In middle school and high school, it seemed that most of the girls around me were “taken.” Anniversaries were written in roman numerals in their Instagram bios; Snapchat stories were used as a platform for sharing their manicured hand holding an anonymous one; whispers of first kisses and secret valentines spread like wildfires in the cafeteria. I’d go home and complain to my mom, “Why don’t I have a boyfriend?!” She would tell me wisely, “Your time will come. Just make sure you love yourself first.” I never really understood why people said this until I met my current partner.
See, when all you’ve known is toxic relationships, romantic or otherwise, trying to build a healthy one is difficult. You want to open up to the person completely, but it seems impossible after years of not being good enough, of being abandoned, betrayed. You can’t fully trust this new person when they say they love you, yet you don’t want to communicate your feelings in fear they’ll run away.
It’s sad to say, but I don’t know anyone who truly loves themselves, so they cannot fathom a world in which someone else loves them. This creates doubt, uncertainty, and a hindrance of healthy communication between new partners because all the negativity is left to brew inside until, one day, it bursts, and someone breaks down completely.
I have some advice based on what I’m experiencing right now.
Practice self-care. In my own life, I’ve turned shower time into self-care time. I started using moisturizing lotion to keep my skin smooth and hydrated. I play my favorite songs in the bathroom to boost my confidence. On Sundays I use a sugar scrub that makes me feel soft, sexy, and beautiful. It may not sound like much, but simple routines like this can make all the difference when you need a little TLC.
Communicate your feelings. Being able to communicate needs without fear of judgment is important in a relationship if you want it to last. Be honest and open about who you are and what you want; the right people will stay, while the wrong people run away. This doesn’t mean tell them everything that you’ve been through on the first date. Instead, take it slow. Start communicating about little things, such as something that you experienced that day that irked you. For me, even sharing stuff as mundane as this is a struggle, because I feel that what I say is not important, and I’d just be bothering my partner. Understand that this person wants to be there for you, so don’t shut them out. Being vulnerable is not a weakness.
Accept the past. You can’t change it, which sucks, but know it’s for the best. Remember, the hurt that people have caused you in the past is not a reflection of you, but of themselves. Practice forgiveness towards these people; pray that they will overcome their demons and find the peace to not make others miserable anymore, and then let them go. Free them from your mind and your heart. Moving forward and making yourself happy is better than any petty revenge (see “The Song That Changed My Life” by me to read more about radical acceptance). Not every eligible romantic partner in the world is like the one who may have caused you pain; believe it or not, there are good ones out there.
If you’ve been hurt before, give yourself permission to fall in love again. You 100% deserve affection. Stop punishing yourself because some jerk couldn’t see your worth. And if you aren’t ready for a relationship, then that’s okay, because if you aren’t at peace with yourself, you cannot be at peace with someone else. Take time to heal so that you can come back stronger than ever.