Are you always attracted to unavailable men or women, to commitment-phobes, people living on different continents or to those already attached to someone else? Do you struggle to find emotionally healthy people attractive and run in the opposite direction as soon as a decent prospect wants to get serious?
In short, are you tired of repeating the same mistakes in your romantic relationships and getting the same results? If so, there’s no time like the present to change.
Dating for me used to be like banging my head against a brick wall. Why did I keep falling for commitment-phobes or unavailable types? Why couldn’t I fancy the good guys who were into me? And where have all the eligible men gone anyway?
I spent many a Valentine’s Day single, staying home to avoid all the red hearts or arranging a night out with my female friends. I had a good life and was content in many ways but I wanted to be in love. I thought things would never change.
But they have. I’ll be spending this Valentine’s Day with my partner, to whom I’m engaged. More importantly, I feel settled, confident I’m with the man I want to spend the rest of my days with and certain that there’s enough love between us to cope with whatever comes our way.
For an indecisive, restless soul who always thought there was someone better out there and who couldn’t stop looking over her boyfriend’s shoulder for the next guy, my newfound peace is nothing short of a miracle.
So how did I change my unhealthy relationship patterns and find love?
I first had to understand where I was going wrong. For years, I blamed the men I met for being emotionally distant or scared of commitment. What was wrong with them? Eventually, I discovered there was something wrong with me.
I was drawn to unavailable types because I was emotionally unavailable myself. I fancied commitment-phobes because I was terrified of commitment. Dating someone who wasn’t willing or able to give me love made it easy for me. It meant I could avoid getting into a true, intimate relationship with a man, and therefore avoid getting hurt, which was what I was scared of the most.
After years of personal development work and lots of therapy, I understood that my first relationship with a man, my dad, had set me up for a lifetime of self-sabotage. When my father sat my eight-year-old self on his knee and told me he was moving out of our family home, my heart cracked. The experience hurt so much that I resolved never to repeat it. I would never open my heart again. I would never get that close to a man.
I took something else away from that painful experience – the idea that I wasn’t lovable, valuable or good enough. This is what we do as children. We assume everything is our fault. We assume there’s something wrong with us.
My decision to avoid pain at all costs and that core belief that I wasn’t enough formed the basis for my future relationships. Unavailable types were safe to date. Available men who were up for commitment were dangerous so I ran away from them. And I didn’t believe I deserved love so I accepted crumbs and allowed others to treat me badly.
To change those patterns, I had to change how I related to myself.
I had to connect with the painful feelings from my childhood that I’d run away from for years or numbed with excess food (I had an eating disorder for several decades). That meant learning to slow down, sit still and allow the hurt to surface. I thought the feelings would kill me if I let myself feel them. But they didn’t. I’m still here. By feeling the pain, I could begin to heal it.
I had to learn to love, accept and respect myself wholeheartedly, to believe that I was enough and that I deserved a healthy and loving relationship with a man who could love me back.
I had to learn to trust that I could cope if I loved deeply but then lost someone again, to realise that I was a resilient adult now, not a vulnerable child.
I had to truly understand the root of my unhealthy patterns and talk about them with others who had similar experiences.
And I had to dig deep and find the courage to change those patterns.
I helped myself by building up a support network around me and by setting healthy and loving boundaries for myself whenever I went on a date. So I would try to avoid alcohol, which clouded my faculties and got me into scrapes with unavailable types. I would try to keep first dates short so I wouldn’t be tempted to end up in a man’s arms before I even knew anything about him. And I would try to move forwards at a steady pace, always alert to my history of self-sabotage, always questioning whether this relationship was good for me or whether I was repeating the same mistakes.
I say try because I messed up so many times. I am a human being after all. But every time I did, my awareness grew. Gradually, I began to date more mindfully. I began to choose who I spent time with rather than letting myself be chosen. And I began to give myself love and care so that I didn’t crave another’s love so badly. Cravings had always got me into trouble.
Awareness was the key to my transformation and I believe it’s the key for all of us. Awareness opens the door to change. By identifying and owning our patterns and by understanding why we cause ourselves pain, accept less than we deserve and run away from happiness, we can recover and heal.
That is my wish for you this Valentine’s.