This week, I am celebrating my 5-year wedding anniversary with my best friend and amazing husband. When I look back at the relationships I had before meeting him, I feel so grateful for the switch that happened in my mind and allowed me to meet him and welcome him into my life. Get ready for a long and vulnerable post about how I became worthy of this love story. This is a journey from wrong relationships, feeling unworthy and unlovable, holding on to whoever passed by, ignoring warning signs, compromising too much with who I was and what I needed… to deciding what good should look like and refusing to settle for less.
Lacking role models
If I look back at my childhood, I didn’t have role models for healthy and loving relationships. My parents had divorced when I was seven years old. There wasn’t much inspiring love around me. Also, I had been taught that women should be independent, that they couldn’t possibly count on men who always end up cheating anyway. And that felt like a horrible and realistic threat, as I had many examples around me proving it to be true. But I also resisted it. I hoped there was more nuance in this world. Yes, maybe some men were cheating, but not all of them. Yes, maybe being an independent woman had advantages, but a healthy balance had to be found. Without role models to look up to and with my low self-esteem, my radar for a mutually loving relationship was not functioning. I didn’t feel worthy of a true love story if they were so rare anyway.
My first (un)love
As a teenager, I wasn’t a popular girl with the boys. I remember liking guys who never cared about me. Then when I was 17, my world collapsed with the death of my surrogate father, Jon. I fell into a depression that lasted years. A few months after Jon’s death, a boy from school showed interest in me, and I started a relationship with him. At the time, his interest made me feel (finally) special, and although he didn’t interest me at first, I just went on with it. And I became attached. I held on to him, because he was there, because of how he made me feel about myself, and because the rest of my world felt so dark.
He had never experienced any sort of trauma, he was simple and simple-minded. Life was light with him. However, that meant he didn’t understand my darkness, and we couldn’t have any deep conversations. I could see that despite his supposedly perfect family, a lot was wrong. There were weird and toxic dynamics. As I was going to psychotherapy myself and battling with my suicidal demons, he told me once that psychologists are for crazy people. I felt so hurt, judged, misunderstood, and angry by the betrayal. Now I know it was a defense mechanism for him, to remain in denial of his own demons. But that was one of the first signs that this relationship was not right for me, and I ignored it.
Staying by fear
I stayed five years until I couldn’t bear having him in my life. Everything in him disturbed me, we didn’t share anything in common anymore. My lack of love for him took too much space. I couldn’t imagine being stuck with him for the rest of my life. I wanted to feel reciprocal love, with someone I could share every part of me, the light and the dark, with someone I could talk about anything, the fun and the deep. This wasn’t it, and staying was also unfair to him. Fear had kept me in this relationship for so long: what if I don’t find better? What if I am not worthy of a love story? What if this is as good as it’s ever going to get, and I will regret the rest of my life leaving this? … underneath it all, it’s the deep fear of not being enough, not being loveable.
Leaving with fear
One day, as he could sense my internal questioning and my distance, he asked me if I loved him, and I couldn’t lie anymore. I didn’t have to reply, my face, my body, my eyes couldn’t lie. And so, despite my fear, this relationship ended. It took us a month to move out of our common apartment. Within two weeks of our break-up, he had another girlfriend. Although I had decided to leave him, it made me question whether he ever loved me and whether there was truth in the stories I had heard of men being incapable of truly loving, and ready to jump on any other woman. I didn’t regret leaving this relationship, but being alone was hard at the beginning. So I decided I would work on enjoying my own company, learning to love myself and feel good with myself, to have a better relationship next time.
Crazy shameful love
A year and a half later, I was visiting my best friend in California for Christmas. And as I met one of her roommates, it was love at first sight. This tall and handsome guy was funny, sarcastic, and I could see he had depth. He had trauma, darkness in him that resonated with mine. As I left at the end of my vacation, I left a note in his room. When I arrived home, an e-mail from him was in my mailbox. We corresponded daily for weeks. Long e-mails, funny and serious, sharing everything about ourselves. Then we decided to have video calls several times a week, 3 to 4 hours at a time. He lost his job and thought he could sell all his stuff and move to the other side of the world to be with me. We thought we should spend some time together, in the flesh, before deciding such a thing. So I went back to California in May and we spent 10 days together.
There were magical moments. And also two fights that should have been a clear warning sign that he was selfish and destructive. But I ignored them. As he brought me back to the airport, he told me he wanted to move and join me. And be with me for life. My excitement, the reciprocal love I finally felt clouded my judgment. I thought “this is crazy, but let’s do it”. Of course, I knew there was a risk it wouldn’t work out, but I thought the worst case would be just a break-up or a divorce. A risk with any relationship, and something I could survive.
To marry or not to marry, that was the crazy question
We planned our wedding for September, I would fly to the US, we would get married with the local authorities, and he could then get his immigration paper to move to my country. But suddenly, the whole month of July, he ghosted me. At the end of July, on my birthday, after I begged to have a catch-up call to find out what was going on, he announced to me our thing was over. He explained that because of his traumatic relationship with his mother, he was unable to love. That once he opened up and got attached, he would suddenly back away and shut down. And just like that, everything was over.
Worthy of shame
I felt so betrayed and unlovable once again. But more importantly, I felt shame. I had told so many people about this crazy love story, this crazy wedding with someone I barely knew and who lived on the other side of the planet. Now I had to tell them all it was canceled. What most people could have predicted happened. I was a joke, a failure, so desperate to be worthy of a love story I believed a lie. It had been too good to be true, and most people would see that. But I had been naïve, weak, and reckless. I fell into another depression, with an identity crisis, and isolated myself for months. The shame and anger at myself were the dominant feelings. I wanted to hide for the rest of my life, and I didn’t want to hear people minimize what this all meant to me.
Seven months later, I met another guy. He lived 45 minutes away from my house, which felt more reasonable. He wasn’t looking for a commitment. In fact, he had broken up with a girl before me, because she was expecting more from him, and he wasn’t ready for something more serious. Here again a clear warning sign I ignored. I had this thought that my previous relationship had been “too good to be true”, so this time, I wasn’t going to believe something that was too shiny. And it wasn’t. This guy barely wanted to be with me. So I worked hard to “make him fall in love with me”. I thought “relationships require hard work”. Spoiler alert: they shouldn’t! and especially not at the beginning!
Here was another damaged soul, who struggled to love women. I liked it because that meant he had depth, and I wanted to heal him, save him. Spoiler alert: we don’t save people who don’t want to be saved! And that’s a therapist’s job, not a girlfriend’s! I spent a whole year trying to make this work, while he played hot and cold. I broke up with him once, he cried and told me he loved me. So a week later, we got back together as he promised me he would try to make this work. Spoiler alert: either we are in love, or we are not, we cannot “work on falling in love”. And one day, we finally concluded that this would never work, he didn’t see his life with me, he couldn’t truly be in love, and I was done with this. I was devastated. Another proof that I was broken and not worthy of love, another proof that men were unloving and broken, and another proof everything was wrong in this world and my life.
I cried and cried until I had eczema on my eyelids. I never had eczema in my life before. And suddenly I realized my body was telling me “enough with the crying for guys”. And there was a switch. I saw I had made such poor choices with men, just holding on to whoever was passing by. I saw the pattern and my responsibility. And I decided there and then, the next man in my life would have to make me feel like a queen. It would be an easy and natural relationship, with mutual love and magic. He would be mature, respectful, and ready to commit. He would not be shy with his emotions or mine. And if I couldn’t tick all these boxes, I wouldn’t get in any relationship.
A month later, my now-husband magically appeared in my life. And I could immediately tick all the boxes. It was perfect, authentic, mutual. I had panic attacks at the beginning, especially when he told me he loved me. Could I believe I was worthy of this love story? Was he going to break my heart? He made sure there was no doubt. He took care of me as if I was the most precious thing in his life. And his love and support transformed me. He roots me and brings me safety.
The secret recipe for love
The right man appeared once I decided I deserved better. Setting healthy boundaries, defining what truly mattered in a relationship, and refusing to settle for less were all crucial. Of course, when I met him, I still feared I wasn’t worthy of this love, and that I would be betrayed and abandoned. But I worked on that. Psychotherapy helped me heal the scars of my past, to avoid projecting and repeating them in my present. Instead of lacking role models, I worked on defining what a healthy and loving relationship would look like for me. And with my eyes and my heart wide open, I saw all of him, his imperfections, and his genuine love for me. He patiently proved to me over and over again that he would be my rock. And because no relationship is ever perfect, in times of conflict and difficulties, we still always found a way to ensure our commitment to one another, in a loving, respectful, and constructive way.
You are worthy of love
Don’t ever settle for something that doesn’t make you feel good. Mutual love and respect should be the bare minimum in any relationship, whether it be love, friendship, or family. And always, always, no matter how many times you’ve been hurt, keep your heart and mind open, not in a clingy way but with curiosity and kindness. And keep in mind that worrying and being pessimistic won’t ever prevent any suffering, to the contrary! The two main issues I see with people struggling with relationships: either they ignore the warning signs and hold on to the wrong relationships, or they are so pessimistic and full of suspicions, they remained closed-hearted and attract the wrong people (and miss out on the good ones). Once you align yourself with what you truly want, the world aligns back with you. And maybe, this love story is about loving oneself first and, let me tell you, we all are worthy of this love story.
How worthy of love do you feel?
Photo credit wedding goofSOUL Tim Glowik