, socializing, networking, and daughtering you were doing before. Remember, these things made you the person Your Person fell in love with. They're part of you. Don't give them up for anyone. You can't afford it.
14. Have a secret plan B.
If you're where you need to be, the following thoughts don't cross your mind: "Maybe he'll dump me," or "If my ex moves back from Mongolia, everything could change."
15. Have much drama.
You know the cliche: The person worth your tears won't make you cry. Usually.
16. Put it all on the line.
If you're not risking having your heart broken, you're not doing it right.
17. Respect the people he or she is closest to.
You don't have to love them, but you should think they are honest and moral and have integrity. Want to know you're with a good person? Look to the people he or she thinks are good people.
18. Inspire each other to be better.
A good relationship is galvanizing, not in the oh-my-god-I-met-this-amazing-person-I'd-better-hurry-up-and-fix-myself sense (thought there's probably a little of that when you first start seeing anyone amazing) but in the way that knowing someone else believes in you makes you believe in yourself that much more. You want to prove yourself worthy of his or her confidence.
19. Humble yourselves.
You know you can't hide your flaws for long, so you don't try. You recognize that this person is going to have to take you as you are, as foolish or charitable (or both) as that may seem to make him or her. You know you're both going to mess up endless times and have to apologize and be forgiven and forgive. You'll wonder if one of the bigger mistakes is the one that will end it, and you'll have to prove to one another that the relationship transcends that. You recognize that you signed up for all of this.
20. Talk about sex.
Most couples don't instinctively know all of the ways to please each other. You have to talk about -- or at least show -- what you want. If you don't know what you want, you need to figure that out, STAT (step 1? Get thee to Babeland). And after you have talked about it, you do it. Better.
21. Talk about the rest.
The same things you're not supposed to talk about on a blind date -- religion, money, politics, kids -- are things you should discuss with someone you're serious about. What? You just remembered that thing you need to do? Get back here. No one said this was going to be painless. They said it was going to be hard and awesome.
If you agree on everything, someone's not telling the truth. See #2 and #8.
23. Have times when you don't talk.
Not because you're angry with each other but because you can be quiet together. When you find yourself with silences you don't need to fill, when you find you can just walk along or lie about or work side by side and feel together without needing to verbally affirm that, you've got a good thing going.
24. Have object permanence.
Child psychologist Jean Piaget theorized that when babies get to be 8 or 9 months old, they begin to develop "object permanence," the idea that an object doesn't vanish when they can no longer see it.
In a good adult relationship, you know that you can go out into the world and do your thing, and the bond you've formed with the person you care about will be there when you get back.
This is also known as trust.
25. Take care of your body.
You know that you won't enjoy sharing it with someone else if you don't like, respect, and nurture it. Your partner feels the same way.
26. Divide and conquer.
You're not identical, thank god, which probably means you have certain strengths and he or she has others. Someone is more organized, someone is more outgoing, someone is a born listener. Someone is better with money, someone is more creative. Someone is more adventurous in bed.
If you each play to your strengths, you in all likelihood remember a gift (possibly an inspired one), your home(s) look(s) great, the bills get paid on time, sex is endlessly fun, and you leave everyone at the party thoroughly charmed.
27. Remember to look at each other across the room.
There's nothing more reassuring (or sexier) than glancing up from the interminable conversation with your eighth cousin or the head of operations or the report you can't seem to finish and locking eyes with Your Person and remembering that by some quantity of luck neither of you may deserve, you found each other.
You notice when the other person is about to lose it, needs to leave even if you've been there only 20 minutes, is talking to someone he or she can't stand, did something he or she feels guilty about, is silently berating himself or herself, is ruminating over the thing his or her boss said, is about to spend an insane amount of money, and best of all, about to crack up in a situation where he or she shouldn't. You pay attention because you care, and because that's the good stuff.
29. Make time.
You realize that if this is it, one of you is going to be around some distant day in the future to lose the other. In that moment, you will not regret not checking your email in this one.
30. Occasionally get over yourself and your cynicism and fear of cliche and do something deeply, unapologetically romantic.
You send the flowers, have the book signed by the author, request the song, write the note, have the damned thing (tastefully) engraved. You call the other person and tell him or her that specific thing he or she did this morning that made you fall that much more in love. When you're not expecting it, he or she dares to say, even though we all know there are no guarantees ever, "When we're X age, want to Y?"
31. Just know.
Reader, marry that.