At the age of 42, I was married and divorced. Twice.
After my second divorce, I decided it was time to take a hiatus from relationships because clearly, something was not working for me. So I gave dating a rest. And instead of spending all that time and energy trying to get to know someone well enough to potentially spend the rest of my life with him, I thought I’d try to get to know someone I was certain I’d be around: me.
Who was I? What kind of woman? What did I really want in a relationship with a man?
My hiatus lasted three years. Yes, three years of no dating. As a single mom, that meant three years of spending a lot of time alone. Although it was hard, it was probably a few of the best years of my life. I had to force myself to step out of my personal box and be open to new thoughts and ideas about me. Without being distracted by a man in my life, I could look inward and dissect the relationship I was having with myself.
But it wasn’t easy, especially at the beginning. I remember being around people all excited about Friday night officially kicking off their weekend, while I dreaded being alone.
Sometimes I did go out with a girlfriend. But I’d still feel as if the rest of the world was moving past me. Once when I was out with a friend, we looked around the restaurant and saw only couples. I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d ever be part of a couple again.
Eventually, though, I reached a point where I valued “me time.” I realized I loved my alone time. I loved being around me. I loved me. On top of that, I loved the freedom I had to do whatever I wanted without worrying about how it fit in with anyone else’s life. I actually began to fear to lose that freedom.
Regardless, after three years of being alone, I longed for a relationship with a man. As much as I loved my freedom, I had to admit I was also a little lonely. And I thought I was ready to find true love. I’d just spent three long years working hard, digging deep, really deep inside myself. I was comfortable with who I was. I knew what I wanted. All of that meant I was good to go back out into the dating world, right?
What I didn’t realize was that once I had found my authentic self, I became a little overprotective of her. So overprotective, that I lied to myself about what I wanted.
I knew I wanted someone to love me unconditionally. I knew I wanted a man who would always have my back. I wanted someone who would put an icepack on my head when I had a migraine. Someone who loved that I have a loud laugh and that I talk to people, all the time. I wanted someone who would tell me what I needed to hear, not what they thought I wanted to hear. I wanted someone who “got” me: I say what’s on my mind, but I have a heart of gold.
Despite knowing all that, I dated the wrong kind of men to get any of it.
I perpetuated the same pattern of looking at men the way I did prior to taking the hiatus. I went for the ones with a superficial appeal. The ones who seemed so amazing on the outside, but once I looked inside the suit jacket, I’d find the same self-absorbed man I’d found before.
On top of that, if I found one remotely close to being Mr. Right, I would do everything in my power to sabotage a potential relationship with him. Any reason to break up would do. This one text too much, I’d say. Or, that one is too needy. Or He didn’t like sports. And the list went on.
One day my adult son asked me about a man I had a date with. “He wants to spend too much time with me,” I complained. “And we just met.” He smirked. “Mom,” he said. “I don’t think you know what you want from a relationship.”
His words hit me like a bucket of ice water in my face. They woke me from my state of denial.
How could I not know what I wanted? I had just spent three years figuring myself out. I knew what I wanted. But, when I tried to explain that to him, I realized I was terrified I might get it. And that’s when I understood what I was doing. I was self-sabotaging any possibility of finding the relationship I craved because I was afraid.
It was time to stop lying to myself. I acknowledged that I’d been looking for the kind of men I had divorced. I admitted that the never-ending list of reasons explaining why all the others were not good for me was bogus. And I had to face my “what if” fears. The biggest one: what if I allow myself to love someone unconditionally and he abandons me?
Until that moment, for me, a relationship was based on dinner and great sex. Intimacy had just never been my thing.
Now things were different. I was different. And I wanted a man who was different from all the others. I wanted one who was healthy emotionally and physically. Who didn’t need drama, who was willing to be part of a team—that is, I wanted that thing we call a “committed relationship.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to find a man like that and still be comfortable around him. After all, how could I be comfortable with something I had never experienced?
I almost gave up dating again.
However, that’s when I met my average Joe. A year and a half ago, I met my boyfriend Joe on Tinder. Yes, I know what you are thinking: Tinder? Tinder is an online dating hook-up site! But I got lucky that night in a different way.
Our first date was unlike any of my others. Usually, men tried to impress with a five-star restaurant, good wine, expensive food. Joe didn’t go that route. Joe texted me: I want to take you someplace really nice. We’re going to Jay’s.
Jay’s is an old dive bar. The kind you go to late at night, when all other bars are closed. I surprised him with my response: Great! I’ve always wanted to go there. I would love to go check it out!
The thing is, he was just joking. He never anticipated I’d say yes to a dive bar. And not only did I say, yes, I said it with enthusiasm and went on to ask if he’d ever gone to The Jug, a place known for chicken wings. He was game. So that was our plan for our first date: a dive bar then wings and beer.
From the moment we met, he was genuine, kind, and I have to say, adorable. He greeted me with a long-stemmed rose and an authentic smile. Our first date of beer, wings and fried pickles (one of my favorites), was filled with laughter and comfort. I felt as if was with an old friend.
We talked, shared stories and even kissed. Yes, there was also chemistry. Lots of it.
But afterward, I tried to find something that could prevent us from exploring a relationship. And I did. I did not like his grammar. Yep, his grammar. Now, that’s a new one, right?
I called my girlfriend, Lisa, and went on and on about how much I liked him, how great our first date was, and then came: “but I do not like his grammar.”
She laughed and told me to get over myself in her very nice way. “You’re just looking for a reason not to like him,” she said. “Maybe, one day you will find the way he speaks cute and endearing to you. Right now, though, it sounds like you’re letting your fear get in the way again.”
I did not want that to happen. So I pushed myself to break through and be open to finding a healthy relationship. After all, I asked myself, what is the worst that could happen? Wouldn’t it work out?
I reminded myself that I had changed and that Joe was not the typical man I dated and found strength in that.
When you buy a house, first you look at the outside and the superficial things like the carpet, the paint color, and other all things you can change.
Then I discovered I was looking at him in a new way, too. I was not looking at him the way I would when buying a house, my usual approach.
With Joe, I was paying attention to what really mattered.
I focused on what I would never want to change. I noticed how he listened to me when I talked. I learned about his family. I realized we both valued each other. For the first time, I understood how a relationship felt when two people respected each other.
Joe is still all of those great things and much more. If I sigh, he asks, what’s wrong babe? If am quiet, he notices and wants to know what is bothering me. He understands what it takes to be in an emotionally healthy relationship. He hasn’t stopped treating me like a lady. And, to me, he is not an average Joe. He’s my Joe who accepts me just the way I am and loves me unconditionally.
Yes, his grammar is not the best, but I look at the total sum of the man he is. Besides, I got over myself. I recognized that sometimes I use gone instead of went. No one is perfect.
The most important part of our relationship, though, is I do not need Joe to validate me. I just need me to love me for who I am today, which is the secret to finding true love. Now, at 50 years old, I am here to tell you that it was only after I discovered who I truly am, and appreciated who I truly am, that I was capable of finding the right partner.
If you are looking for your partner, I promise you he or she is out there, somewhere. But before you can make a real connection, you have to be completely honest with yourself, know yourself, and love and accept yourself before you can know what it is you are really looking for.