It took me until I was 28 to really see what was so good about me at 18. So respectable. I can picture where I was exactly when I had this sobering confrontation with myself. It was 4am. I was in bed doing what comes easiest to me: being an absolute insomniac.
Some days the consequences of this are torturous but that night is an example of why I stay up just waiting, just willing myself into nights like those. Confrontations like those.
That night it struck me that the difference between my relationships at 28 and 18 was that at 18 I was stronger. I didn’t fool myself and I didn’t let a single man fool me. If he raised his voice, I was gone. It wasn’t a matter of when, it was a matter of now. If I had some sixth sense that he was lying, I sat him down until he looked me in the eyes with truth. If he looked away, I left.
I didn’t stay because a year of my life had already been invested in him, even if it had. I treated men like I treated the city I was living in, like the college I was attending and the education I was receiving there. If it didn’t light me up, I moved on. If I wasn’t growing, I dreamed bigger and chose what would be hard.
New cities were hard.
Beginnings were hard.
Singleness can be hard.
But my gut feeling always was that what’s hard, would be good for me. It would always be better.
Even if I couldn’t feel it right away, hard would always be better than easy.
Better than convenient.
Better than lackluster.
Better than bored.
Better than betrayal.
Always better than me taking refuge in my own trepidation.
Because the moment you start taking refuge there is the very moment you begin training yourself to stay, to make not enough alright, to see the trap as desirable, normal or, worst of all, inevitable—when it doesn’t need to be.
How does this begin?
How does a mindset of smallness hijack the impact we have over our lives?
Well, it starts with staying in something that’s half-assed just because. Just because in surface conversation it sounds magical that your first boyfriend was the man who could give you forever. It sounds magical that you never had to date around.
A life of smallness, a love of smallness, a smaller you starts this way.
It starts with the cycle of recommitting yourself to someone who has let you down. Repeatedly. It starts with allowing the letdown to be alright. It starts with you normalizing it.
Smallness becomes us because we make allowances for people. We create excuses for them. We reason away their lies and wrap our arms tight around their squirmy little chest until we can’t make out a liar’s heartbeat from our own.
Because when you lie to yourself once, you create an opening to lie to yourself forever.
I’m warning you, that opening can become, very quickly, a hard wound to pack.
Do you know how many of us lie about the quality of our love?
Do you know how many of us think our way into love more than we feel our way in?
At 28, I knew for sure that I had spent the last decade putting my hours into becoming a pro at that, so many hours lying to myself about my own feelings and drawing relationships out and forcing happiness into my love. Heck, at 28, I looked back and saw that for so much of my twenties I was just forcing love in general. I was always forcing myself to be in love but I wasn’t in love, I was just sticking around, waiting for it to finally come take over my heart. And I was ashamed of that. I was ashamed of the insincerity that had become natural to my heart.
Let me tell you, without absolute sincerity in love, relationships turn into something pathetic. That is what had become of so many of mine, and that night when I was finally seeing clearly, when I was finally braving the reality of my behavior in love from 18 to 28, I felt so pathetic. So mad at myself. So betrayed by my own choices.
You see, at 18 I wasn’t gun shy. And that wasn’t because I hadn’t had my heart broken before, it was because I hadn’t broken my own heart yet.
I was naive to all the damage we alone can cause ourselves. That was the beauty of being 18.
I trusted that I would let go before the clock ran over. And I trusted that because I had never gambled with self-betrayal.
When you start breaking up and making up though, when you start handing your heart over and then asking for it back or letting a boyfriend run off with it altogether, you are gambling with betrayal, with smallness, with the trueness of your life. And truth is what makes life real and livable and juicy and glorious. Truth is what people lean in for. It’s what makes a love story so magical.
At 18, not worrying about the things I didn’t know and how finding out would affect me is what made me so strong. It’s what made my relationships honest and respectable. I wasn’t staying with a man because I knew how I felt with him and was too afraid of what I didn’t know about myself without him. I stayed because staying never felt like the wrong choice. I stayed because staying didn’t interfere with my strength.
What happened in my twenties was I wound up afraid of what my life would turn into without a relationship. I was afraid of how I would feel once my boyfriend was gone. I was afraid of what would become of me if I was left to sit with myself, if I was all I had.
I was so afraid of that, of experiencing the extent of my own weakness.
But here’s the thing, staying in a relationship that is letting you down doesn’t make you stronger. It only only makes your feelings of weakness stronger.
That’s why I‘m telling you, staying can be a form of self-betrayal. Because staying to avoid feeling weak is how feelings of weakness intensify, which then becomes the reason we latch on tighter to a boyfriend and why that tightness, that latching, ultimately winds up being the very thing which weakens and burns us down to our quick. And without enough courage or desperation, this miserable feedback loop can go on indefinitely.
This is what I’m warning you of.
I’m warning you that staying can turn into weakness and that weakness can become a trap and you might not even see it for what it is until one sleepless night a decade later.
Do yourself a favor, don’t miss out on a decade of true love just because you prioritized your fear by hanging on to an unsatisfactory relationship. Don’t wrap your hands around something you’re no longer meant to hold. Take the cues. Understand that when a man walks away, when he lies or strays or goes missing altogether, that’s the world trying to pull the plug out, that’s the world jumping up and down, shouting for your attention, saying, “On to the next act, sister. We’ve got something else in store and we need to move you along.”
Sometimes you need to just go with it. You’ve got to let up and let life happen for you.
You’ve got to lose the man to gain the love.