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I am not what you would call a relationship expert. In fact, I haven’t been in a relationship in almost 5 years, mostly by choice. Add in that I haven’t been in a healthy relationship in almost 8 years, and things start to look, well, bleak to most. But despite this track record, I’m content and even happy with where I’m at because of what I’ve learned about myself. It sounds strange, but it all started with the relationship that wrecked me.
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When I was younger, I was a hopeless romantic, in a way that made me a bit of an outcast in high school. Even outside of relationships, I thought if I cared more than anyone else, it would lead me to what I wanted. I cared more as a sports fan because then the team would do better. I cared more about my friends’ issues than my own because then I’d be their best friend. And I fell over myself for girls I was interested in because they could be the one. I firmly believed that I would someday marry my high school sweetheart, because that’s how this worked, right? We’d get married, have the white picket fence, kids, the works. In hindsight, it’s clear how selfish all that behavior was and is.
As a surprise to no one, I didn’t fall in love with anyone in high school. Because I was 17. So, I headed off to college. New town, new people, who needed high school anyway? Falling in love in high school meant you had to go to the same college, and what if we didn’t get into the same colleges? College was better. We were already adults, free to do whatever we wanted. Keep in mind this is still a fictional woman that I’ve never met that makes up the second half of “we”.
By the end of my first semester, I had completed my goal. I had found the one. She was smart, funny, athletic, came from a great family, and beautiful. She was everything I could have wanted. So we dated, broke up at one point, and then got back together. Then came the end of the semester. For some reason, I honestly don’t remember now why, I wanted to move back home. It was only an hour away, so it would be fine.
It was not fine. Distance doesn’t seem like a big deal until you’re living it. My insecurities led us toward a breakup because I was afraid she would cheat on me. I had no reason to suspect it, and yet, I believed it. Living in a fantasy world wasn’t working. My high school sweetheart fantasy was dissolving because that’s not how life works. There are ups and downs and I wasn’t prepared for the downs.
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Fast forward three years, I’ve dated three or four women. At the time of the relationships, everything seems great. But the cracks start to show and then, it was time for me to cut bait. Every time in the aftermath of my college relationship that I felt like things weren’t going 100% great, I would doubt in my head. That doubt would turn into me pushing and pushing until they left. I was too much of a coward to ever tell someone I didn’t want to date them anymore. I pushed until they had enough and told me they were leaving. Great guy.
Fast forward five more years and here I am. Still without that high school American dream. But with a lot of time to think. I would realize later that my college relationship sent me into a depressive tailspin. I would also realize that it failed, and every relationship has failed, because I viewed them as a game, a thing to be won. I also saw that I needed to work on myself before trying to put anyone else through that ringer. And last, I realized that that “American dream” wasn’t what I wanted.
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My depression, which I have a better grasp of today, was ignited by a failed relationship, but that’s not the fuel that kept it going. I started to drink to escape my problems and it spiraled. It wasn’t the failed relationship, it was my personal feelings of failure that kept it going.
That white picket fence scenario is the last thing I want. I have mixed feelings on kids, and a suburban neighborhood is not my idea of success. I grew up in a big house and that was the norm for me growing up. All my friends did. But I much prefer apartments/condos or a very small home. And while I haven’t given up on marriage, I do value my alone time. Introverted in nature, I need that time to recharge and clear my head.
But most of all, I still have work to do on myself. It took me a long time to see that I was the problem and I had broken views on relationships. And having this clarity now is a big game-changer. I know to approach my life with love first now. Nothing in life is a game, it only is. And approaching each situation with love, be it relationship or work that day, is the only way to be content with how it goes. If you love every decision you make, some things will die. But not because of you. And more important, many things will blossom.
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I glossed over my depression a bit, but I’ve written about it before here. Developing loving relationships, including friendships, is an intention of mine going forward. And while I’m probably ready now, I’m done chasing. The right person, if there is one, will show up when it is time. And I’ll know that it’s time to receive their love and give mine in return.