I am 32 and single. I’m also the happiest and most content I’ve ever been in my life. But it hasn’t been all roses and sunshine getting to this point; it took a handful of failed relationships to get here. At the time, those failed relationships felt like the end of the world, triggered a lot of insecurity and self-doubt and made me feel like I would never find someone to share my life with. While I still don’t know what the future holds for me, I no longer stress about what could have been, what is or what might be. You see, these failed relationships were exactly what I needed to break my heart open, to explore myself on a deeper level and to heal emotional traumas I didn’t even know I had. Simply put, failed relationships have been the biggest blessing in my life, and they can be yours too with a little shift in perspective and a lot of self-reflection.
Five things failed relationships have taught me:
1. There is no shame in wanting to give and receive love.
A strange thing started to happen for me recently as I’ve been actively dating and meeting new people. Through my interactions with various males, I started to feel guilty for wanting to find true love. Men would ask me why I wanted a monogamous relationship, as opposed to a casual fling, and because I didn’t feel like I had a great answer, I started to question myself and my intentions. Maybe they’re right, maybe several casual relationships are better than one committed love. Maybe wanting a relationship so badly is proof that I’m needy and dependent. So I did what I always do when I’m conflicted, I turned to the internet to help me figure it out. And what I found is this: certainly there is no right or wrong answer, each person must find what rings true for them…. however, you should NEVER feel guilty for wanting to be loved. Humans are hardwired to love. In fact, the need to be loved could even be considered one of our basic fundamental human needs. Connection is what gives meaning to our lives – I don’t think anyone would argue that. However, what is often forgotten is the need to love and care for others. This desire, it turns out, is just as strong as the need to be loved and nurtured. Studies show that the desire to love and care for others is also hard-wired and enhances our happiness levels. Expressing love or compassion for others benefits not only the recipient of affection, but also the giver! Moral of the story – love and be loved with your whole heart.
2. Sometimes, soulmates aren’t meant to be in our lives forever.
I am a bit of a hopeless romantic. I love the idea of each of us having a soulmate, someone we are meant to be with and connect with on an indescribable level. What I’ve recently come to realize is that soulmates can and do exist, however, often times they won’t be in our lives forever. Soulmates enter our lives to spur incredible growth and challenge the way we think and love. They often invigorate and enrich our lives, which is why they are so important to us, but this kind of disruptive energy doesn’t always lend itself to a lifelong partner. I recently met someone I consider a soulmate. He consumed my thoughts, he challenged my worldviews, and made me want to be a better person. He was everything I thought I wanted. I was convinced this was it, I had found my person. Only problem was, he didn’t feel the same and wasn’t looking for a lifelong partner. Devastating. I shed a few tears and cursed the universe for being so unfair. In the past, this would have caused me to spiral into the “I’m not good enough” thoughts. You know, thoughts like, “I must not be pretty enough for him, smart enough for him, interesting enough for him.” It’s easy to convince ourselves that if a relationship didn’t work out, it must be our fault. The truth is, it’s not about you. It’s about timing and where each individual is at in their own self-discovery journey. In my case, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I would not have been happy in that relationship. I was creating a fantasy in my head of who this person was and what it would be like for us to be together. I was ignoring reality and the glaringly obvious fact that we weren’t on the same page. No matter how hard you try, you can’t force someone to be on the same page as you. Instead, you can thank them for their presence in your life and move on.
3. Not everyone is a match for you.
I’m a people pleaser through and through. Always have been, probably always will be. I want everyone I meet to like me and if I sense that they don’t, I beat myself up about it. Why don’t they like me? What did I do? And more importantly, how I can I make them like me? This is a dangerous stream of thought to fall into and can drive you crazy. What I’m slowly starting to understand is that some people are just not a match for you – both romantically and platonically. You don’t need to understand why and you don’t need to beat yourself up about it. After the breakup with my soulmate, I started seeing someone else that I thought was great. I was excited about where the relationship might go – we even went to a wedding together! So you can imagine I was confused and shaken up when he suddenly called it quits and told me he wasn’t “excited” about the relationship. I immediately started wracking my brain to think of what I might have done to cause this sudden switch. I felt miserable. But luckily, I snapped myself out of it right away. I realized that I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and that’s okay. I’d rather be with someone who loves me for me (see next point). Plus, there are plenty more fish in the sea!
4. Authenticity is power.
There is nothing more attractive to a potential partner than confidence. But how can you be confident in yourself if you’re pretending to be someone else? In my past relationships, I was so consumed with wanting to make the other person like me that I altered certain values or personality traits of mine in an attempt to show them I was exactly who I thought they wanted. At first, you may think subtle tweaks aren’t a big deal. What’s the harm in pretending to like something you don’t, for example? The problem with that is you become enslaved to the other person and you lose yourself in the process. When you don’t have a strong understanding of your values and your worth, you’re reliant on another person to validate your worth (spoiler alert – that is a recipe for disaster). We are all beautifully unique and if someone doesn’t like you the way you are, they aren’t meant for you. The person you create a long-lasting partnership will love and appreciate everything about you. They may not agree with certain things you hold true, but they will respect your differences and love you anyway. This has been a big one for me and leads me to my final point.
5. I really am the source of my own happiness.
Happiness is an inside job. We’ve all heard that a million times, but until you truly understand the truth in those words, you will continue to seek happiness in all the wrong places and continue to be disappointed. If you’re anything like me, you’ve had thoughts like “Once I have a boyfriend, my life will be complete and I’ll be happy” or “Once I’m married, then I’ll be content”. It’s easy to fall into this never-ending trap. Once I realized I am the one and only source of my own happiness, my desperation for a relationship subsided and I started focusing on things I really love to do. I started working out more consistently, I picked up writing again, dug into piles of books, reconnected with friends, etc.. And guess what?? My happiness skyrocketed! No, I’m not happy-go-lucky all the time. And yes, I still want a relationship, but I’m now in place where I can come into a relationship feeling whole. I’m no longer looking for someone else to complete me. What a relief – to me and any potential suiter! Whether you’re single or in a relationship, the best thing you can do for yourself and the relationship is to start discovering what you really love doing and do more of that!
Relationships can be complicated and heartbreak can be absolutely devastating, I’m not trying to sugarcoat that or take away your pain. What I hope you take away from this is that every heartbreak cracks your heart open a little more, giving you the chance to let the light in, to learn and to grow. As author Cheryl Strayed put it, “Be brave enough to break your own heart”. Be brave enough to pick up the pieces and move on from failed relationships, be strong enough to examine them in a different light and be courageous enough to share your cracked heart with someone who truly deserves it!