Words by Brittany Forbes
I’m trying to tell myself not to start at the beginning because the beginning of my dating life is not where it all began for me. My first real relationship didn’t begin until I was 29.
A heat wave of sorts had hit London on the day I arrived and it felt like the heat was breaking open parts of me that I didn’t know existed. If there was ever a weather to mark a significant change by, a heat wave in London in the last week of October was it. I felt lost and found all at once; out of place and exactly where I was meant to be.
“J” was the first person I spoke with upon arriving in the city besides the customs agents at the airport.
He taught me that I was deserving of better treatment than what I ever thought possible. He seemed genuinely excited to be around me. He treated me well and took me on dates where he paid and pulled out chairs. He gave me his jacket when I was cold. He showed me off to his friends. He left poems by my bed and shared his interests and hobbies with me.
He was genuinely confused when I was angry or short with him. I was too, because he often hadn’t done much wrong. I was defensive because I had never been treated so well. It felt like a trick and I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Nonetheless, he put up with my tantrums and stood by me. We talked about the future and what our wedding would look like on a clifftop in New Zealand where he was from.
I loved him. And yet...
The thread that weaves itself throughout my relationship journey is always the relationship I have with myself. In this case, I loved him more than I loved myself. And I knew that. Things ended because I desperately wanted to love myself as deeply as he was loving me. While I was enamored with the way he saw me and treated me, I wanted to feel deserving of those things. So I let him go.
“S” excited me. It was the most intense meeting of any soul that I have experienced to this day. I remember everything about the moment I first fell in love. I remember the weather, the location, the date, the time of day. I remember how it hit me like a ton of bricks as we were crossing the street on a chilly Christmas eve and I looked at him next to me, both of us bundled up for winter, away from our families. All the love songs ever written couldn’t have prepared me for the feeling of finally understanding what everyone talks about when they talk about falling in love. That knowing feeling lived in a place so deep inside me, I hadn’t ever accessed it before.
We took trips between lands and kissed on rooftops and under stars. The highs were some of the defining moments of my entire life. The lows were crushing and took me so far back to my painful childhood that when the names started coming and the bruises showed up on my arms from him grabbing me when I tried to walk away, I simply accepted it. It felt normal.
I hadn’t learned boundaries yet. The relationship ended two years later, when we simply stopped texting each other back. No break up, no final words.
What I learned about myself through and because of this relationship was that I was weary. I was allowing a pattern that had played itself out in my life, time and time again, but I didn’t yet know what to replace it with. Cutting something out of my life, however unhealthy, with nothing else to fill that space felt terrifying.
My relationship with “T” was quieter. When the love finally came it wasn’t in a rush, it wasn’t overwhelming. It came when I asked for time and space and he gave it to me willingly. I wanted nothing more than to stay safe in his reach for the rest of my life. The one who got away? Maybe. But wow, did I grow.
I learned that what doesn’t kill you still feels like it might three years later. But in the living dead in-between of being barely alive and still needing to breathe, a metamorphosis can take place.
When you stop trying to control his feelings and your feelings and the situations and circumstances and distances between bodies and hearts, change has space to just happen. When you have no energy left to try, you also have no energy left to control. Your real self rushes in. Somehow, all the things I had learned over the course of being an adult and being in love, everything big and small, lying dormant in some deep pocket of me, took over.
Every ounce of existing I had experienced over the past few years and relationships came out in full force and re-created me while I hid myself as far away from that pain as I could get.
When I felt like I didn’t know who I was because who I was had always been a girl loved and left repeatedly, things slowly started getting replaced.
And then one day I met someone new who felt like love. It was real until the first time he hurled a name towards me that wasn’t one I owned any longer. And I knew I didn’t like it, so I left. On lonely days, I went back. Old habits die hard, and I told myself I wanted to make sure he hadn’t really changed. He hadn’t and he won’t. Not for me, anyway.
I didn’t know that I knew what I wanted. I didn’t know it was in me. But somehow, over the years and the broken hearts and the full hearts that didn’t quite fit due to timing and places, there were lessons that stuck.
It has taken me four relationships, several dates, and a few lovers to get to the place where thinking of relationships immediately brings to mind the relationship I have with myself.
I wish I had always been this self aware, but I know it’s not true. Did I need to go through painful breakups to get to this point? Maybe. Maybe not. What I did need to experience was being loved by other people. People who saw in me what I never had been able to see in myself.
I’m happy to say, this is where my next romantic relationship will begin: with me. How I treat myself, how I speak to myself, how I love myself. If I don’t see these characteristics reflected back in my next relationship, then it won’t be the one for me. Loving myself has made it easy for me to notice when someone else truly loves me or when their words are being used to manipulate and deceive. And loving myself has, in part, come from allowing myself to be loved by others.
Initials have been changed for privacy.
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About the Author:
Brittany writes in Canadian, loves in English, and dreams in French. She writes about travels and various other journeys over at Letters To Rayelle.