My own journey with romance has been quite the bumpy ride. I’ve alluded to my history with fellas in earlier entries, but I suppose I should share my stories. Who knows? They may help some future twenty-something romantic girl see the red flags that I steadily ignored.

I suppose I should have known my journey wouldn’t be easy when I didn’t have my first kiss until I was seventeen. I wasn’t ugly, but I was shy as hell. I think this was interpreted as snotty by my classmates. Now, I talk so much there is no way someone would think I was shy. But after the incident I described in an earlier post, I was doubly shy and scared to death of the opposite sex. My first kiss was the first guy to ask me out officially, and he was in college. College!! I was shocked. I’m not going to say a whole lot about that first kiss to protect the parties involved, but it was not pretty. I did not know what I was doing. Reading about kissing and actual kissing are two vastly different things. He dumped me a couple of weeks later for being ‘too inexperienced’.

I dated a little bit after that, my most memorable experience being with a guy two years younger than me that ‘taught me how to kiss’. Don’t worry: we both enjoyed the lessons. We parted as friends and I like to think I could still call him up as a friend. He was a good guy.

My first love was everything a first love should be: passionate, fiery, slightly silly, and doomed from the beginning. He was my roommate’s brother, and in the Army. Two very big obstacles right from the start. He was older, more experienced, and I loved him to the point of losing my mind somewhat. We argued all the time, but we really enjoyed making up. We were up, we were down, we were in love, we were in hate, God it was a roller coaster. I don’t regret it at all. We had very little in common and were not meant to last. We did date over a year though, so I got some good experience under my belt to take into the future.

I was twenty-one when we broke up. When I say I was heartbroken, I was like end of the world heartbroken. Now, I can look back and see how silly that was. I was deep in infatuation and young love, but not real love. Real love involves loving the other person without conditions and knowing they will stand with you until the end of the world. Real love is what I have now.

I didn’t date for a really, really long time. By the time my next relationship rolled around, I was ripe for the pickin’ as they would say. I did more dumb stuff like date a guy who I worked with in secret, and then find out that he was cheating on me with another co-worker. Then, came the big, scandalous romance that people still find hard to believe.

I was finishing up graduate school and living in Savannah when I met R. He was outrageously handsome and built like an underwear model. He was also in the military. (Would I ever learn?) I say this in jest. I’m sure there are lots of wonderful guys in the armed forces. Unfortunately, I didn’t date any of them. I dated R for almost six months. We had one thing working against us from the get-go. I knew my parents wouldn’t approve. He was a different race, and I knew they were not fans of interracial dating. I didn’t care, and I told them that. I still don’t care. If I fall in love with someone, they can be blue or green or sparkly pink as long as they’re good to me. And R was good to me. He was sweet and attentive. He used the L word first, and wooed my friends. He even came to meet my parents and gained their approval. You couldn’t help but love him. I was head over heels and happy as a clam.

Then came the day when he said he was taking some of his stuff back home because he was leaving the military. His parents lived in Ohio, so I had never met them. I had met some of his army buddies, however. I liked them, and I thought they liked me. We had talked about him leaving the military since his time was up, and I was excited because it meant more time together. He had even taken me to a house he was thinking of renting.

I hugged him goodbye before he left on his journey. We both said ‘I love you’ and he drove off. That was the last time I would ever see him.

After a week of not hearing from him and not being able to get in touch with him, I was a jittery mess. My friends were desperate to help me. I won’t go through all we went through that week to find out where he was, but finally one friend was able to track him down. After all, I was worried he was dead on the side of the road. He was at his dad’s house (I had his dad’s name), and when his brother answered the phone he said that R was out for a walk with his wife.

Yep, you read that right…WIFE. A wife I did not know existed. He simply disappeared back into his old life. I guess I was a pit stop, a fun distraction while he was stationed in Savannah. I have never been more hurt in my life. I didn’t know that internal pain could manifest itself as outward pain until then. But, I had to keep going. I had to graduate school and go down my own path. No, I didn’t write or call his wife and I never tried to get in touch with him again. Maybe I should have told someone. But I was ashamed and young, and I felt so, so foolish. It was one of the hardest periods of my life. My self-esteem took a huge nose dive.

My last relationship before my husband was someone that I fell quickly for, and we stayed together for a long time. I was truly in love with him, and when he broke off our engagement, I thought I would curl up forever and die. Surely, that would be better.

What I have to say about all these experiences is this: if I had not suffered the pain, humiliation and turmoil that I did, I would not be the person I am today. When I realized my feelings for my now husband, I was jaded and unsure that I could trust anyone. I had learned one powerful lesson though: love yourself before you give your heart to someone else. By the time I started dating J (my hubby), I had taken time away from dating and I felt like I knew who I was. I knew what I would accept and what I wouldn’t. I was happy being alone.

Being alone is hard because society makes it that way. As a woman, you’re expected to sit at home among hearth and family. But that time alone made me like myself in a way I never had before. For the first time, I figured out who I was without anyone else. I didn’t have to worry about alerting anyone of my comings and goings, and I didn’t have to sit by the phone and worry whether he would call me back. It was a glorious feeling of freedom.

Everyone needs that time, whether they think they do or not.

So, my journey isn’t at an end yet. Right now, in my relationship, I’m in a place of joy. I also know that feelings or other circumstances could change at the drop of a hat, because that’s life. You cannot control anyone but yourself. I trust in the relationship I have with my husband, but I’m comforted by the fact that I could survive on my own and be happy.

If you’re stuck in a relationship that makes you feel like shit, just get out. It’s not worth it. You probably don’t believe me, but you can be your own best company. You’re worth more than a bad relationship. You’re worth everything.

“Sometimes it takes a heartbreak to shake us awake and help us see we are worth so much more than we’re settling for.” Mandy Hale, The Single Woman: Life, Love, and a Dash of Sass.

Love always,