The Greatest Love I've Ever Known
To simply say that I've "been through a lot" is understating the enormity of my experiences as an adult looking for love. I'm not even sure I can say that I've spent my adult years actively or consistently seeking love. Like many others, I think I've bought into the idea that I should be looking for love until I find it, and if that love fades away and its accompanying relationships fails, I should begin my search again and hope for something better.
I never fully believed love was for me, mainly because I never truly believed myself worthy of love. In a reflective look back on my life a couple of years ago, I realized that over the years I had internalized this crazy idea that someone like me could never be truly happy in a relationsip. I had convinced myself, almost unconsciously it seemed, that no one would truly want me, fully and completely because I was too tall, too fat, too smart, too unladylike for any one to want more from me than a few romps in the sack. For the most part, this was what experience had proven true, so I had pretty much accepted my destiny to be unpartnered and unloved.
(Oddly enough, I'd been proposed to... by men who wouldn't even let me meet their closest friends. Rings and all. Weird. Kinda messed me up for a while because it didn't make any sense. I realized long ago that some men are just weird *laughs*)
Then I met the first man to both claim to love me and do all of the things the romantic comedies told me a man was supposed to do to and for me. Maybe the directors edit out most of the scenes portraying the lying, cheating, and other types of abusive behavior. If they do shine a light on the dark side of relationships, the stories always seem end with women being the ones who forgive if the men cry, write or perform cheesy songs, or make grand gestures in front of crowds almost coercively obligating women to take them back.
I told myself that I loved him too, though. For a while, I even believed it. I didn't trust him, but I was convinced that I loved him enough to make a life with him. The problem with that, if not yet obvious, is that you can't sustain a healthy relationship with someone you don't trust, even if you get married and have a child. Needless to say, our marriage ended in divorce and I promised myself that I would not be broken by the relationship's unhappy ending.
And I wasn't.
Image: JM Scott via Flickr
I took about three years "away" from the pursuit of love that I wasn't even sure I want to embark upon again. I dated, explored feelings, made connections, held back, healed, preserved, focused, rebuilt, repaired, and decided that I was the one responsible for my happiness and completion. It was in that time period that I realized that the greatest love I could ever have is the love I had not yet known or come close to experiencing-- Love of myself.
I fell in love with me. Imperfect, evolving, learning, growing, blossoming me. I could look in the mirror without looking away after a few seconds, fearful of the emptiness that often greeted me when my gaze lingered too long. I could walk with my head held high not out of practice or routine, but because it my head was now supported by the genuine self-confidence only love of self can exude. I could smile, not through pain, conflict, or confusion, but because I finally knew what happiness was truly all about.
It was when I fell in love with me that I was able to connect with someone who could also love me for the me that I had become. I was open to inviting someone into my life to share in this love of me. I invited him to join me here, far away from everyone and everything in this secluded place inside of my heart, in Love.
With him, this past year has been one of newness and nerves, growth and giggles, love and lessons. This love I share with him is unfamiliar because I didn't know how to love myself until recent years. This love I share with him is refreshing because I feel like I'm only now coming into a complete understanding of who I am as a woman, as a mother, as a person...