Content Warning: please note that this article features discussion of sexual assault.
“Am I destined to be alone forever? Has a higher power forsaken me to a life of solitude and meaningless flings? Am I a f-boy magnet?”
These were amongst some of the thoughts circling around my brain at 27. I had never had a serious romantic relationship, and had deluded myself into believing that the gods above were testing me. Was I Sims character to them?! Either a higher power had decided to conduct my life as though it were an orchestra, or my luck with men was just atrocious. Safe to say that my contact lenses helped me see anything but the reality of what was really transpiring.
Ever since I can remember, l always had a fascination with men. More than anything in the world, I wished and prayed for a Hollywood type of love – a passionate, all encompassing, all consuming, flawless kind of romance. Having such unrealistic expectations led to some interesting encounters over the years.
There was Joe, who professed his undying love for me while also refusing to make things official as he wasn’t comfortable with the fact that I went to university. A man expressing his desire to grow old together and change each other’s nappies was enough for me to ignore the alarm bells ringing in my ears. Eventually, I grew tired of his antics and moved on to Tyler, whom I’d only met once but became extremely infatuated by. He was a lovely guy, but lived in a completely different city to me. We’d only had an evening together (completely PG!) yet I was convinced he was my knight in shining armour. What gave me that impression? Well he loved my father’s country and spoke my native language. Surely this was a sign! Needless to say, an evening is all we shared.
Now let’s fast forward to Johnathan*, a very handsome man with a captivating accent. He was very honest about his intentions from the very beginning and was adamant on keeping things casual. Where did it all go wrong? He made the mistake of showing his vulnerable side to me which, according to every blog/magazine/article I had read on relationships, meant that he had feelings for me! (I am rolling my eyes as I am writing this). Although, the bait that truly hooked me was the following line : “I think we’re more than just friends (with benefits)”. Whether he meant it or not will always remain a mystery.
After Johnathan, I found myself in an eerily similar situation, except this time the bait was attentiveness and consideration to my needs. Right from the outset, Will explicitly stated that he was not looking for anything serious, and , to be perfectly honest, neither was I in the beginning. However, after several months, Cupid decided to make an appearance once more and hit me with the bamboozling arrow, a weapon of sorrow and ego destruction. I was so shocked that a man would treat me with such respect that I foolishly thought that he may be the one. It may not have worked out with this individual, but I will always be grateful to him for showing me that I deserved more.
Once the flame burnt out, a new guy came onto the scene. Ben* was funny, cute, and didn’t take himself seriously. The feeling was very much reciprocated, which only fuelled my yearning for him. We talked, we laughed, we even managed to stay in touch whilst I was travelling for two months. What led to the demise of this particular situationship? To this day, I am still very much bewildered. Upon my return to the UK from South America, there was nothing but the deafening sounds of an unrequited love. Plans would be cancelled at the last minute, and the communication between the two of us had become akin to plunging into a frozen lake – painful, suffocating and intensely cold. Eventually the texting came to a crushing halt.
After various failed attempts, at 27, I finally found a wonderful person who went on to be my partner for 2.5 years. He was charming, nice, respectful of my needs, caring and thoughtful. Unfortunately he wasn’t physically available, and lived far away from me. In the end, the distance drove a wedge between us.
With every blow came a grey hair, but also a lesson.
Where Did I Go Wrong?
So, was my romantic misfortune a by-product of bad luck? Absolutely not. Once I started undertaking my own therapy, I was faced with the uncomfortable truth: my own self beliefs had led me down a path of confusion, pain and hurt. “I’m not good enough” was a belief that had accompanied me throughout my life. I had not recognised that, unconsciously, I was finding myself in situations where that belief kept being reaffirmed. Every heartbreak would escort me into an abyss of self-doubt, where the words “is it me?” would echo relentlessly.
Having being subjected to both racial and sexual abuse from a very young age, my self-esteem as well as my ability to form close relationships had been impacted negatively. I’d become quite cold and distant, with an avoidant attachment style (see Ellie Bull’s article on this topic). I would keep everyone at arm’s length, yet seek for approval or validation at any given opportunity. I wanted for those around me, particularly men, to prove to me that I was worthy of love yet I was unconsciously frightened of letting anyone in. In the search for the “one”, I was attracting men who were emotionally or physically unavailable because I was not ready to be in a relationship. You have to remember that whoever we attract tends to mirror struggles or issues that we may not be confronting within ourselves. Consciously, I had not realised how closed off I was, which is why the self-doubt would grip me by its claws and hinder my self-esteem whenever situationships wouldn’t blossom into a loving bond.
How Did I Turn Things Around, and How Can You?
It was at 30 years old that I found the love of my life, my best friend, my partner in crime. After years of hurt and hopelessness, I finally attracted my ideal mate: a person who’s good to me and for me.
Here’s what helped me find my partner:
- Identifying my negative core beliefs (e.g. I’m not good enough, I’m not smart, I’m not loveable).
- Understanding unhelpful rules and assumptions that were hindering my self-esteem. These include notions like always saying “yes” so that people will like me; if I speak up, people will not love me anymore; I must always be perfect, so that people will love me.
- Tackling unhelpful behaviours that were compromising my self-esteem (e.g. lack of boundaries, not standing up for myself, perfectionism, ignoring red flags, staying in unhealthy situations).
- Surrounding myself with people that loved and cared about me.
- Having fun!
- Getting used to spending time on my own and enjoying my own company.
- Healing my inner child by giving her the reassurance and love that she needs (see Ellie Bull’s article for more info).
- Opening up more and being vulnerable with people I trust.
- Being patient.
- Understanding what my needs are and asking people to respect them. For example, if I need space, I will communicate that rather than just disappearing.
- Seeing a therapist to better understand and address the above.
I am not perfect, of course, and at times I still get overwhelmed and/or frightened in my relationship. However, I have learnt how to handle the distant cries of my past. It’s impossible to try and forge t about the monsters, but we can certainly strive to minimise the role they play in our lives.
*names have been changed in order to maintain anonymity
- To help you identify negative core beliefs, unhelpful rules and assumptions and unhelpful behaviours, click here.
- To help you tackle irrational thoughts, click here.
- To help you heal you inner child: Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child by John Bradshaw