Maybe you just left an abusive relationship. Perhaps it’s been years since that vexed connection with a toxic lover.
You may still be in an unhealthy relationship.
Wherever you are, you may feel doomed to a future chain of partners and lovers who won’t recognize and honor your brightness.
The wounds may be too tender to even think of love or clicking glasses with a Tinder date at the bar.
Or maybe strings of Tinder dates are all you can stomach now. You may feel disgusted, weary, or unsafe. If you were like me, you may find a poignant friend in bitterness and anger.
I’m telling you that all of these things are okay.
I’m also telling you that, far away as it seems, it is possible to date again. It’s even possible to open your heart to someone new, no matter how broken-winged it feels at the moment.
Take small steps, my friend. And remember these words.
Your voice will carry you forward.
Your future partners, lovers, and friends will not necessarily know about your recent brush with toxicity. You may not want to share this dark part of your story with them.
I know I didn’t. I felt indescribably wounded. I was also doing my best to protect my identity. Talking about what happened simply did not feel safe.
Speaking of, if you don’t feel safe in this moment, there are people who can help. Call this hotline right now.
You don’t have to tell your next crush what happened. You don’t have to tell anyone.
But your voice can and will help you seek love again. Your words and your experience matter.
You may find that silence only expands—rather than shrinks—your narrative. Pieces of that prior, darker lover will spill out, over a drink or in the shower. It’s going to happen.
When it does, let it. You may find that once opened it won’t stop.
There are plenty of good-hearted people in this world who will value these words and respect voices as nuanced as yours. The more comfortable you get with speaking your truth, the more confidently you’ll be able to walk into another relationship.
You don’t have to tell your truth to a human.
Write your heart into a journal. Record your narrative on your iPhone. Whisper your thoughts to the bathroom mirror. Your voice is your vessel for healing.
You won’t have to change yourself.
Abusive, toxic, and otherwise unhealthy relationships are very good at convincing you that you are unworthy.
They can teach you the refrain of “not good enough.” They can belittle, diminish, and coax limiting self-talk to shout louder.
I carried these refrains within me for months and even years after leaving my abusive partner. I was convinced in a small way that I had been responsible for the abuse. The only way to avoid this abuse, I told myself, was to change me.
I traded my existing wardrobe for entirely new clothes. I dyed my hair black and got bangs. I downloaded new playlists and switched my PC with a Mac. I even changed my name and got a different job.
This new self lasted for a while. It was a relief, in its own way.
I met a few guys, dated some women. They all got to see this shiny, replaced part of me. The reason these relationships weren’t sustainable, however, was because the woman beneath the shiny was hiding.
That’s the woman (or the man or non-binary individual) who matters. The next daisy in your chain won’t need you to change to fit them.
Step into some different shoes for a while, if this helps. It helped me. Within a year, my hair was blonde again, I was listening to the same old music, and I was back to wearing those familiar thrift-store clothes.
And that’s when I met love.
Speak your needs.
There is so much new ground to trust. I get it. The idea of sleeping next to a new body, of introducing myself all over again felt nauseating.
Remember what I said about your voice mattering? It will matter even more once you are dating someone. Speak your needs.
Better yet, know your needs and then articulate them bravely.
This may involve telling your story. It may not. It may be a phrase as simple as, I just need you to listen to me right now.
The right partner will respect and respond to these needs. It may take a while to find this partner. Need-sharing is one thing. Need-responding is a skill many of us are still honing.
Get in the habit of witnessing.
You are your own most trusted and sacred witness.
You will be hurting. You will be relearning, in many ways, how to navigate the world. You’ll be retraining your neurons to do a thousand things differently.
There is no need to modify or judge these readjustments because that is what they are—shiftings to a different reality. As you move towards a new paradigm, get comfortable witnessing.
Observe the emotions that flicker through the beginnings of a new relationship. Witness your fear and your reflexes. Do everything you can to merely observe.
You will notice the residue of your toxic relationship in all future, healthy relationships.
You will start to recognize your habits and your own subtle cues for self-protection. This is okay. This is good.
Witness and attend to your own experience. It will make you a better steward of yourself. It will protect and propel you—in the right ways.
There is no need to run out and find That Person this afternoon. Love often runs to you, and not the other way around.
You may be hungry for a reasonable, healthy, respectful love. I was. I sought it immediately after leaving my abusive partner because I needed it.
Move as your heart sees fit. But don’t feel the pressure to fit a new human into your body and brain. Sometimes, just being with you is enough.
Build trust by trusting your potential.
Fear is inevitable. Entrusting your well-being to a stranger is terrifying. The terror of a relapse or a repeat is all too real.
I understand. I hear you, and I validate your experiences right now.
Yet the only one who can build trust is you.
Your capacity to do so will depend on your next partner, your self-love, your bravery. But it will also depend on your ability to recognize and wield your own potential.
You are lovable, my friend. You are worthy of the best kind of love. And you will have it.
Realize that you have the potential to experience the love you deserve.
If you doubt this, look around. Notice how many people love and support you. Take a moment to write down all the things that are a testament to your worth. There you go—the list is long, isn’t it?
Trust your potential to love and be loved. The letting go, the belief, and the giddiness—all of that will follow when you permit it.