My history in relationships is rocky, codependent, volatile, and ripe with addiction and blame (as in I dated a bunch of narcissistic, drunk, assholes). But not today. Today I have a partner in all things. A best friend, and a good person. It's tough to unravel exactly how or when the change happened but I'm going to give it the ole college try.
First, I have to add the disclaimer of getting sober had some positive effects on my dating life, but I was 24 and got married at 30, so there's still 6 years post recovery that I dated and still met a lot of issues with myself and others in relationships. And, to be honest, not much changed in my love life before and after sobriety other than a lack of chemicals was present. I was still stuck with me and all my baggage and I was still unsure of what love is or was or how to find it and keep it etc.
I want to try to keep the blame here low, but my parents are pretty old-school when it comes to talking about love, sex and relationships with me or my brother. I don't know the reason exactly other than they may not have been comfortable themselves with the idea, and I don't think my grandparents were exactly diving deep on the subjects with them, so they were just following suit. But, I was not taught what love was or looked like. My dad tried to have a birds and bees talk with me when I was 14, and I stopped him quickly and said, "Dad, I've had health class since I was in 6th grade, you're a little late." and laughed it off to not make him feel too bad. But it was the truth, I'd been thinking about sex and what it really was or might be since I was about 10.
I watched a lot of TV, some of it not age appropriate and this was my basis for love and relationships. Saved by the Bell, 16 Candles, Home Improvement (lol), Family Matters...you get the idea. And later on it was Sex in the City, which I love and don't for many reasons, love because it opened up the conversation on women and sex, but don't because it didn't really give the full spectrum of young women's sex experiences and thus led me to a false sense of myself (which I only discovered after a lot of unhappy sex and love experiences). Its funny and cute when its on TV, but in real life it sucks, especially when its you.
In recovery I got lucky because I had groups of women and a few who really helped me to understand love and relationships in a new way. Something I didn't know I desperately needed until it was sitting in front of me. I needed a friend or mother-type figure to help me learn to love myself, and to just talk it out with me. To talk about what is love, and what is not love. When someone was good for me, and when someone was bad for me. How waiting to sleep with someone often let me see their nature before I got emotionally involved and helped me to make better decisions about not just my future, but theirs too! I actually started to take the other person's hopes and dreams into consideration before just going on instinct (gasp, maybe I was a little narcissistic myself). It was not the popular path or should I say it was not what I saw on TV. In fact, I had a therapist tell me that real love is nothing like anything you will see on a screen. It is messy, awkward at times, its not always instantaneous, it isn't a model, or wearing any makeup most of the time, there's a lot of gray area, and it has many ebbs and flows. It's also more interesting, often spiritual (for me), deeper, more full, funnier, and ultimately more complex and interesting than anything on TV. It is it's own thing, every relationship is different too. So I can't really compare partners, or even my relationship with someone else's. For those of you who heard this growing up, bravo, for me this was a revelation. I could not use any information I obtained through MTV on my relationship. Honestly, I was relieved. Also, I hadn't necessarily been doing it all wrong.
All my relationships were necessary for me to get to my current (and hopefully) forever relationship (one day at a time). Prior to my last 3 year relationship before my husband, I had been sober for a couple of years and had completed a "sane and sound sex ideal for the future." This means I made a list of my top 5, have to haves, can't live without, traits for my ideal partner. I made the list by looking back over all my failed relationships (looking at myself mostly) and seeing what needs did not get met, so that in the future, I could easily assess if a potential partner would be compatible with me for the long term. As a side note, I know not all people are looking for a life-partner in a monogamous relationship (and that's awesome! yay for knowing what you want and need!), this is just my story about what I wanted...When I met my ex, I knew he met most of my list, he met 4 out of 5 of my top criteria. This is where I started to realize I cannot blame any of my exes for "being assholes". I tried so hard to make this relationship work, and I loved him and he loved me, and still it did not work out. I want to say that again, we loved each other, but we were not meant to last. And it is no one's fault. He was honest with me from day one about who he was, and I made the choice to move forward, knowing full well (or maybe just a gut feeling at first), that he was not able to meet some of my needs. I was selfish y'all. I wanted him. And...I wanted him to change, just a little bit! This is not fair. I still get caught up in wanting to blame him for our ultimate demise sometimes, but that's not fair. I was asking him to be something he was not (not ok), and he was unable to meet my needs (also not ok). So you can see there isn't a whole lot of ways around this, only out.
My top 5 attributes for an ideal partner are (and were) 1.- A relationship with a Higher Power that is not me, and are active in the pursuit of a spiritual connection and sustain this throughout our relationship. Let me explain a little further...I cannot be the reason you feel any way about yourself (pretty, smart, even loved), you have got to cultivate your own inner world and sustain yourself because I will always fail you, (humans are fallible and not reliable when it comes to self-worth and therein reliance upon) and I mean this in the most compassionate and loving way possible. This does not make me weak, it makes me human, by that I mean I'm incapable of fulfilling ALL the love you need because half of what some people want from you should be coming from themselves, but they'll call you an asshole for not loving them enough when really nothing can fill that void except their own inner work (this took me years of pain and suffering and seeking and existential crises to understand). If you had tried to tell this to me in the depths of my co-dependence in my teen years and early 20's I would have told you you were wrong (dead wrong) and probably some other expletives. I could not fathom a love that walked side by side with another, and was imperfect and ebbed and flowed instead of completely leaning on and becoming enmeshed in the other person, all consuming, all possessing. I cannot possibly be someone's morning, noon, and night. I cannot teach you how to treat the world and I damn sure don't have any time to make you feel your life's purpose. But, oh, did I try for so many of them... This one is first for good reason. I tried for too long to change people, fix people, and focus on them instead of myself and my needs (I blame Disney, jk...idk, there's more to that, but another time?).
2.- Ambition/passion, whether creatively or in their work. I was going places (still am!) and I needed someone who wasn't a bump on a log so to speak. This has to do with security not shallowness I discovered and it is A-OK to want.
3.-Physically active for life/attractiveness. Y'all, I've been in relationships that met all other needs, but there was no chemistry and it is sooooooooo necessary (some people are smiling and nodding their heads and I salute you). I was in a 2 year relationship and on paper he was pretty dang neat! But in the bedroom...please don't touch me...Now, I've been with my husband for 8 years now, and this also ebbs and flows, but when you are just dating, if it's not fire for like the first 2 years, I dunno, sounds crappy. Life's too short for bad sex y'all.
4.-Kind/Moral standards extremely high. This is fundamental to me. I am not a Christian, but am a person who believes in karma and am extremely sensitive to the needs of the world and others, I cannot be with someone who steals (even just a little bit) because I do not think we are living in the same space. This is more flexible with friends and acquaintances, but with a life partner, I needed someone who feels this as deeply as me.
5.- Last, but definitely not least, a sense of humor. This one really makes up for a lot of lack in other areas, but I have found that if you are not laughing at my terrible jokes and if I don't get yours, no matter how hot you are, it will be over before it even starts. Its sad really, because there are so many hot guys, that are just not funny...My sponsor used to say. "Hot assholes, are a dime a dozen, but hot, smart, and funny, hold on to that one." And my hot, smart and funny is someone else's hot asshole, so find your brand and leave the rest.
This took a lot of dirt y'all. I am a somewhat reformed, love-addicted doofus. But I did find my best friend. After we said I love you for the first time I started crying and punched him in the arm and said "what took you so damn long! I looked for you everywhere dammit!" But I wasn't ready. I hadn't hit bottom with my codependency until the last one before him. It almost killed me too (I felt like going back to drinking a lot, but knew ultimately this would only make things worse). I had to snot sling, burn down, drag out, rage, fight, blame, beg, abuse my body, stay up all night analyzing, text feverishly, and want to die from the pain before I gave it all up. Before I had to put myself first. I always tried to change for another person. Always felt like my love was "too much" for my partners, always dressed for them, did my makeup for them, and set my schedule around them. Until I couldn't anymore. Until no amount of me wanting something so badly changed anything. Before Jason (my husband) I had no clue how to live for myself. My last relationship before him brought me to my knees. I lost friends, and gained some more and fought for that relationship so hard but the Universe kept telling me it was not for me, but I could not fathom life alone. I always picked up the crumbs off the floor instead of eating the entire loaf at the table, head held high. Until I couldn't anymore. I prayed so hard for help in that last relationship and it came in the form of Al-anon, my sponsor, and some women friends who I started running with in recovery who didn't judge my situation. And it came in the form of intuition and time with my Higher Power (or Spiritual Guidance) because, I was forced to move toward spirituality with all of my pain I was carrying around on a daily basis (no drugs or booze to numb it). In this relationship we would break-up and get back together over and over and I just kept praying to see the truth in it and for the strength to not go back every time. And one day, 3 years in, I heard him tell me the truth. He'd been saying it the whole time (albeit mostly with his actions, and his words were the opposite) but he told me "I'm just not that invested in this (us) right now." And something clicked, I believed him, and I was done trying to change him. My friend Rochelle calls this "The Greasy Cheesburger Moment" because that's when the spell of her last relationship wore off and she was "set free." When I stood up to leave his apartment for the last time, there was an underlying sense of joy, I could feel it, I could feel that the light switch had flipped and I knew I would not be back. I was so surrendered to the idea of being with myself and I decided that if I was alone forever, I'd be okay. That right there was what it took for me to be ready. I had to give it all up and relinquish my will, my dreams, all manner of plans and designs for a marriage or a family and just trust that I had a life worth living, with or without it.
Lots of women and men don't need any of this. They focus on themselves and their career and their dreams from day one. They wouldn't fathom the things I did to myself in the name of "love". Maybe they were raised right, or maybe they learned their lessons in a former lifetime, or maybe they are just emotionally and mentally stronger than me. I do know I've felt envy for people like this. I also feel envy and sadness (complete with mouth agape) when I watch teen shows on TV and see all these depictions of strong-willed but self-assured teenagers who don't let a guy or a girl get in the way of their ambition. They know who they are and if you don't like it then you can leave etc... (wtf! does this really happen?) All I know is that is not even remotely my story. So that's why I decided to tell it. Because for the rest of us, who had it a little rougher, or maybe are still having a rough go of it, this is for you. You are not alone, and you are not crazy and I know it hurts like hell, and I'm sorry you have to go through it.
My husband was a friend of mine during my last relationship before him. There was no inappropriate exchanges prior to us dating either. We would end up at large dinners after meetings together. I really liked him as a person, like I knew he was a good person. I tried to set up my best friend with him I liked him so much. I just wanted them to be happy. Two people I respected and felt would be good for each other. She joked he was not her type and that I should go out with him. I laughed but of course didn't even consider it, I was still under the spell of my boyfriend at the time. But maybe a seed was planted. All the praying I had done to get out of my tumultuous relationship, and here was this smart, funny, hot, gentle, ambitious, amazing human in front of me. I even thought once after a meeting "that's the kind of man you marry," because he was so far from what I was experiencing in my current relationship and he ticked all my top 5 boxes. You see, The Universe was conspiring to give me what I wanted before I even knew it. When I gave up and trusted The Design of Life to take care of me, it did. I did make a little contract with The Universe though. I promised to only ever be myself, wholly and completely and to never dim my light for someone else ever again. The week I broke up with my ex, I quit smoking, went plant-based, started training for a marathon, and got connected with the friends he didn't like again. And I started living my truth and instantly Jason took notice. In fact, many people took notice, but I swore to not veer from my 5 have-to-haves and turned away anyone who did not meet these qualities. It really only took one date to determine if any of these did not jive. He and I started to talk and move away from the crowd at times after our fellowship dinners after meetings. We weren't officially dating, just liked talking. There may have been some exciting feelings underneath, but I was not really ready to start dating. A few months of see-ya-laters and he did ask me on a date for his birthday. Up to then I was pretty sure I'd been friend-zoned and I was actually okay with this. I'd have been disappointed but I kept up my side of the contract. I was living MY life for the first time in my entire life. I grew up (in some ways ;) without realizing it and started to attract others who were also ready for the big-time.
I've told this story a lot, and Jason's heard it too. He said one day a few years ago, "you know the secret to the top 5 things right?" I said "no, what's the secret?" He said, "you have to be those things, and then you attract those things. Like attracts like. Water seeks it's own level." It's a good thing being blonde and 6'3 isn't on there I guess...but all jokes aside, he's not wrong. I had to put my Higher Power and my inner work ahead of my partner. I had to place precedence on my ambitions and passion. I had to stay active and release those endorphins to stay grounded and sane for myself. I had to own my own moral compass and not falter, and I had to not take myself and life too seriously. Let the freak flag fly. Be too much. Be everything you are. And if you want my advice, surrender to who you are sooner rather than later, because this world (and I) needs you just how you are.
The photo is our first photo together, taken a few months before our first (official) date. We were out two-stepping with a group of friends and thankfully we are both native Texans and could show them how it was done.