I’ve been thinking about love. Not because Valentines Day is coming up, we all know that day has jack squat to do with love, really. Mostly because I’m watching my daughter suffer a betrayal, a broken heart, a disappointment and temporary loss of her hope, her dreams, herself.
I was thinking about the lessons you have to learn about yourself, or at least the lessons I had to learn, before I could really have a trusting, loving, long term relationship.
It’s true you have to love yourself. I know it’s corny but you only think it’s corny because it makes you UNCOMFORTABLE. For whatever reason, the idea of loving ourselves seems to have that effect on people.
It’s like this- if you want people to come and visit, it helps to have a clean house. Emotional baggage unchecked, insecurities running wild- inviting someone into that is only asking for trouble. You’re in no position to entertain guests when your “home” is a wreck. You can’t see the red flags for the clutter.
As you know, I flunked marriage the first time around. I chose a poor match and a person of questionable morals. I was young enough that I can blame my lack of thought towards the actual future on my frontal lobe not being developed enough to understand choice and consequence. I was fickle enough to get married on a whim. Bottom line, I had ignored every red flag along the way and plowed ahead on this magical thing called faith and the beauty of the fairytale.
So after some torturous years of trying to fix what was broken and not at all fairytale-ish, I had to admit defeat.
I went on my first date after Bunny was born when she was three. He was an ok guy. He was really nice and really sweet and I call those three years “the healing years”.
But that didn’t stop me from keeping a manila folder of all the relationship threatening (to me) things he did. No really, I kept an actual folder. I remember my coworker, twenty years my senior, having a good laugh about that back in the day. I was serious as a heart attack, though. The red flags were not getting by me this time!
(THANK GOD no one is keeping a manila folder on me!)
Eventually there were too many papers in the manila folder.
It would take more dates and a couple more boyfriends before I would figure out how to have a relationship.
At a point, in my early thirties, feeling old and spinster-ish, I had a talk with myself. I was feeling pretty good about myself, after a break up and nearly a year of unexplained sudden crying out of no where.
“You’re just torturing yourself,” my gynecologist said to me, when she asked if I had any new partners and I burst into tears.
There was a girl at the time who read my blog, and I read hers, we had connected because she was also going through a breakup and she said, I quote, “there is a blog I read about this girl who went through the same thing I did only it’s taking her like FOREVER to get over it..”
So yeah, it was good that I was feeling better. I had started a weekend job at a group home for developmentally disabled to earn extra money and had come to love it. My job was “Rec” which stood for “recreation” and meant that along with all the usual things like showers and room cleaning and nail clipping, I was responsible for FUN. I had twelve new people to love and they loved me back for anything I did for them. They gave me an invaluable gift. They gave me perspective.
When I could make Rene, who couldn’t walk without help and couldn’t talk, smile, that was amazing. I thought, who am I to be feeling sorry for myself? Look how these women can have so little and still find so much joy in life!
The talk with myself resulted in the conclusion that I was happy, that I felt good, and that I was OKAY all by myself. I was actually pretty great all by myself! I accepted that the only person I could count on, in any situation, fully and one hundred percent, was myself. And that was a comfort to me, to trust myself enough to know that I could count on me.
I decided that I would be an old cat lady. I don’t know why being old and single and female is associated with cats but since my schedule could not accommodate a dog, cats were the next best thing. I decided I was fine with that. With being single and having cats for companions in my golden years. I made peace with it. Started planning for it.
Bunny got two rescue cats for Christmas that year.
And then I met J.
There were still red flags, but I didn’t keep them in a folder. It is unreasonable to think that there will not be any things that need working through. The difference though, is that I had the comfort of knowing I was just fine by myself. I made better decisions when those red flags came up because I wasn’t desperate to try to make what was wrong be right. I had expectations, and if they weren’t met then I knew I would be fine, which meant I didn’t have to lower them.
I know that had I never come to terms with myself, with being satisfied and happy by myself, with trusting myself and my ability to count on myself, things might have gone differently.
(I also realize as I write this that I am your run of the mill rom-com plot…to whom it may concern, I’d like Kate Hudson to play me in the movie, ok?)
The perspective I gained during that year at the group home has never left me. I have a sense of gratefulness, an appreciation for the little things. I believe in being positive as a way of life. Bad stuff happens all the time, still, and it’s easy to get discouraged, but when that happens I think about my residents, and how happy they would be to get a can of pop, or a trip to the pet store just to look, and I know things aren’t really that bad.
So. In case you haven’t realized it yet:
You’re GREAT just the way you are and thank goodness you have you to count on because you are there for you. You have you’s back! And even better, you’re the best person for the job! YOU GOT THIS!
This Valentines Day, while you’re spreading love, make sure you give some to yourself.
Love the One You’re With- You.