“I, with a deeper instinct, choose a man who compels my strength, who makes enormous demands on me, who does not doubt my courage or my toughness, who does not believe me naïve or innocent, who has the courage to treat me like a woman.” ~Anaïs Nin
I had a long list of things I wanted to accomplish between Christmas and New Year’s. But instead of doing any of them, I went and fell in love.
I’m not even sure how it happened. But I do know I asked for it and prepared for it and was ready for it to arrive.
Or at least I thought I was.
Because I’ll be honest in saying that the feelings kind of came barreling in at an uncomfortably quick pace and that initially I was like WHAT THE EFF, PLEASE SLOW DOWN. And that I almost ran away because I was entirely and utterly terrified and not totally sure I was equipped to handle what was happening.
So even though I wanted it and was devouring it and immersing myself in it completely, I was also a little resistant to the changes it was inevitably initiating into action in my life.
That’s because change — even really awesome change — is HARD and SCARY and takes some getting used to.
Also: I had gotten really good at being single before all of this love business showed up.
And, truthfully, I was absolutely attached to my identity as a single woman. Even while I talked openly about my desire for partnership and lamented my lack of luck in the dating department, I secretly clung to my aloneness because it was safe and familiar and uncomplicated.
Lonely sometimes, of course, but also admittedly easy.
I mean, I knew how to handle the discomfort of loneliness, and my ability to self-soothe in healthy ways was at an all-time high. The difficult aspects of singledom were something I had sort of mastered.
Which isn’t to suggest that I enjoyed every minute of being alone, but it does mean I kind of always knew what to expect and how to respond — and, in particular, how to manage my own feelings.
Even the not so awesome ones.
And then love came into the picture. And completely ruined everything.
In a good way, yes, but still.
I’ve talked a lot over the past couple of years about the process of learning to like myself and forgive myself my flaws and accept that I’m sometimes (see also: often) a frustrating, seemingly impossible contradiction.
(Spoiler alert: We all are. Contradictions, that is.)
Even on my worst days. Even when I’m not sure I deserve it.
The good news, then, is that I entered into this new relationship with a pretty solid foundation of self-love and some good practice stepping outside my comfort zone and engaging with the unknown. And the unfamiliar.
Which is helpful.
Because I will tell you guys, partnership is way outside my wheelhouse.
And even in spite of all the preparation I put in prior to meeting this man with whom I am most definitely in love, these feelings and this relationship and the intimacy of it all are seriously shaking things up over here.
Some days, it feels like I proclaimed to the Universe that I’d finally learned to love myself and accept myself and feel mostly happy most of the time, and then the Universe was like, Ha! You thought you were finished? Here. Fall in love. And then try to keep your wits about you.
Which I’m slowly learning to do.
Because it’s one thing to feel good and secure and self-loving while maintaining a carefully-calculated distance from others and upholding a certain degree of self-containment.
It’s quite another to feel good and safe and self-accepting while embracing actual vulnerability and admitting you adore someone and revealing your shortcomings to a person you started out trying to impress.
Once you lift the veneer of impeccability you worked so hard to present on the first or second or third date, you are forced to reveal a variety of imperfect things about yourself and then wait for a completely unpredictable reaction from this person you kind of barely know.
And you have to hold tightly to yourself and love yourself anyway and remind yourself that your worth is not determined by what happens next.
Full acceptance or rejection by this other party. Either way, you have to love yourself more for being brave enough to be vulnerable.
And for speaking your truth.
I have now admittedly lost sight of exactly where I intended to go with this post, so let me sum it up with three things:
1. Don’t let any one thing in your life — like your relationship status, single or otherwise — determine who you imagine yourself to be.
Identity is fluid. If you’re overly attached to one particular identity, you could miss out on a really amazing opportunity to evolve into something else.
Or, you might miss out on falling in love. I know I almost did.
Life demands that we change. Constantly. Your job is to embrace it. And to figure out how to have some fun in the process.
2. Be vulnerable.
Which I’ve said before on multiple occasions, but has repeatedly revealed itself to me as the key to intimacy and personal growth and joy.
Shit, you guys. Vulnerability is hard.
But the right people are going to love you even more for showing them the flaws and the messy parts and the under-the-veneer realities.
I, for one, had two panic attacks in front my my now boyfriend within the first six weeks of dating. And he still fell in love with me. Truthfully, I feel like the vulnerability my anxiety inevitably exposes only makes him adore me more. (But you’d have to ask him to be sure.)
Have the courage to be imperfect. That’s when things get good. Truly.
3. You will never be “finished” becoming you. Never.
The evolution of self is an perpetually occurring process, and it is absolutely enhanced by relationships of all kinds.
But particularly by romantic relationships. At least in my experience.
And the individuals with whom you choose to embark on these types of relationships will act like tiny flashlights — or, sometimes, giant floodlights — that highlight places you might need to revisit on your journey towards self.
For me, these places have been all about how I define success and abundance and desirability. Which are issues the lens of partnership has revealed to be more intricate and multi-layered than I’d previously realized.
But here’s the good news: Each time we return to a familiar place on our path, the rewards for moving through it are that much richer and more profound.
I might be a novice at partnership, you guys, but let me offer you this one last piece of advice (which is totally cliche, but also totally true):
Do. Not. Settle.
Seriously. Wait for something great. Because I guarantee you, it’s absolutely worth it.