When I was 21, I was swept off my feet by a man 14 years my senior.
He said all the right things, that I was beautiful, that he couldn’t keep his eyes off me and that I was “The One.” Being young and naive, all I could do is just soak it up.
I was working at a gift shop at the airport the summer before I left for graduate school when we met. He was employed for the airlines. Shortly after giving me a greeting card, a romance ensued.
I was in the midst of a lot of uncertainty in my life; leaving out-of-state for college, separating from my family and familiar surroundings.
I knew, however, that I had “certainty” with someone who said they loved me and wanted to be me. I left for college a few months after we met. Most of our relationship was long-distance and less than a few months later he proposed to me. After a tumultuous 4 year relationship we broke up.
That was almost 30 years ago. Looking back I can say I was young, naive and inexperienced, but there is more to my story than immaturity.
There were lessons to be learned. Lessons I would only learn after much heartache and pain. These “lessons of love” I hold close to my heart. I’d like to share them with you.
1. Rescue Me
When I was a teenager, like many young girls of our time, I was hooked on watching General Hospital, the daytime soap opera of our generation. I was in love (or thought I was in love) with the character, Scotty. I still recall now, how I wished that I was the girl of his dreams and that he would come sweep me away.
Now this doesn’t sound too unrealistic, does it?
I mean a young teenage girl wishing the boy that they like, liked them. But the problem with this is, whenever you “wish” something that doesn’t have reality to back it up, it’s a fantasy. Pure and simple, just a fantasy.
Fantasies keep us feeling that an imagined event or situation actually has possibility, value and depth when it doesn’t.
A fantasy can be anything really, a “crush”, winning the lottery, or even the idea of having a baby to miraculously save your marriage.
No one is going to rescue you. No one. You have to accept your situation, face your fears and make a commitment towards what’s real.
I was looking for someone to tell me I was pretty, that I was valuable and that I was “enough.” In the absence of validating myself, I craved the attention that he was giving me.
Whenever you look outside yourself to feel worthy; a relationship, a job, the next fast car, the bigger house, you give up “who you are” for someone or something outside you.
This is a negative cycle that will keep you hooked to something outside yourself.
If you can tell yourself daily that you’re enough (and that you’re more than enough!), anybody or anything on the outside is just “icing on the cake.” Never forget, you are the cake!
3. Filling a Void
During that time I felt an empty space inside of me. I was well aware of it but often ignored it by distracting myself, seeing him or seeking his words of reassurance.
I believe we all have this empty space. Whether it’s a result of childhood family dynamics or part of being human, we have it. It’s sometimes described as discomfort or uneasiness.
That void can only be filled by you. It can be filled by your self-love and self-validation. It can be filled by sitting quietly. It can be filled by breathing through the discomfort and self-soothing and telling yourself it will be “OK.” It can be filled by proper self-care and healing.
I couldn’t stand the thought of being lonely. Feeling lonely just scared me. I would do whatever it takes to not feel that way. I never learned as a child that feeling lonely is a normal, healthy emotion.
Fear of being alone led me to jump too quickly to saying yes, when I needed to say no.
There are several ways to work through this and other fears. The simplest way is to write them down. Take out a notebook or journal and write down your fears. “What if this, then…” and so on. Write them all down. You will quickly see that you can overcome your worst possible fear and be stronger because of it.
5. Taking responsibility
As long as I was focused on him and our relationship, I didn’t need to focus on myself. As long as I said our relationship needed “fixing,” I didn’t need to focus on myself. As long as I said I can make things better, I just needed to try harder and put more effort, I didn’t have to focus on myself.
So that’s what happened for many years, I didn’t focus on myself. My emotional self, my physical self and my spiritual self were all abandoned for the relationship. Looking back, I can say that no one abandoned me, I just abandoned myself.
Take responsibility for yourself; your feelings, your needs, your thoughts, your behavior, your choices, and your dreams.
You will quickly see how taking responsibility will improve your self-esteem, your relationships and your life.
Now I can look back and see how much I’ve grown.
I can only say this because I’ve met people along the way that have forced me to look at myself. All I have is nothing but gratitude for them. Through the years, these lessons of love keep me centered and allow me to appreciate who I am every day.
The hardest lesson I’ve learned is that the first commitment that I need to make is to myself.