Updated: May 12
I’ve been lucky to have a couple of romantic relationships in my life that I truly enjoyed everything about. These relationships taught me how I want to feel inside of a relationship and they completely changed the way I date because they taught me that how I want to feel with another person in my personal life is actually possible.
You see, before my second divorce, I’d never had a long-lasting healthy romantic relationship. And I really don’t have a lot of experience seeing what one looks like up close. I had strong connections, felt head-over-heels in love, had fun, had a great deal of codependent love, and a large portion of dysfunctional relating. I was rarely the one to break things off with someone and marriage number two almost killed me because I loved him so much and felt so shattered that we couldn’t fix the abuse cycles fueled by addiction. I’ve felt the pain of being replaced by the younger-thinner-blonder model. I’ve felt the frustration of someone being unable to commit to a next step. I’ve felt the pain of realizing the person you thought you loved is not who they say they are at all. I had my first and only panic attack after husband number one didn’t come home and I had to figure out how to recreate my entire life, not to mention support three babies.
I was determined that this time around, my dating life would be different. And it absolutely has been. Having put in the healing work to know how it feels to be fully free to be myself, how it feels to value myself, and how it feels to love myself, I am unwilling to settle for anyone that detracts from those feelings. I’m unwilling to take chances that the red flags aren’t real. I’m unwilling to take a chance on men who have things in their lives that I don’t want in mine. In short, I’ve had no problem ending things...or more often, simply not taking them forward from a first conversation or first date. When I do say yes to a date or a conversation, I show up fully as myself. I don’t hide parts of myself or make myself smaller or quieter or okay with things I’m not okay with. I ask questions to get to know the man, and I answer his with honesty--and intentional boundaries about how deep I’m willing to go into something or which conversations I’m willing to have, depending on how far into the getting-to-know-each-other process we are. I listen to my intuition and follow it--choosing to trust myself even if I don’t have concrete evidence for why. If something feels off, I believe that feeling...no matter how cute the guy’s dimples are.
I continued this way for a while, not really looking for a relationship because I wasn’t sure if what I wanted to find actually existed, but also being open to simply seeing what could develop. I was totally okay with going forward this way--because I know the pain of being in relationships riddled with control, abuse, asshole behavior, disrespect, no trust, and constant invalidation and gaslighting, And I've talked with enough clients, friends, and family members over the years to know those things are more common we'd like to believe. I made a decision for myself that I would rather be alone than be in a relationship that includes those things. Part of me was gun-shy and I can absolutely recognize I turned down subsequent dates with guys who could’ve been good for me because I wasn’t ready to explore having to give the kind of effort that being a girlfriend would take…..even if that meant something as simple as driving across town once in a while.
Then a point came where I realized I’d learned the lessons I needed to from going on lots of first dates and I was ready to see what a relationship might look like. I wrote down a list of what I would like to find in a partner and opened myself up to The Universe providing. Which it did. The first time dating blossomed into relationship status was fun and exciting and also taught me that I could identify and walk away from red flags, even after I was invested in the relationship. There’s a big difference between normal relationship ish and red flags, and this was a great way to witness my own healing in seeing that I could trust myself to recognize the difference and trust myself to walk away….even though it hurt at the time.
The next time things were looking to go that direction brought a different set of lessons. We enjoyed several dates that built on our mutual attraction, shared interests & activities, ideas about life and easy conversation and laughter. We had a great time together and I was looking forward to seeing where things might go with us. Then came the da da da daaaaaaa conversation….it was like that moment in The Bachelor where there’s a woman that thinks her connection with the lead is super strong and unique and special….and then he tells her his connection is just stronger with someone else and while he really liked me, yada yada speech about how great I was yada yada, it’s over. While I knew that both of us were still seeing other people, I still didn’t see it coming. I have to admit, it stung a little (okay, a lot) to hear those words. And when he told me she lives out of town and they don’t see each other that often, that sting felt a little deeper. Why would someone choose someone they can’t actually spend that much time with instead of continuing to build something that has been easy and fun and in the same town? Part of me totally chalked it up to fear--choosing her meant letting go of the possibilities that might exist with me and places more power in something that is largely a fantasy instead. But then I got to realize that was totally my own made-up thinking and I had come to trust and care about this man…..which meant I actually trusted him to make the choice that was the best for him, to know his own mind, and not project judgment from my hurt ego onto him. Which meant wishing him well....spoiler...they just got engaged, so I'd say he knew what he wanted!
Fast forward and I got to witness my own healing about that particular lesson again. While that guy had been seeing other people, so was I. And I had a first date already scheduled with someone I’d chatted with online a few times. I have to admit, I really had zero expectations….but it ended up being a truly fantastic first date. The conversation was easy. He was interesting and funny. I said yes to a second date before the first was even over. And then another and another and another. We eventually got to a point where we talked about being exclusive. And rather than clamming up and being done (my usual m.o. at the conversation!), I knew I wanted that, too. We talked about what that meant and went on our merry way….together. Our connection and attraction had grown and continued to grow with every date and time spent together. We shared laughter and travel and made even the boring domestic things fun as we grocery shopped or spent the day together working remotely at our respective jobs. While neither of us were in a hurry to take any kind of next steps, I also never saw any reason why we wouldn’t just continue to grow together.
Until the conversation I never saw coming. The one that involved the words “there’s someone else” and I felt my heart stop and time freeze. I had options--I could plead my case, I could be a bitch about it, or I could act in a way that was caring, kind, and supported the trust I had in this man and our relationship that had a basis of friendship. I trusted him that this was a hard conversation. I respected his courage to have it when he easily could have pursued us both without either of us knowing. I believed him that he didn’t seek it out, but an opportunity he’d thought was gone was all of a sudden back in his life. I also trusted and respected myself enough to be unwilling to be with a man who is unsure about me or to be his back-up plan. Which meant telling him that if he wanted to take a chance on this woman from his past, then that made his choice easy. Not wanting to let go of that chance was the same thing as being willing to let go of building something with me. Knowing the pull of a historical connection is strong and knowing him well enough and for long enough to know he’s truly a good man, I told him that I was happy for him even though I was sad for me. And I meant it. And I cried a lot of tears. And I meant those, too.
Because here’s the thing. What’s for me won’t pass me by. And while endings are sad, they are not the end of the world. The sadness that I felt taught me a host of lessons, too, actually. I had been secretly afraid that I was only ever going to be in love with the idea of being in love. But in dissecting my sadness, I got to see just how much I had grown to love this man for who he is and that, while I absolutely loved the way he made me feel, that wasn’t what I was in love with. I got to see that while I missed texting him or talking to each other about our days, it wasn’t the habit of contact I was missing, it was the actual man on the other end that I missed. The man that valued me as much as I valued him and that cared about the mundane and the exciting and listened to my rambles and opened up to me about his. It turned out what I was afraid didn't exist....existed. And I'm super grateful to have gotten to see it up close...because now I really know that I will never settle for anything less.
Each of these relationships have been exactly what I needed along this path. They’ve all built on the lessons that came before. Those last few, even though they ended, taught me how I want to feel with a romantic partner. They taught me how to receive affection and attention and how to return it. The last one taught me what it looked like to begin building a ture partnership together as we dealt with hard conversations and the messiness of exes and coparenting and busy schedules and life. It taught me that I could be completely and totally valued and loved for all of who I am and not just despite the weird parts. As weird as it sounds since they both ended for the guy to take a chance with another woman, they taught me what radical acceptance and honesty looks like from and with another. They taught me what honorable men look like up close. They taught me that I’m capable of investing again, being vulnerable, being open, and even able to fall in love again. Their endings taught me that sadness won’t smother me and that not being "chosen" isn’t about my deficits as a girlfriend, wife, or woman. I learned how to feel my sadness and how to keep taking forward steps in my life despite it. They taught me that I’m open to trying again (maybe not right away, but I'll get there!). That the shared experiences and feelings were worth it, even if they didn’t end up lasting. They taught me that being open to love and making choices from love are worth it and that I can do so in a healthy manner that grows over time and doesn't require the anxiety that comes from trying to know the end from the beginning.
The joy really is in the journey.
And I wouldn’t have it any other way.