I learned to love myself through adversity. And through loving myself, I have found a sort of love for others, as well. Love in understanding. Love in tolerance. Love in the letting go.
I learned my interpersonal skills by method of crash and burn. I came into young adulthood lonely, confused and broken—daydreaming of romantic love saving me from myself. At the time, I was completely missing the foundation of what a real, loving relationship even was, I did not know what it looked like or felt like. I only knew of the hunger I had for it, and I only knew that I was determined to capture it. I imagined it to be the ultimate relief in life: to be loved. And I hoped to God that finding it would mean keeping it. And in the very same aching, I worried about being left behind. Being left alone in it. And I worried, quietly but constantly, that I was defective in some strange way, cursing me from ever being loved truly and wholly.
This deep rooted negative belief was a self fulfilling prophecy. I lingered into attachments that were highly conditional towards me. I made a lot of sacrifices that I believed were in good faith. And I compromised myself down to the smallest of pieces, always in an attempt to fit into places that would not hold enough space for me.
I have come a long way since my first introductions to love. It got worse before it got better. I was reminded with a firm grip repeatedly, to stop choosing people who are not choosing me. To find my own voice. To determine and honor my own needs. And to back them with everything I have.
I came forward and I fell back many times, and throughout the vast chaos, a few revelations were found. Healing has been and will always be continuous. New pieces wash up on the shore all of the time.
I do understand now, where love lives first— within me. I’ve learned I am not broken or defective either, and it’s not my fault that I was ever made to feel that way.
These understandings I have found are not exclusive to romantic partners and relationships. I consider them along with all relationships, and all times we intercept ourselves with others.
Sometimes I think of how badly I needed a voice of reason when I was young, tender, and ultra-impressionable. Only trying to figure things out, but being met with a lot of confusion and hurt. That’s why I write. For her. For the soft and good intentioned. And I am still young, but I have lived. So I speak what I know.
Here is what my breakups have taught me:
People are complicated
When we are young, we largely rely on categorization to understand things. And as humans, we need categorization to survive. Good and Bad is a pretty prominent one. We are brought up to keep this lens on us: good vs. bad. And we see everything and everyone we come across through it. But people are too complicated to only place in one of two categories.
Humans are human. No ingredients spared. Therefore they can be selfish and cruel, then they could also be enjoyable and warm hearted on certain occasions. And they likely can possess all of those traits, at nearly the same time, and that can be very confusing. You have good and bad too, in your own ways. You’ve mishandled sensitive conversations and situations before. You’ve hurt someone’s feelings. And you’ve been selfish, too. We will inevitably misunderstand each other and get upset. Due to circumstances we couldn’t always control, we all have wildly contrasting backgrounds of life experiences and personal beliefs.
What sets people apart is the effort they make to be more self aware and considerate of those who are important to them. You do still need to observe behaviors and continue to assess and communicate what feels healthy and tolerable to you. But, realizing that we are so much more than good or bad helps you be more understanding and forgiving, which you need for your own peace— at every stage of a relationship, and for every kind of relationship. This goes right into the next point.
Doing good is intuitive
It’s important to catch yourself in times of polarized thinking, because it can severely limit your ability to understand situations objectively. It also makes you easier to manipulate. For instance: I had a low sense of self worth, and I spent a lot of my energy trying to convince others (and myself) that I was good. How did I measure my goodness? By the satisfaction the other person in question had with me. I let them decide and declare what was good or not.
People pleasing became a part of me that overshadowed everything else. And even outside of romantic relationships, I have realized this trait is not realistically appreciated in the world. Do not make too much of a habit of black and white, polarized thinking. Do not prioritize your energy on constantly trying to be “good,” for others.
I realized that doing good is intuitive, and if it doesn’t feel good inside, then it’s not good for you—No matter what another person tries to say. So standing up for yourself, making a necessary fuss out of disrespect, setting boundaries and finally walking away, can all be good things to do. Even when you are explicitly told otherwise. Even if it seems you are punished for them by pain, rejection and negative confrontation. I had to learn that there is a kind of pain that is much worse, and that’s the pain of betraying yourself. The pain of remaining in a situation that so often puts you in a position to betray yourself, and how parasitic that can be on your emotional well being and mental health. Do good by you, and let you, and only you, define how that should feel and look.
Never betray yourself to keep anyone around
Betraying yourself would look like any time you infringe upon your own personal freedom, expression, happiness or dignity. Don’t accept the unacceptable for the sake of keeping a relationship going. Don’t turn into something unnatural or utterly diminished to keep a relationship going. Don’t ignore your honest and instinctive feelings to keep a relationship going. You may justify self betrayal by telling yourself (or being told) that you are preserving or fighting for your relationship, but you can only ignore your true feelings so long. And It feels worse the longer you do. Don’t betray yourself. Don’t drag things out unnecessarily.
You don’t owe anyone anything (you’ll be the bad guy at some point.)
Harsh, I know, but the people who really need to hear this are the ones who overextend and over compromise themselves. The ones who do think they owe others more than they do.
In life, we will create ties of varying degrees to one another: attraction, chemistry, friendship, intimacy, a long history, marriage and even children. Sometimes we will consider how long we have been in a situation and think, well, why end this now? Or how could I end this now? Maybe it’s as simple as someone liking us more than we like them, and we don’t want to let them down. Maybe we realize we fell for the idea of someone and not who they truly are after all. Maybe we’ve been doing the work of healing and elevating ourselves beyond any level we’ve been at before, and our partner refuses to accept these changes or rise up with us.
Breakups are inconvenient and messy to say the least, but you are always allowed to change, and you are always allowed to change your mind. I am not saying the process will feel like sunshine and empowerment, but it’s important to know you always have a choice. Whether you continue or not, you are making a choice.
Make it worth it if you choose to stay through doubts. Advocate for your relationship. And if you choose to go, go in grace. You owe yourself honest decisions. Don’t shame yourself when this happens. You cannot make yourself responsible for everyone else’s feelings.
Take personal time between relationships
We all know someone who seems to always be in a relationship. Once one ends, they end up in another one almost immediately. I have been this person, and I know why. Quickly going from one relationship to another feels good because you can introduce yourself back into those positive feelings of desirability and companionship without skipping a beat, and it’s an easy way to distract yourself from the bitter aftertaste of a recent breakup.
When you don’t take any time to check in with yourself between relationships, you fail to comprehend what your previous relationship taught you. You lose time to sit with yourself and heal from that loss and reassess your needs. You lose time to create an individual routine again and pour back into yourself. You lose the opportunity to consciously look at, take care of, and improve yourself prior to entering another relationship. (The idea is to make your life fulfilling and beautiful and THEN allow someone in who will ADD to that.)
But when you lose this opportunity, you’ll likely repeat cycles and draw the same kind of partner again, and this will result in similar separation and disappointment. This window of time between partners is something you should honor. It exists to be a space for necessary healing. Understand this and treat it as an investment in you and your future relationships.
Quit thinking everything is now and forever
A teenage idea that shouldn’t outlive your teenage years: thinking every new mutual love interest will be ‘the one.’ If you’re the average person, I don’t need to over explain this, because you’ve experienced life proving you wrong on this once or twice. Strong emotions are a hell of a drug. You can enjoy and love someone without using words like “forever,” too early. In the beginning, you can’t imagine it ending. But keep an open mind to life. Apply the practice of presence and surrender to relationships— enjoy them for what they are, when they are. Allow them to flow, too. Because they come and go. We don’t want to keep someone (especially ourselves,) from finding our real forever partner because we were too busy hanging onto every individual we took a liking to.
Whatever you’re looking for, be patient and you’ll find it
So you’ve given yourself time to consider what you really want out of a partner and a relationship. Maybe it’s something you’ve never been delighted to experience before. Maybe it’s something you’ve doubted being worthy to experience before. If you think you have some dark, shadowy reason that makes you unloveable in the way you desire to be loved— I need you to understand you are wrong. I need you to understand we ALL have flaws that aren’t always visible on the outside. The right person will love you in the deepest, warmest, kindest way you can imagine. The right person will accept you for who you are, love you regardless of who you have been, and will root for who you are trying to become.
A large part of receiving the best things in life is believing we are worth the while. Prioritize creating a foundation of deep, unmovable love for yourself before trying to fall in love with others. Then, continue to love yourself enough to take your time finding someone who treats you as wonderfully as you deserve to be treated.
Circling back a little bit, but it bears repeating. Forgiveness is for the forgiver. Carrying bitterness and resent, whether during or beyond a relationship, only hurts you. You can wish things went differently, you can validate your experience, you can be upset with how things happened. But at some point, forgive. Not just the other person either, forgive yourself. With time, you will realize the roles you played in negative relationship experiences. (yes, you— a big part of wising up.) I personally felt really guilty and disgusted by the way I allowed myself to be treated when I was younger. I’ve also felt incredibly regretful for behaving out of character or purposely being hurtful towards others because I was in a bad head space and feeling hurt myself. It happens. We all have skeletons in the closet. Know that everyone, at any time, is just doing the best they can with what they currently know. Yourself included. So practice forgiveness often, if for no one else, for yourself.
There you have it, 8 things (probably out of a million,) that my breakups have taught me. A blog that could have been a book. Things my son will have to listen to me say when he’s old enough to really hear it. Things I wish I knew when I was younger and navigating my relationships.