In middle school, I desperately wished for a relationship. Each night, I would kneel next to my bed and pray for a boyfriend. “I just want to know what it feels like,” I would tell my God. “I don’t care if it ends. I just want to know what it’s like.” Tears would well in my eyes, and my nose would start to burn. At the time, low self esteem made me believe that having no romantic partner meant that I was unlovable.
Male suitors sprouted as I approached high school, but I worried that my previous prayers had been too selfish and had cursed my love life. I felt frustrated by how fleeting my admiration seemed. I would get bored or restless after a month or two and no longer wish to be tethered down by superficial romance. When these relationships ended, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Long term boyfriends eventually came and, usually traumatically, went. That felt more difficult. The more attached I became to a person, the harder the cut. I had an incredibly difficult time letting go of the people I loved, which led to turbulent off and on relationships involving me begging to make things work and then feeling worthless when the relationship continued to crumble. As each relationship throughout my young adulthood came to an end, I became more and more negatively affected by my perceived inability to keep a boyfriend.
When my depression worsened in my mid-twenties, my self hatred made dating even less bearable. I often found myself shying away from physical touch and emotional connection. I hated texting. I hated first dates. I hated when people talked to me and hated even more when people attempted to flirt with me. I was jaded and trying to resolve my loneliness through one night stands, and I became a professional at “ghosting.” I was also afraid to get hurt, and I thought the easiest way to avoid disappointment was to take myself out of the game altogether.
About a year ago, I began my wellness journey. I started exercising, went to therapy, medicated my depression. I ate healthy and made active efforts to do things that made me happy. My self worth and self esteem increased dramatically, and I felt more stable in my life. I was generally happier and more hopeful. I still felt lonely, but my mindset changed. I felt I wanted a romantic partner, but I didn’t need one.
In therapy, I worked really hard to become open to dating. “You have this goal of settling down and starting a family, but the fear of failure is keeping you from actively seeking this,” My therapist said, “I’m wondering how you’ll achieve those goals if you don’t try and put yourself out there.” My therapist helped me reduce my fear of vulnerability enough to be able to start engaging with others in a more serious manner. After talking to several people through online dating websites, I finally agreed to go out on a date with a real live human being.
Our first date was fun. We went to a comedy show and had a drink. We talked and laughed as he walked me home. We had good conversations and identified some common interests. I felt attracted to him both physically and emotionally- he had enough experiences to have lived three lifetimes, and that intrigued me. At the end of the night, we planned a second date for the following week.
Our relationship continued like that for about another month and a half. We had so much fun together. He laughed at my jokes, said nice things, and cooked for me. He introduced me to his friends and invited me along to parties and dinners. I felt included and cared for. Eventually, we agreed to make our relationship official.
I was content with calling him my boyfriend. I finally felt that I could be my true weird self, something that I had struggled with in previous relationships. Although there were some situations here and there that caused me to wonder if he was a person that I could spend my life with, I was so comfortable that I brushed them aside. In fact, I felt so comfortable that I barely saw it coming when, after about three months of dating, I heard the words, “I’ve been having hesitations and have been thinking more and more about ending our relationship.” With this, we began a discussion where we both laid out our concerns about why our relationship b may have not been working.
I thought I would be devastated when our relationship ended, but instead I felt a pressure lift from my shoulders and experienced a strong sense of freedom. When he rode away on his bike, I felt…. happy. The feeling confused me. I kept wondering, “Why don’t I feel upset?” I sought insight from my sister who had a simple answer to my confusion: “Because he was NOT the person for you.”
I learned that my sister and brother-in-law had apparently been struggling to find the opportunity and strength to tell me that they actually hated my boyfriend. During a recent family gathering, my sister noticed a plethora of unfavorable qualities, such as how he spoke down to people, appeared controlling, and lacked appropriate boundaries. Some of these qualities I did notice, but foolishly chose to ignore.
In retrospect, I can identify moments in our short relationship in which I was truly not enjoying my time. As we would spend more and more time together, and I would find myself struggling to balance my relationship with my life. I would sleep over his house almost every night, wake up late, rush to get ready for work, and feel disorganized. Although there was awareness in the back of my mind, I was too distracted by engaging in fun “couple activities” to realize that falling behind on my self care was having an impact in my mood. I wanted to do so many things- write, draw, meditate, run, do yoga- and yet, I felt that I was lacking the time to do them. When the Break Up Talk was in progress, I actually felt excited for him to leave so I could be myself and plan which activity I would do first.
Along with the feeling of excitement, I felt a sense of strength and growth. The ease with which I accepted the transition from “in a relationship” to “single” is evidence that I am learning to let go, and that makes me incredibly proud. For so long I felt that I needed to hold on to relationships, even if they weren’t exactly what I wanted, because I feared I would grow old alone. Now I realize that I have so much love for myself and from others that that fear is nearly diminished completely.
I can also now acknowledge that I must continue to work on finding balance. Where everyone must make some form of sacrifice in a relationship, it is not fair to put my wants and needs on the back burner, simply because I feel the desire to dive into romance. I am important, and my goals and needs are important. A good relationship should encourage me to achieve my goals, not distract me from them.
I also feel a great sense of thankfulness toward my new ex-boyfriend. I am thankful that he had the courage to create a space in which we could both explore our thoughts about the relationship. I’m thankful for my sister and brother-in-law, too. They validated my thoughts about the red flags that I had seen throughout the relationship. Even though I’m still learning how to trust my own instincts, I know that I can trust their guidance.
My father often jokes, “You sure know how to chase them away!” or “You’re just too picky!” When I was younger, this would sting, because I had believed there was something wrong with me. An increased sense of self worth has made me realize that yes, I may be picky…. and it’s important to be.