Every birthday, I take time to reflect on the past year – my accomplishments, hardships and most importantly, the lessons learned. Because of all the mistakes and observations I made in my twenties, I’ve learned many lessons that I can now bring into my thirties…
1. Love yourself first, the rest will follow
I was absolutely boy crazy in my teens and early twenties. On the outside it looked like I was a girl who just wanted to have fun, but deep down inside, I just wanted to feel loved and accepted. When I was a child, I never received much attention from my busy working father – and subconsciously wanted to fill a void. I hoped to feel validation and love from a male, thinking that the attention would make me feel special and more “whole”. So I attracted males who, just like me, on the outside appeared confident, but on the inside were brutally insecure.
I learned that if I didn’t work on loving myself and getting healthy, I would continue attracting people who were unhealthy. Because two people who don’t love themselves first cannot magically create a healthy relationship as a union. And when you don’t love yourself first, you end up chasing the wrong things to act as a substitute. I stopped pointing the finger claiming that men were just ‘jerks’ and looked inward instead. If I wanted to meet the “right one”, first I’d have to be the “right one”.
2. The profile of a seasonal boyfriend is very different from that of a lifetime partner
When you’re young and naïve about love, you care about the superficial things a lot. The relationship success is based on the butterflies you feel and how hot the sex is. Sure, these things are great – but they aren’t the ingredients that make up a serious, lifetime partner. My “checklist” for an ideal boyfriend is very different now in my thirties versus then in my twenties.
This was my boyfriend checklist in my 20s:
He wears designer jeans
He’s popular and always the centre of attention
He makes me feel butterflies
He has a job
He oozes cool and has “bad boy” sexiness
*Bonuses: He has a nice car, he’s a party promoter or DJ
This is my checklist now:
He’s honest and has integrity
He’s confident and doesn’t feel the need to “prove” himself
He has good family values
He’s a good communicator
He doesn’t abuse substances
He has a career
He makes me feel safe
*Bonuses: He has a full head of hair, owns property, has basic domestic skills
3. You will have your heart broken, and you will survive
I’ve experienced so many different forms of heartache. Some men brought out the worst insecurities in me. Some made me feel like I wasn’t good enough. Some loved and left me. And one, broke my heart into a million pieces – to a point where I didn’t think I could ever get myself back together again. I felt like I came undone after that last heart break, and there were many moments of complete emotional irrationality when I didn’t think I was going to make it. Depression loomed over me and I felt like I lost complete control. But fast forward 5 months to today, and I’m proud to say that I am piecing myself back together with grace and reflection. I survived the worst of it and I know the future is only going to get brighter.
Heartbreaks suck. They really do. They are unfair, unjust and often unforeseen. But they do teach you a lot about yourself, about what you want, and most importantly, what you don’t want. They give you opportunities to practice compassion and courage, and ultimately, to grow. The dreamer in me thinks that maybe heartbreaks happen in order to prepare you for the person you are supposed to end up with.
4. Your friends can be soul mates too – not just your boyfriend
Guys will come and go. Sometimes a man will make just a guest appearance in your life, sometimes he will have a more permanent part. But in your lifetime, there will definitely be some degree of boyfriend turnover. Your friends, on the other hand, remain the permanent cast in your life. They will be there to pick you up when you’re hurt. They will be there to celebrate your successes. They will lend an ear and give you a safe, comforting hug when you need it the most. I made the mistake once of disappearing out of my friends’ lives because I had a boyfriend, and vowed to never make such a mistake again.
Many think that only your romantic partner can be your soul mate and therefore invest all of their love and energy into that person. But friends can be soul mates too. They enrich your life, your heart and your soul. They aren’t meant to be on-call when your boyfriend is busy. Nor are they meant to be time fillers because you’re single again. Whether it is a boyfriend, a husband, a sister or a friend – have balance in the people you make an effort with. Invest in the people who care about you and you will end up with a life of wealth and love.
5. If your values don’t align, it won’t be long until you collide
I’ve learned recently that the most important thing to look for in a partner is an alignment of values. That’s the root and foundation of everything else that will follow in the relationship. If your partner is doing life with a different set of morals and values compass – it won’t be long until your paths collide instead of converge. I’ve gone into relationships knowing that there was a difference in values and priorities, but went ahead anyway. And when you don’t know what a healthy relationship is, it’s difficult to know the difference between normal” and dysfunctional. I have spent too much time lying to myself that things were okay even when I knew in my gut it wasn’t. I’ve learned to stop justifying. And most importantly, I’ve learned to be honest with myself.
I hope that some of the hardships and different people I’ve come across in the last decade will help me make better decisions in the future. But even when you think you have all the answers and a clear idea of the type of relationship and person you want to be with, the universe can have a funny way of surprising you when you least expect it. As an eternal student of life and love, I welcome the next chapter.
Photo credit: Donna Grayson