"They" say you learn more about yourself when you're in a relationship than you learn about the other person. "They" even say you learn more about yourself when you're in a relationship than you would at any other time. "They" also said ASAP Rocky would save New York City hip-hop, so I know "they" tend to be full of shit.
That said, "they" can occasionally make some good points. And when it comes to what "they" said about learning about yourself when you're in a relationship, "they" were right.
Looking back at each of my serious adult relationships (I've been in five: this marriage thing I'm in now, three girlfriends, and one "it's complicated"), I can pinpoint individual lessons I learned about myself. Some practical, some accidental, some more difficult to swallow than the rest. But although I've only been married for a little over a month, it already feels like one of those accelerated Master's courses where you spend 22 hours in class every Saturday. With occasional breaks for pizza, of course. And sex.
Part of this accelerated learning has to do with the level of expectation. Longevity is a tenuous concept in romantic relationships. Marriages included. But what separates this from the rest is the expectation that it'll last as long as you're alive. Even if it won't — and most don't — you don't do it unless you believe it will. And believing it will puts a bit of pressure on you to make sure it does. With that pressure comes some hard-ass motherfucking lessons — teachable moments with long-term consequences like "Is winning an argument more important than finding the right answer?" (It's not) and "Does she really need me to give feedback when she's telling me about work?" (She does) and "Will I ever get used to buying a dozen rolls of toilet paper every freakin month?" (I won't) and "Do I always need to have her back in public, with no exceptions, even if she's in the wrong?" (I do).
But the bulk of the learning is due to the fact that you'll be living with, growing with, sleeping next to, stealing food from, and getting old with a person who presumably knows you better than anyone else. Maybe they don't know everything about you — and I'm fucking ecstatic about that — but they know you. They have a PhD in "your Black ass." And with that doctorate comes a steadily increasing level of imperviousness to your bullshit. And since you can't really bullshit them, you can't really bullshit yourself. Not anymore.
For instance, I know I can be a selfish person. Actually, let me rephrase that. I've recently learned within the last year I'm a selfish person. Not selfish in a mean and/or stingy way, but selfish in that I like to do what I want, I don't like to consult people on decisions, and I don't like sharing why I've made certain decisions. I act unilaterally, and I just expect people affected by my actions to trust me.
I've always known this about myself, but I never considered it to be selfish. Mainly because I never considered myself to be a selfish person. In fact, I've prided myself on being unselfish. My best quality as a basketball player was/is my passing ability. I've never had any problem letting people borrow (and even have) money, clothes, food, whatever. I've been a selfless wingman. I'm the guy who'll stay up till 3am to talk if you need to talk.
But, it wasn't until she learned enough of me to see through me did I realize how self-centered my actions tend to be. And how even my concept of selflessness was rooted in selfishness.
Would I have learned this without getting married? Maybe. Would I have had the same incentive to learn and apply that lesson? Possibly, but probably not.
There have been other lessons, of course. I've learned that I can be fiercely, almost instinctually protective. I wasn't sure I had that in me. I've also learned I do something with my face when I'm not being completely honest, I want to have kids (I wasn't sure about that), and I enjoy Salsa dancing (Who knew?).
Oh, and as much as "they" might know, "they" are not part of this marriage. So, generally speaking, in regards to our relationship, "they" can go have a Coke and a smile and shut the fuck up.