“How you love yourself is how you teach others to love you.”Rupi Kaur
If you’re new to this blog, I’m a single, never-been-married woman in my mid-30s, who is traveling and dating around the world. Over the years, I’ve grown from verbally abusive relationships, infidelity, and body image issues, and I won’t settle for a relationship where there is dysfunctional behavior or treatment, a misalignment of values, or a lack of physical chemistry. It only takes one, but there is not only one; and I’m hopeful and optimistic in spite of all my challenges in love, many of which I have shared in this blog, on social media, and in my upcoming memoir.
How did I get here? Well, it takes a while to grow into the person you are meant to be. Don’t compare yourself to others. Life is a journey, my friends.
High school and college: An insecure girl craving approval and validation
One of the biggest lies I believed during high school and college was this: that if I found someone to love me, I should hold onto that person — because I’ve already invested so much — even if it was bad more often than it was good, even if it was unhealthy, even when it wasn’t working or wasn’t contributing to my well-being.
In high school and college, I spent 7 years in an on-and-off, mostly long-distance relationship where I was frequently name-called, insulted, and cheated on — yet I found myself going back to him every time he claimed he would change. His words seeped into my skin: I was fat and stupid and unlovable, my eating disorder raged, and I was convinced — he was the best I would get. When the relationship finally went up in flames (he angrily moved out of our apartment in the middle of the night), my self-esteem was shattered. A few months later, I moved to Arizona.
I spent the next two years healing, in a slow emotional recovery. It wasn’t until I went to Greece on a solo-turned-group trip in 2011 that I decided I was ready to love and be loved again.
I met a really wonderful man. He was sweet, generous, and funny, and being with him was comfortable — but we disagreed on too many worldviews, and the physical chemistry wasn’t really there. Within the first year I knew there were irreconcilable differences — in fact, our pre-marital counselor told us not to get married! — but it wasn’t until just before our third anniversary that we broke up.
I was back on my own, and my clock was ticking. My friends were getting married and my 3-year investment had gone nowhere. I was single again… and I thought I had failed. Failed to see the writing on the wall, failed to be the person that would’ve made it work, failed to use my time wisely.
It took me a looooong time to learn: it’s better to be single than to be with the wrong person, and that nothing was wrong with me if I didn’t have a boyfriend.
My late 20s: the biological clock is ticking and I’m running out of time…
I embarked on a six-month relationship just a few months after that breakup. I was skeptical about him at first, but I overrode my first impressions and ignored the red flags, including the emotionally incestual relationship (Google it) with his divorced mother — and that he didn’t defend me or our relationship to her.
Early on, we looked at rings (on his ask), but then I caught him in a serious lie and betrayal. I lost all respect for him. Still, I didn’t fully respect myself, not yet.
A little later, I met another man. He taught me a lot, and I admired so much about him, including his business smarts and his outlook on money and materialism. But he didn’t treat me very well — he was condescending, and he could dish it, but he couldn’t take it.
One of the things I learned as these relationships kept getting shorter and shorter: it doesn’t take that long to determine compatibility and long-term potential (and for true colors to be revealed). With each breakup, I got closer and closer to understanding myself and my standards.
I finally could put what I wanted in a partner into words. I want: 1) a man that treats me well, consistently and over time 2) a man who I could admire and respect for his values and aspirations, and 3) a man with whom I had attraction and chemistry. Two out of three wouldn’t cut it.
My 30s: Asking (and answering) the question: do I actually want what I am told to want?
If any of those three men saw me now, they probably wouldn’t recognize the person I’ve become, because: to each of them I repeatedly asked (or insinuated), with a hint of panic, “Sooooo, when are we getting engaged?!?!”
I was feeling the pressure from society, and reflecting that onto my partners: the pressures that women on the brink of age 30 face about hitting those milestones while the clock was ticking. After that final relationship ended, I started to reflect: did I actually want to be a mother?
Of course, I had been brainwashed by society to follow that path, since the first baby doll to the last thinly-veiled comment “So when are ya’ll getting engaged?” — but once I looked into my soul and realized that those milestones just weren’t for me, I felt so free… free to let relationships naturally develop vs. nudging them to the altar.
I got really honest with myself and admitted that the traditional family life — kids, and maybe even marriage — just wasn’t an aspiration of mine.
Then, when I was 31, I met someone who I thought changed the game for me. He and I met while traveling and were inseparable for a week — it was a case of love at first sight, which developed into constant communication and plans to be together — involving an across-the-world move on my part. He would later break it off, cool and callous with the vague explanation: “I need to concentrate on my business.” I was devastated.
In the seven years since, I’ve been largely single, with a few prospective love interests that ultimately fizzled or went nowhere. Yet, I am completely happy with my life, and absolutely sure of myself.
Other realizations and perspectives I have when it comes to love
On dating: There is more in this world to aspire to than relationship status, and staying with someone that’s wrong for you takes away from time spent with someone who could be right.
The mere act of expressing interest does not make someone interesting (and I don’t go out with people who have not interested me).
When somebody shows you who they are, and those behaviors are not on your “wants” list? Believe them. We get really caught up with wondering, “Does he like me? Why isn’t he texting me? Why is he doing this or isn’t doing that?” that we forget to ask ourselves: “Based on what I’ve seen so far… do I want him?”
I don’t confuse attractive and attracTION: you can find someone attractive via photos and videos, but ATTRACTION happens in person. Love is not confined or flattened into a single sense. Love encompasses all our senses: sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing (and the sixth sense being the butterflies in your stomach). All of these things together can only be experienced in the presence of a person.
I don’t believe in long-distance relationships. My time is far too valuable to invest in someone I haven’t met, that I don’t know if I have chemistry with, that I don’t know — and the hours of my life it would take to do so are better spent engaging with people I actually am meeting.
The person who comes in fast and hot will likely disappear just as quickly, and I’ve learned how to spot a narcissist (sadly, with practice).
On rejection and breakups: It’s better to be embraced, accepted (or rejected!) for WHO YOU ARE vs. a false persona or a shell of yourself… and the first warning sign of a relationship that won’t work is if you have to stifle or dim yourself.
If he doesn’t want me, that’s a reflection of him. If he doesn’t show interest, if his words don’t match his actions, if he doesn’t consistently show up for me, or if he disappears and reappears like a revolving door… that’s not on me, a result of who I am, or what I’m doing or not doing. That’s on him.
I don’t need closure. Understanding what happened doesn’t negate that it happened, and looking backwards or trying to find the reason why a betrayal happened or a man disappeared is a waste of emotional energy that will never make sense and is better spent looking forward.
On marriage: I think marriage, increasingly, is treated like a destination. A resting place, an achievement, the end of the line. A statement that proves to your peers and to each other that you’re a valid couple who made it to the altar and now, life can begin. To me, a relationship is not a place, it’s an action. A choice. Something to work towards every day, not bound by chains or law. Both parties have free will to leave or stay. A relationship is special, fragile, tenuous, and both people should intentionally choose to be in it.
I’m ok with my relationship being short-term if they’re not right in the long-term. I’m ok with being in a relationship that is never codified by law, where both parties are not forced to stay in something they both don’t want for financial or familial reasons or to please others. I’m ok with meeting people at certain times in my life, having meaningful, impactful friendships and relationships… and then letting go when it runs its course: people change, and relationships change with them. An ending is also a change.
My love life in the future, and what I am “looking” for
It only takes one… but there is not only one. I will find someone else to love. And it will likely be when I least expect it, in the wildest place, or under the most surprising circumstances. I repeat, especially for all of you that feel particularly discouraged: it only takes one… but there is not only one. And he will be the right one for me, at the right time.
I know that there are good guys out there (and there are a lot of amazing women too, for my single heterosexual male readers!). I’ve met great guys, I’ve spent time with them, and they make me very hopeful and optimistic that a relationship may be in my future. And while I believe that what’s meant-to-be will be, and that you can’t force anything to come to be… I also know dating, courting, pursuit, connection, whatever you want to call it, must be intentional.
I’m interested in a natural connection, chemistry, communication, sustained by consistent actions over time and shared values. But I am not “looking”: because that implies I am lacking. I am very fulfilled in my life as a single, child-free woman (and especially as a nomad, traveling the world!). I’m not rushing or forcing, I don’t do virtual dating, pen pals, or long distance… and I will not settle.
And if I meet a guy I like on the nomad life? My world couldn’t NOT look different. BUT… I won’t make any decisions “for a man” — I will make decisions for me. He and I, whoever “he” is, will each have decisions to make for the good of a shared future when and if that’s what we both want. My half of that decision will be completely mine, borne of my mind and my heart, but after many conversations and much time spent together. It will be a decision that I own, that no one compelled me into, based on honesty and openness.
And even if we give it a shot and the relationship doesn’t work out… there’s no blame to be had if two people who love each other make a decision with honesty, good intentions, and valiant effort. (You can guess how I feel about dishonesty, bad intentions, and a lack of effort.)
To be continued with the final chapter, Chapter 4, next week ❤️
Catch up on the full series:
- How Did I Get Here? My Career Evolution: From Journalism to Social Media to a One-Year Sabbatical (Chapter 1)
- How Did I Get Here?: From Periodic Traveler to Full-Time Nomad (Chapter 2)
- How Did I Get Here, Love Edition: How I Evolved into the Empowered, Child-Free and Happy Woman I Am (Chapter 3)
- How Did I Get Here? My Financial Journey: From Unemployed and Broke in 2017, to Saving Enough to Leave the Workforce (Chapter 4)