I used to think I was proving how strong I was, how unselfish I was, and how worthy of love I was by refusing to give up on the ones who were incapable of giving me the love I was longing for.
I was so programmed to believe that love would conquer all that I couldn’t see that there was nothing loving in the way I was allowing myself to be treated, all in the name of love.
I was blind to anything else except that this is what real love must be.
After all, I had always heard that anything worth having was worth fighting for. That to get to the good part, you had to go through the bad.
So I assumed that it was through giving so much of my own heart and soul that I would eventually be rewarded with the love I was searching for. That in unselfishly giving of all the love I had in my heart, I would receive the same kind of love back in return.
I resolved to never give up.
Little did I know at the time that this was a fantasy, not reality.
Little by little, unbeknownst to me, I was chipping away at whatever self-esteem I had left.
All in the name of love.
All because I thought I had to prove something – that this was a test – to prove that I was loveable.
I can’t even tell you how much I missed the mark. The harder I tried, the more I did in the name of love, the lonelier and the sadder I felt.
There had to be something wrong with me, was my only conclusion.
Wasn’t this what my mom had done, and her mom, and her mother before her? Wasn’t this what all the women down through the generations before me had done?
Give, give and give some more. So unselfishly of themselves until they didn’t even recognize who they were.
Yes, this was the legacy I carried within me. We give and we give and we give some more. Until it hurts, and even then we excuse the pain away, we excuse their reasons away, and we keep on giving some more.
I had repeated this pattern so perfectly; I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t working for me like it had for them.
They had found love. They had men who loved them, who committed to them, who stayed with them through thick and thin. Why wasn’t the same true for me?
I became more determined to be more of what I thought the particular “he” who had become my project, wanted me to be. I became more of the perfect wife – until one day it all came crumbling down around me.
I couldn’t live like this any longer.
I could pretend no more. This meeting everyone else’s needs at the expense of my own. This pretending I was fine, that I didn’t have my own needs, that I was here only to serve everyone else.
I found myself physically sick, unable to pretend I was OK anymore. Even if I hadn’t had enough, my body had.
Something had to change.
The pretending. The trying. The striving. The chasing. But most of all, the refusing to let go of what was doing so much irreparable damage to my heart and soul.
I stopped. Oh, not overnight. But slowly, gently, I began to let go of the things and the people that weren’t in my best interest, that didn’t add to my life but merely took things away.
I started learning to say goodbye to them or not let them near my heart in the first place. But first I had to learn to recognize them.
That was the hardest part of all. Learning to recognize them. Before, they had been signals to come, to engage. To try. To prove something within myself.
Now they were signals to let be, to leave well enough alone, to turn and slowly back away. Or run, run as fast as my legs could carry me.
I listened. I watched. I observed.
I checked in with myself to see how I felt, to see how being around someone was feeling to me. I learned to trust my own intuition and gut instincts for the first time in my life.
Until one day, a real kind of love found me.
One between equals, instead of the opposite kind I’d been used to. One where I could be myself and be loved because of who I was, not in spite of who I was.
If you had told me back then the journey I would take from where I was to where I came to, I would never have believed it.
But by being open to listening, to hearing myself and what I needed and turning down the voices of the world around me, I found more love than I could have ever dreamed of.
For both myself, and for another. The only way real love can ever be.
Jane Garapick, Dating and Relationship Coach, Author, and Noted Dating and Relationship Expert