With the exception of a five-year marriage and the two years we dated prior to that, my longest relationship was six months. I had three of those, all before the age of 20, and then I was steadfastly single until I met my ex-husband at age 26.
Looking back, I can see how I mostly only allowed myself to be attached to people that it wouldn’t hurt to lose. The longest I can remember being upset about a breakup was two days when I was 17.
I was always the one who ended the relationships, and typically it was only after I’d let my unhappiness fester for so long that I couldn’t even stand for the other person to touch me anymore. I felt like I had to have a reason—the fact that I just wasn’t into the relationship anymore wasn’t good enough.
When I was 19 and had been with my boyfriend at the time for about six months, he asked me, point blank: “Where do you see our relationship in two years?”
Me, being the complete commitment phobe that I was, replied, “I have no idea. I don’t plan that far ahead. Where do you see our relationship in two years?”
He told me he hoped we’d be engaged. I broke up with him a week later, and never dated anyone longer than three weeks for the next six years.
At 28, I came into my marriage (with a once-divorced man who was 12 years older than me) having no real relationship experience. In retrospect, the fact that either of us thought this was going to work is somewhat absurd, but I suppose we were both still living in the fairytale fantasy that you meet someone who is perfectly compatible with you and live happily ever after—and we were highly compatible people, but compatibility is not synonymous with intimacy.
Up to that point, my M.O. was to avoid conflict for as long as possible, withhold my feelings, and ignore my needs. The truth is, I didn’t even know what my needs were, much less what I wanted in a relationship. Much like anyone in their twenties, I didn’t even know who the fuck I was.
In addition to having no real depth of understanding of myself, I never learned conflict resolution skills. I assumed my unhappiness was due to some fatal personality conflict, and ending the relationship and starting over with someone else seemed easier.
This, of course, led to a cyclical repetition of the same relationship scenario over and over, always with the same person wearing a different face, because I never took the time to stop reflect on myself or why it kept happening.
I would enter into a safe relationship with someone who accommodated my fear of intimacy and attachment, then I’d become dissatisfied with the lack of intimacy and attachment, then wait for an excuse—any excuse—to end said relationship. Lather, rinse, repeat.
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It wasn’t until I was 33 that I began to recognize my need for connection and intimacy, or how my own fear of it had led me to choose partners who couldn’t give it to me. This was also the same timeframe in which I began to see that I had no idea who I really was, culminating in the realization that the life I was living felt like it didn’t belong to me.
The last two years have been spent deconstructing anything about myself that didn’t feel authentic and patiently seeking that which was. You can’t possibly have a successful relationship with another person until you have achieved a successful relationship with yourself.
That’s what real personal development looks like: digging below the surface level interactions between you and your partner and uncovering the underlying subconscious motivations that drive your behavior—then working to heal it at the core, instead of continuing to apply bandaids.
Your twenties are for fucking up your life and your thirties are for seeing how fucked up your life is and committing to changing it—if, that is, you’re willing to do the hard work instead of continuing to repeat the cycle.
Note: This post originally appeared on my Instagram. I’ve been writing a lot over there and I’ll be sharing some of those posts here in the coming weeks. If you’re on Instagram, I’d love it if you’d pop over and hang out with me >>>click here<<< or on the embedded photo up there.