"If you are searching for that one person that will change your life, take a look in the mirror." - Unknown
The other day I was Skyping with a friend who's current situation eerily resembles mine almost three and a half years ago. As she shared her fears and worries, I couldn't help but feel a deep sense of empathy and compassion for where she was. As she nervously confided in me about her decision to leave her marriage of two years, I wanted to wrap my arms around her and say, "It's gonna be okay. I promise. One day it will be even better then okay."
I wanted to tell her everything I had learned over the last three and a half years about love and how sometimes loss leads you to discovering some of the most magical things about yourself and about life.
I wanted to share how a lot of the time, we think the love from someone else is enough but it isn't. What is enough however is having the courage to do what is in your heart which isn't always the easy thing.
But I couldn't, it wasn't my place. I knew all these lessons were ones she had to come to on her own. All I could do was listen and hope that she felt my love and support from thousands of miles away.
It got me wondering though, how many people are married or coupled up who have done so under the same false pretenses I did? The one that says the right person will come along and save you. They will love you enough so that you won't have to learn the very thing that WILL save you; loving yourself.
I also wondered how many people were staying in relationships that resembled the very one I was in because it felt safe or because they felt it was something the should do. Those damn should's.
I grew up believing in the fairy tale. The one that had my prince charming riding in on his Technicolor My Little Pony and rescuing me in some way, shape or form. Hey, these were my fantasies and regular horses bored the hell out of me. My Little Ponies were what my romantic dreams were made of.
He’d trot in with his perfectly parted Ken Doll hair because what young girl doesn't adore Ken. With his sparkling blue eyes and his big, bronze muscles, which were just a little stiff if you asked me, and he'd scoop me up with his arms that barely hinged at the elbows and we’d ride off into the blazing sunset to live happily ever after in our Barbie Dream House. The one with the white picket fence, the perfect career making the perfect amount of money, the 2.5 kids, and a friggin' partridge in a pear tree. And that wouldbe our "The End".
Fast-forward to real life and one painfully failed marriage and a handful of brutal dating scenarios with openly emotionally unavailable men and this single thirty-seven year old has finally realized that love looks a little different then what my youthful (and delusional) dreams were once so naively made of.
It's taken me a long time to admit to myself that real love isn't the stuff that Blockbusters and fairytales are made of.
It definitely isn’t a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan movie.
It isn’t black and white.
And absolutely, under no circumstance, can real love sweep in on a brightly colored pony and save you.
Entering any partnership under these pretenses is bound to fail you at some point.
But let me start from the beginning. Let me tell how I came to realize that I had it all wrong. That my idea of real love was nothing more then a deceptive idea passed down over time and adopted by a girl who just wanted a happily ever after.
Let me tell you what love isn't.
I remember waking in the early hours of a cold February morning in 2014 from another restless night sleep. A fresh layer of white snow covered the bare vines and steep rolling hills of the fifty acre farm and vineyard I had called home for the past four years. I pulled the covers up close to my chin and in the stillness of the early morning light left over from the moon, I looked to my left at the silhouette silently sleeping next to me and my chest tightened. The heaviness returned from its eight hour break and once again, I wondered how I had allowed myself to get here.
That had become the norm. I was thirty-three and found myself in a manipulative marriage of less then two years that had become more about constantly trying to change each other then acceptance, support, encouragement and love. I found myself constantly wondering if this was really it. Was this really what love and marriage were? Deception, lies, dread and control?
Was I really that desperate to be coupled up that I had sacrificed my own personal happiness to do so?
What about the fairytale? What about my prince charming and my technicolor pony ride off into my rainbow color sunset? What about my happily ever after?
I slipped out from beneath the covers, quiet as to not wake my then husband, desperate for a few more hours to myself before I had to face my very own Jackal and Hyde. I tip toed down the stairs into the bathroom on the main floor and flipped on the light. Instead of avoiding the mirror as I normally did, I stood, staring down the reflection.
I looked tired and defeated from the daily disappointment and heartache of what I had allowed my life to become. I had no idea who the women in the mirror was. I had broken a promise I made to myself a long time ago after growing up with parents who's marriage resemble the one I now found myself frantically treading water in.
"How did you let this happen? This can't be it." I whispered to the girl in the mirror. For the first time I allowed the words to bubble up and before I knew it, slip out my lips and into the hands of the very thing that could save me, my own.
It was as if I had broken some kind of spell and I snapped out of the delusional fog I was in. I made a promise to myself that I would do whatever I had to do to live this one precious life the way I knew, in my heart, I needed to live it. Not chasing down the love of someone else but rather figuring out what that meant on my own.
The events that transpired over the next two months were heavy and heartbreaking but perfectly laid out for me so that I had no other choice but to leave.
In mid-May, just days before what was to be my second wedding anniversary, I found my car packed with all my belongings as I drove north back home to Seattle wondering how I was ever going to put my life back together. However, in my heart I knew a life stumbling solo was far better then being coupled up in something that was abusive and neglectful and lacking any sense of what I believe to be true love.
So what does love have to do with it anyway?
Not to sound incredibly cliche, but one of the greatest lessons I learned from walking away from my marriage was that love between two people just isn't enough. You have got to love yourself first. Unfortunately, I had no idea what that looked like and had a long road of hard and repetitive lessons ahead.
How we learn to love ourselves looks different for all of us but I wholeheartedly believe that until we learn to do just that, our lives are going to be full of a lot of pain and suffering because we are going to be constantly looking for that love from others.
The greatest step I ever took was finally listening to my heart and walking away from something that was safe, comfortable and familiar for the complete and utter unknown. It was in that moment I cracked a little piece of the puzzle and realized that this was the way to the truth. This was the way I was going to learn how to love myself and step into a life that felt like me.
The moment I drove away from comfort I knew I had started a wild and crazy journey into the depths of my own heart. Something I had only ever dipped my toes in.
I said yes to something big and scary and I have kept saying yes to things that terrify me because I know they will keep leading me to deeper parts of myself.
So what does love have to do with it?
Love with someone else may not be enough but you better believe the love you feel for yourself is. That is the answer. Until you know what that looks like it is going to be really hard to invite in the kind of love you deserve and want with someone else.
The path isn't always paved perfectly and those bumps and challenges are usually leading you to discovering another part of yourself that needs some love. That's what all those hard, often repetitive lessons are meant to do. They are supposed to shine light on the areas that need more of your own love.
That is where I'm at now, facing many of the same lessons over and over, slowly realizing I have the choice to love myself enough to say not again.
I'm learning to love myself by leaning into those parts of me that are unfamiliar and choosing to do things differently. I'm creating the life I want that feels like the truth even if it doesn't make sense at the time. And I'm just going to keep doing this. Day in and day out. I'm going to wake up every day and continue to make choices, easy or hard, that are based around doing what is best for my heart, my path, my journey, my life.
I'm going to continue to say goodbye to people, places and things that do not serve my heart and allow time and truth to cultivate the space for those things that do.
So that hopefully, one day, when the right man walks into my life, I can let him love me just that way too.