In my 20s and early 30s, I used attention from men as a validation card.
I sadly thought that if I didn’t have one (or two) men interested in me at all times, I wasn’t interesting. A lot of this emotional reliance had to do with the environment in which I was raised. I grew up with an alcoholic parent, which ultimately fed my desire to feel special and loved outside my home.
Not being solid on my own fueled my poor decisions about whom to date and I often stayed in the wrong relationships too long. Here are seven things about self-love and relationships I wish I'd known earlier in life. I hope they can help you find your "one," no matter your age.
1. If you aren’t healthy emotionally, your relationship won’t be healthy.
As a little girl, I felt powerless against my home environment. As an adult, I realized I could use sex and attraction to feel powerful. It took a long time for it to sink in that I’d never get close to finding a lasting love until I felt 100 percent fulfilled on my own. The pop culture notion that we need someone to complete us is totally unhealthy. If you want to find love, you have to fully love yourself first.
2. You won’t make a smart decision about whom to date next if you are still recovering from a breakup.
When I was younger, I was in love with a bad boy who I thought I could fix (Mistake #1). He was controlling and possessive and I thought I could use love and compassion to turn him into my prince (Mistake #2). As someone who fears abandonment, I had a hard time breaking up with him (Mistake #3), so I started spending my time with another guy to lessen my pain and quiet my fear of rejection (Mistake #4). Enter lots of drama and relationship overlap (Are we still counting mistakes?).
This experience taught me that we don’t choose who we really want when we let our flaws (broken heart, fear of abandonment, need for approval) do the choosing. You have to be healed and whole before you can make a smart decision about whom to date. As my psychologist would say, “There’s a difference between feeling better and getting better.”
3. A breakup is not a declaration of your worth as a person.
I used to treat my dating life like a scorecard. I acted like my self-worth depended on me being the one doing the breaking up. If I broke up with someone, I could still feel good about myself. If someone broke up with me, I’d be shattered because I thought it was a declaration of my worth as a person.
Now I know that breakups only mean you aren’t a good fit for someone — they don’t mean you're inherently flawed. Don’t grant the power over how you feel about yourself to someone else.
4. Don't confuse lust for love.
Physical attraction alone doesn’t mean you’ve found the one. Intensity and sizzle and throw-you-down passion is lust. And sure, lust can turn into love, but confusing the two can get you into trouble. Can you talk and express genuine feelings with your significant other? Are you proud to introduce them to your closest friends or relatives? These are more important questions to ask if you're trying to determine whether you can truly spend a lifetime with someone.
5. Intimacy is total transparency.
Healthy relationships don’t have secrets. Your friends shouldn’t know more about your romantic relationship than your partner does. If you can’t talk openly and share your authentic feelings with your boyfriend or girlfriend, you don’t have intimacy — an essential ingredient for a healthy relationship.
6. Your relationship should make your life better.
This one seems obvious, but love doesn’t hurt and it’s not possessive. Love doesn’t make you feel like you can’t breathe. Love doesn’t want you to stop hanging out with your girlfriends or track where you are at all hours. Love doesn’t try to change you. Love isn’t accepting mistreatment. If your relationship isn’t making your life better, leave.
7. Take time to enjoy being alone.
Living alone and discovering who you are is the best path to a lasting, healthy relationship. I had such abandonment issues from my childhood that I was scared to spend one night alone after college. Talk therapy helped me learn how to love living by myself. My psychologist told me, “You lived through a war zone growing up, you can handle living alone.” When I finally sat on my apartment floor, boxes all around me, I felt a sense of freedom I'd never experienced before. I realized I controlled my own environment and I no longer needed to be entrenched in a relationship to have high self-worth.
When I got healthy on my own, I met the man I would eventually marry. Unlike with my previous relationships, dating him wasn’t about filling a void in me. It was about spending time with a man who had all the qualities I wanted in a partner.
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