It’s not that I couldn’t be alone. I could, and I could thrive as a woman alone—but I didn’t want to.
As for loneliness, I had felt lonelier in my marriage than I ever had as a single person.
And I was older and experienced. I knew the path to a good relationship was often tough. I had learned about open relationships that meant bullying, fidelity that meant lying to myself, commitment that meant control, jealousy that meant insecurity. Why bother?
But I yearned to feel what healthy love was like, just once.
After several years of dating, I got it right. Healthy, fun love finally came to me because I finally saw how wrong I had been.
Here are the ways in which I was wrong:
1. I didn’t believe healthy love was possible in real life.
I had heard that all relationships are tough and hard to do. I heard that everyone has ugly secrets. I knew that even a 50-year marriage didn’t mean the couple was happy.
I doubted that happy long-term love could exist. And if love always hurt, then I wanted to stay alone.
But I was wrong. Digging deeper, I realized that truly healthy, happy partnerships exist but they are rare. While marriage has much to do with raising children, it often has nothing to do with love that frees both individuals to grow and thrive.
I had to believe it was possible. So I made a list of truly healthy, happy couples I knew. There were only three or four, but it showed me that I had been wrong. Such relationships were possible.
2. I didn’t believe that I deserved a great relationship.
This was tough for me. I had often cheered for others. I had been kind and supportive—but I had not done the same for myself.
For many of us, especially for women, this is hard work. How could I draw a line about my own needs and not be a bitch? Answer: sometimes I was a bitch, and that was okay.
These changes did not always please family and friends. Genuine self-love goes against many traditional beliefs and many traditional family patterns.
Here’s how I changed my own mind. I imagined someone coming toward me, saying, “Wow! What a prize you are. You’re not perfect, but you are fabulous and amazing. You blow me away because of your (fill in the blank).”
I tried loving myself the way an indulgent grandma would have loved me and visualized a powerful being who accepted and loved me, even with my flaws. I wrote cherishing love letters to myself.
I had been totally wrong about how love worked. It was never about who the other person was. It was about what I thought I deserved. It was about my own ability to receive love.
I had never allowed love to flow towards me because I didn’t know people could do that. I knew that others were lovable. But it never occurred to me that I was so loved by the universe that I deserved everything good—including a partner who cherished me.
3. I hadn’t done my emotional sit-ups
I had work to do and it involved getting stronger. I had to get strong enough to carry my own emotional weight. This meant really looking at the patterns of my life and throwing out the behaviors where I blamed everybody else.
I had to forgive alcoholics, forgive abusers and see where I had been wrong. I had to learn to see when sweetness was a lie, when staying in a relationship was self-betrayal and when harsh honesty would have served me and my partner better. I had to recognize and then move beyond powerful family patterns of martyrdom and sexism.
Did I use others as props to make me look good? Did I need this partner to make me look smarter or sexier? Did I need a partner so that people wouldn’t think I was a social failure? Did I need a partner so my family would think I was normal?
Was I using a partner to patch up my façade? Did I only care about how others saw me? Was I ever authentic?
It was hard work to see how many times I had been wrong. But by always holding compassionate self-love as the gold standard, I grew stronger and loved myself more.
My arms were not free to love anyone until I loved myself enough to stop making excuses.
All of us can grow strong enough to stand alone. And that is exactly the moment when healthy love becomes possible in real life.
4. I had not forgiven the people who had done unforgiveable things.
This one was really tough.
It’s not that the things done were okay. They weren’t okay by any standard.
But I realized that if I could be love, I would grow in my ability to manifest love. And being love meant somehow finding it in myself to forgive.
Here’s a favorite quote from Robert Brault: “Life becomes easier when you learn to accept an apology you never got.”
I admitted that when I felt threatened, I did unkind things. I could forgive the cruel ones by comprehending their pain. I could forgive myself by acknowledging my own pain.
After forgiveness came a gentleness that linked me to all love, all awareness.
I had been wrong about a lot. But I worked through it and grew. It was worth it for me because it made me ready.
Finally, one day the wind changed. Great love reached for my hand. And this time, it lasted.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman