Head to TikTok and you’ll find plenty of excellent relationship advice, but spend too much time in the hashtags #relationshipadvice and #relationshipgoals, you’ll discover a plethora of questionable stuff, too. The quick-fire nature of the social media platform doesn’t exactly allow for nuance, and one recent video that threw me for a loop was about getting comfortable in a relationship.
I can’t remember the creator because I swiped past it so fast I almost burned my fingertips. But basically, it was saying “if you’re comfortable, you’re bored and need to leave”. I panicked — I’ve been with my partner for almost two years now, my longest relationship. I don’t even feel like we had a super intense honeymoon period — I liked him, he liked me, we started seeing each other more and more. We moved in together, got a dog. Sure, for the first few months we were a bit love-drunk, but that settled into comfortable ease fairly quickly. It’s great. It’s chill. It’s nice.
I’m an anxious gal and a lot of my anxiety has centred on relationships. I critique everything. Is my partner right for me. Am I really in love. Do we have enough sex. Whatever my brain can fixate on, I’ll go there — so this TikTok was confronting. Was my relationship too easy? Had we lost our spark, or even had it in the first place? I got stuck in the vortex of TikTok couples dancing around fields of daisies and making out furiously in front of renovated campervans. Captions like “every day is a new adventure with you” abounded. Anxious? I was positively beside myself at this point.
“Feeling comfortable is necessary to develop healthy relationships,” says psychologist Kayla Steele. “To be comfortable in a relationship suggests that you have developed a level of attachment security, which is essential for your physical and emotional wellbeing.”
Speaking to Steele, I realised that a lot of my anxiety was fuelled by comfort being a new experience. Prior to my partner Tom, I had a string of short-term romances that either felt one-sided (my side, ofc) or ended abruptly. None lasted longer than four months, which meant that I never settled into an actual relationship, even if I was calling the guy my boyfriend.
In those early periods, I was on edge — I may have been infatuated, but I didn’t have any security. This lack of security may have felt like excitement, but actually, I was just flying through the air without a safety net. Every time, I crashed.
“Being comfortable or settled in a relationship means that you are able to trust your partner and yourself, and this lays the foundation for vulnerability and intimacy,” explains Steele. I feel this — my relationship might be predictable and drama-free, but the safety cocoon this gives us allows for deeper connection. “For people whose relationships have been marked by insecurity, turbulence, or volatility, feeling at peace can be uncomfortable or even threatening,” explains Steele.
Beneath the thrill of my past relationships was fear — and actually, I never developed much of a closeness to those partners because I didn’t feel safe enough to do so.
Feeling settled in a relationship is actually a place of peace, not boredom. The world barrages us with stimulation at all times — apps, social media, TV, radio — there’s always something in our ears or eyes, and that’s made us uncomfortable with just being. But without relaxing into a relationship, you can’t cultivate true intimacy. Without intimacy, you never get past the surface.
Hollywood kicked off this addiction to thrills — angst, yearning, passion, can’t-live-without-you fire. But social media has taken it and positioned it as a lived experience. Now, we compare our love stories to random people on Instagram or TikTok, and because the nature of these platforms is that simple and shareable equals maximum reach, what we get is binary thinking presented as fact. Life is way more nuanced than “if you’re settled, you’re settling” or “if you’re comfortable, you’re bored”.
Is it any wonder we’re feeling anxious when our relationships are actually at their healthiest?
Still, there is such a thing as a comfort rut. There is a difference between comfort and complacency. “Complacency in relationships is a feeling of being satisfied with the current state of your relationship, without thinking critically or indeed having awareness of how others may be feeling,” says Steele. “When you are complacent in your relationship, you may feel like you do not need to put in effort, and this can lead to dissatisfaction, frustration or even the breakdown of relationships.”
I’m finding this a fine line to walk because it is so easy to take my healthy relationship for granted. Finding comfort and finally enjoying it is like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket. But when my partner and I don’t check in on a regular basis, we find ourselves becoming housemates, not lovers.
“Relationships need a healthy balance of comfort (or security) and exploration (or play),” says Steele. I’m now trying to balance our natural routine, which I really love by the way, with introducing new experiences. That might be going on dates mid-week, making travel plans (even if it’s just a weekend away) – even switching up our daily walks with our dog can snap us out of going through the motions.
It’s also making sure we physically interact — hugging when one of us gets home, kissing each other goodnight, snuggling on the couch. All of this romantic touch keeps the spark alive, I’ve found. Weeks when we go through the motions are weeks when I start to feel disconnected.
But this is just a life problem, not a relationship one. Even when I was single I had to mix up my routine or I would find myself feeling bored and aimless. It’s strange that we put romantic relationships up on an impossibly high pedestal, to the point where the natural complexities of life become Big Problems when in any other relationship or within our own independent experiences, they’re just accepted. There is literally no part of life that doesn’t need a jumpstart every now and then, so why do we expect relationships to maintain the energy they have at the beginning?
I truly believe the reason we fixate on comfort and routine in relationships is because we’ve been conditioned to believe love is meant to be turbulent and drive all the excitement in our lives. It’s not. Love is supposed to be supportive. A truly healthy relationship is one you feel safe in, because then you have the support you need to take leaps into vulnerable places.
I’ve realised that I am responsible for making my life exciting, and that excitement isn’t meant to come from long-term love, at least not constantly. I can share exciting moments with my partner and I definitely notice that our story has waves — we might hit a complacency patch, but then we’ll have a great night out or someone has a life win and the relationship energy changes again.
Honestly, life is so chaotic. It’s actually the best experience ever to have a constant, calming love story at the centre of it.