By: Lauren Montague, columnist
Welcome to the first of many “Ask your older sister” columns! Here I’ll address questions you send me in the same way I would address them for my own siblings. Feedback and advice are important in my family, so hopefully this ends up being important for you. Or whatever, you don’t have to like it (*sniff*).
(Some reasons you might want to take the time to listen to me: I’m an extremely intuitive person when it comes to how people are feeling around me, I’ve been the peacemaker for a lot of arguments among my family and friends, and I’ve been in a happy, healthy relationship for over two years.)
To help us hit the ground running, I’ll start with a story about my real-life teenage brother. I recently had an interaction with my brother that led to hearing one of the strangest comparisons I’ve ever heard while talking about relationship trouble. This is how it went:
We’re driving to get McDonald’s sodas (y’all know how crispy they are) on a summer afternoon. We’re talking about his dating life, and I tell him straight up what I hope for him in a relationship.
ME: I want you to find a girl who absolutely adores you.
HIM: Ugh, but doesn’t that mean she’d be clingy?
First of all, WHAT?! Is this what the modern dating world has come to? A world where adoration means you’re being clingy and acting self-sacrificially labels you a ‘simp’?
As someone who believes that a healthy relationship means both people are putting forward one hundred percent, this comment caught me off guard.
Shouldn’t being with someone mean absolute adoration and love, even if it’s icky to the people outside? And no, adoration is NOT the same thing as being clingy. Everyone get that into your brains.
I didn’t get the chance to wrap my head around his comment in the moment, but this is the advice I would’ve told my brother that day: Don’t cut yourself off from that overwhelming, makes-you-want-to-cry, totally disgusting wave of feelings. The word for that feeling is affection, and it’s really one of the most important aspects of a relationship. This is so cheesy, but it’s true—affection is like a fire that needs to be tended. It cannot go out. Yes, everyone displays their affection in different ways, but that’s where you’ll need to figure out the best ways to show and receive affection from your significant other in order to keep that affection alive.
How do you do that? Well, I’ll tell you.
The best way to know exactly how your significant other feels affection is by asking them! Straight up!
They’ll tell you if they value physical touch over receiving gifts, or if they’re uncomfortable with PDA. Another way to know these things, especially if you’re a more technical person and want to play it by the book, would be to take those infamous Love Language and Enneagram tests. Take them together! Then you can compare and see where you’re similar when it comes to showing affection and where you’re different. While these kinds of tests may not always be spot on, they can be valuable in figuring out how the other person operates.
But more than anything, communicate, communicate, COMMUNICATE. You’ll probably see this word in every single column I write that is responding to a dating question and even in the ones that aren’t. If you’re feeling strangled by affection and adoration in your relationship, ask your partner (nicely!) to back off.
And while it’s important for them to know your limit for receiving, you need to know how much they feel they want to give. And vice versa. It’s not easy to turn off your affection for your S.O., and you will both need to be patient as you figure out where your middle ground is—and from there, keep that level of affection tended accordingly.
Stay self-sacrificial though, even after finding that middle ground. Once you’re in a relationship, it’s not all about you anymore. Once in a while you’ll have to do something outside your comfort zone in order to make your partner happy, and that’s okay. Sometimes being an icky couple is worth the loving partnership this affection brings.
A final word to my brother: don’t break the code!
Your older sister
DISCLAIMER This columnist is not a therapist, financial adviser, realtor, nutritionist, medical professional or clergyperson. She is your older sister. Take her advice (or not) in that context.
Not all questions will be answered for sake of publication space. We will not tolerate questions that violate our comments and questions policy, including questions that discriminate specific groups, contain excessive profanity or do not relate to the columnist’s expertise.