“I can’t say when you’ll get love or how you’ll find it or even promise that you will. I can only say you are worthy of it and that it’s never too much to ask for it and that it’s not crazy to fear you’ll never have it again, even though your fears are probably wrong. Love is our essential nutrient. Without it, life has little meaning. It’s the best thing we have to give and the most valuable thing we receive. It’s worthy of all the hullabaloo.” ~Cheryl Strayed
Like many young girls, I spent my childhood daydreaming about love and finding that perfect person who would “complete me.” Through being exposed to media, it was even further indoctrinated into me at a young age that I needed to find this romantic love to be whole.
This intense desire for a partnership was juxtaposed to me witnessing my parent’s toxic relationship.
I watched my mother feel absolutely miserable with my father. And I watched my father manipulate her over and over again. Then, she would tell me all the horrid details that were not meant for young ears. This left me incredibly confused and honestly deeply afraid of love and intimacy, yet it created an insatiable need to somehow find it.
I knew that I didn’t want anything close to my parents’ marriages; however, the love in movies and literature that was often portrayed as wildly romantic didn’t seem any healthier. It was dramatic. Co-dependent. Heartbreakingly painful—till someway at the end it all turned out okay and everyone magically lived happily ever and after.
Even when I looked at other examples of romantic love within my family and friends’ parents, there always seemed to be something missing. From a young age, I wondered if healthy, romantic love was actually real or just something people daydreamed about.
Fast forward a few years, I was in my first relationship. He was gorgeous, intelligent, and he spoiled me with gifts and compliments. However, I was unbelievably co-dependent and wanted someone to love me so desperately that the relationship was just as toxic as the ones I had seen in romantic films growing up.
Sure, it was passionate, and the romance was intoxicating, but it was also deeply manipulative at times, because he knew I would never leave. He held all the power over me. I was so desperate to find someone to love me that I would put up with anything. He could treat me like a trash, and I would still stick around. We both knew it.
After we broke up, I continued to have lackluster at best, but usually incredibly painful romantic relationships. By the time I entered my mid-twenties I was so jaded and romantically bruised that I fundamentally believed healthy love didn’t exist.
Then COVID-19 happened, and my entire life changed. I ended up unexpectedly moving back to my hometown, my career totally shifted, and I was living a life I would have never imagined six months ago.
The shutdown gave me a lot of time to reflect on what I believed and what I would put up with in a relationship. I came to the point through journaling, reflection, and lots of therapy where I realized that I was willing to be single for the rest of my life, if that is what needed to happen, instead of settling for love that didn’t add deep purpose and positivity to my life.
I didn’t even know if this kind of purposeful and positive love existed, but I knew that I wasn’t going to put up with the alternative anymore.
At some point during this time—as life would have it—I met someone. We chose to walk into love together. From the moment our relationship blossomed, it was different. It was steady. Unwaveringly stable. And the healthiest relationship in any capacity that I have ever had.
I found that when I was treated with deep respect, consistent communication, and grace, my old tendencies to be co-dependent and distrustful started to fade away. The foundation of our relationship was built from so much honesty, kindness, and true desire for the other individual to be happy and healthy that I was able to relax and be myself.
Looking back, I always thought that I was the sole problem in my past relationships. I was too emotional. I was too needy. My personality was too big. I was simply too much.
In some ways, I did display unhealthy behaviors and actions in my past romantic relationships. I own that. And I have worked diligently with a therapist to learn how to develop new, healthy patterns and have grace when my old behaviors come back and learn how to let them go.
What I realize now is while I did (and still do) have personal work to do to show up as an incredible partner, I am worthy of love.
Not the love that I saw my parents share. Or the love the media portrays as romantic. I don’t want that kind of love. I want love that is full of support. Love that is healthy. Love that is steady. Love where we are allowed to have healthy conflict and come to a resolution together. Love where I am allowed to make mistakes. Love that allows me to be fiery and emotional and for that to be beautiful.
What I have learned this past year from dating this human is that that kind of love does exist.
I want to make clear that this kind of love doesn’t and shouldn’t only have to exist in a romantic way. Maybe you’ll find that kind of love from a friend, a mentor, a parent, or an animal, or hopefully all of the above. But regardless of the category of relationship, we, as humans, are all meant to be deeply loved regardless of how deeply flawed we may or appear to be.
Our job is to not settle for love that is lackluster, or abusive, or emotionally damaging. Equally important, we cannot settle for that kind of love from ourselves.
I was lucky enough to find this soul-warming love in a romantic partner; however, there is a part of me that believes if I hadn’t showered that kind of love to myself and the people around me first, I may have not stumbled across this person.
Maybe they would have totally passed by my life without even me recognizing they are the love of my life. I believe it took me treating myself in the way I deserved to be loved to recognize it from someone else.
I had to come to a place where I treated myself and the people around me with love and grace in order to recognize the healthy love I had been looking for my entire life, even if I couldn’t put into words when I was a child or a teenager.
So, from a woman who didn’t believe healthy, fulfilling love existed, I am here to tell you that it truly does. Your job is to not settle for less. Cultivate the love for yourself that makes your heart feel warm, spread it among the people you love, and expect it in return. It is out there, my friends. Don’t give up.