When Cupid's arrow strikes the heart of new lovers, the hope is that the excitement of the early days will last well into the future. For some Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) students, finding love that is lasting and healthy involves consistently checking in and communicating.
First-year journalism student Calan Pittis’ relationship has only gotten better with time, with him and his partner marking their four-year anniversary this past October. Pittis said finding a balance and settling into a life together with healthy communication has helped them and their partner, 20-year-old Casper Soares, thrive together.
Over the past four years, Pittis and Soares have navigated both personal and outside challenges such as mental health issues and a global pandemic. When the two were apart for weeks and months on end, they would play video games like Minecraft with each other and stream TV shows and movies online to stay connected.
The young couple learned to understand themselves and each other better by working together to sort out difficult situations and emotions, which they say has only made their relationship stronger.
When they first got together, Pittis and Soares had to navigate how to openly communicate, especially when someone was upset. Pittis said a lack of open dialogue created a rift in the first few months of the relationship but has since gotten better over time.
“There was a lot to get over at the beginning of the relationship, which has put us in a much better position now,” said Pittis.
Soares and Pittis have developed ways to stay connected and effectively communicate their needs with each other throughout their relationship—especially when it’s difficult. For them, working through tough conversations sometimes takes the form of physically writing with pen and paper to sort out their emotions.
“Sometimes saying what's wrong, like literally saying [it], is really difficult,” said Pittis.
Soares said being together long-term is more than being enamoured and the best part is establishing a sense of familiarity with your partner as you continue to learn and grow with them.
Soares said being either hyper-attached or distancing themself depending on how they were feeling was also a challenge at the start. The effort they have both put into overcoming mental health challenges has also improved their relationship and processes of understanding their own emotions and minds, said Soares.
“I'm much happier in the relationship now than I was at the beginning because [now] it's consistent contentedness instead of excitement,” said Soares. ”It's a very consistent, good feeling rather than these massive highs and massive lows.”
Dr. Saunia Ahmad, a Toronto-based psychologist, helps couples better support each other through emotional and physical intimacy. She said becoming comfortable being yourself around your partner is a vital part of being able to experience life happily together.
When couples feel comfortable freely communicating difficult feelings like anger or disappointment, it builds a healthy foundation of emotional intimacy, said Ahmad. This foundation will hopefully support the couple in continuing to grow together as their lives change alongside each other.
“In order for your partner to feel safe, to be emotionally vulnerable, you’ve also gotta double up on that vulnerability yourself… it has to be a mutual conversation about emotion,” she said.
Third-year media production student Justyn Cao has been with his girlfriend for over four-and-a-half years. Being together since high school means they’ve spent time enjoying and experiencing major life events together, he said. The couple have gotten to enter adulthood together and celebrate milestones like getting their driver's licenses and starting university together.
“Going into university… I was really nervous about interacting with all these new people. But just talking with her, she subdued those fears that I had and just told me to be myself,” said Cao. “Her confidence in me transferred over.”
The "honeymoon phase" which is usually a period of intense bonding in the first few months to two years of a relationship according to Healthline
, has never really ended for Cao and his girlfriend. He said valuing honesty and not holding anything back makes it easy to talk through anything. For him, being together long-term means comfort is mixed into the initial bliss of the relationship.
“It’s not like one day I just stop feeling all the butterflies,” said Cao. “It’s just different when you’re really comfortable with the person and you don’t have to hide all the little insecurities.”
Pittis and Soares agreed that the key to fostering long-term romantic relationships is the discovery of continual connection and relational stability.
The couple are both neurodivergent, with Soares being Autistic and Pittis having ADHD. They’ve found that sharing newfound hyper-fixations, which is a strong interest and focus on one topic or hobby for a certain period of time, has allowed them to further connect on the things they each care about.
Puzzles and board games have become a way to spend time together and share what brings them joy. Pittis said that he’ll often save a new Lego set for when they can do it together.
Soares said being together doesn’t require large or extravagant acts but rather sharing small, everyday joys which makes their relationship feel safe and content for both of them. They enjoy connecting by going for walks together, exploring new streets and feeding pigeons and squirrels outside of Toronto City Hall.
Finding a love that lasts is something all romance-seeking people aspire to do. With healthy communication habits and some help from the love gods, it’s possible to experience all the big—and small—joys that come with building a life alongside the one you love.
“It’s not necessarily big things, but just the little consistent things that calcify into the complete structure of our relationship,” said Pittis.