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This is the fifth (and final) in a series of posts (parts one, two, three & four here) recounting the men that I’ve romantically loved in my life, the differences between them, and what lessons each experience has left with me. In every relationship there are two experiences and each of my posts only intended to capture my personal experience both in and out of each relationship. Please read knowing that each of these men likely also has a story that could very well differ from my own, either in whole or in part, and that their stories are either not known or not expressed on this personal blog.

Back in early April, I sat down at my computer and decided I wanted to do this series. My life looks so sweepingly different than it did a mere twelve months ago, and it was difficult for me to fully process all the changes that had so rapidly occurred. After talking with my therapist about this difficulty, I decided I wanted to further explore myself, my feelings, my experiences, and my healing processes as each related to significant relationships in my life. As I’ve mentioned before, writing has always been a form of therapy for me – almost impulsive. At times, it is like I am uncertain of how I even feel until my fingers begin dancing along the keyboard and it suddenly becomes clear; I feel this deep desire to create, craft, and cultivate my reality into words.   

I wrote initial drafts of all four posts the same day. Then, in the week prior to its publication, I would revisit each post individually so I could revise it appropriately. I spent that week mediating on that particular relationship as well as that general time in my life. I ultimately found that each of the posts softened (sometimes significantly so) under this week of review. I was able to perceive each relationship differently and with more compassion and sympathy for my previous partner after a full week of deep reflection. I also caught a lot of typos. I’m bad about typos. Just ask my boss.

When I sat down on that first day to write, I did initially entertain the idea of including a theoretical “five” post but couldn’t see how it would look or what it would bring to the series. I didn’t even know at first if I wanted the series to end in a positive note or a bitter one. But over the last month and a half of processing and reflection, a “five” post slowly came into focus and I realized that I wanted to write and share it as well. Spoilers it’s positive.

It shouldn’t be all that surprising that the level of reflection required to write and publish this series has given me deep insight about myself. Some may think that this series has been about the men. They would be wrong. It hasn’t. Each of them has only been a conduit I’ve used to more fully understand myself. You see, each reflection in this series – from the beginning – has always truly been about me:

Reflection on One helped me see that sometimes heartbreak – as painful as it can be – is oftentimes for the greater good. It taught me that I wasn’t always a head-strong, independent woman who wanted to forge my own path in life. I reminded me that I was once someone so insecure or oblivious to myself and my own needs, that I would have given anything to keep a relationship with someone I loved afloat. I know now that I’ve grown since those days. I know who I am, what I want, and I have the capacity and confidence to verbalize both to any future partners.  

Reflection on Two helped remind me that most of time relationships fail because both people are not on the same page. It showed me that I had been cruel in not owning my feelings and being honest with my partner. I now know how to walk away from someone I care about in a respectful and honorable fashion when it doesn’t feel right. I can clearly see that sometimes, in our efforts to not hurt someone, we hurt them even more. I’ve made these mistakes. I admit them. And now, I can move forward with a clear conscience and better judgment.    

Reflection on Three reminded me just how hard I am willing to fight to save the things (and people) that matter most to me. But also, how that’s not always a good thing. I realize now that some of the parts of myself I was willing to sacrifice to uphold a vow of til death do us part are offerings that should never be placed upon the alter of any healthy relationship. It impressed upon me that I oftentimes lack the ability to set expectations in my intimate relationships. That’s something that I want to continue to work on so that it doesn’t plague me in future relationships. I can see now that I sometimes cut away pieces of myself in an effort to protect or help my partner – but doing so doesn’t really help them or me; it is a false sense of security at best.

Reflection on Four reminded me that dealbreakers are dealbreakers for a reason and that I shouldn’t excuse things away (in myself or others) in the name of love. It also taught me that I shouldn’t let my heart get so far out in front of my head. Hearts, despite our best intentions, are fragile things – so willing to trust what makes them flutter. But our minds are different. They wake us up in the middle of the night full of doubts that we oftentimes dismiss by the morning sunrise. I now know that things are not always what they seem to be for a variety of reasons. I’ve learned that in the most intimate of relationships, intentions can be wildly misconstrued by everyone involved if there isn’t frank discourse. I’ve also discovered that I am not only capable of such discourse, but I now crave it in a way that I had not experienced until now.

You see, these things aren’t about men – they are about what I once lacked or misunderstood. These are things I want to do or continue to work on – not for One, Two, Three, Four or even a future “five”. No. I want to do them simply for myself. The whole experience of writing and editing this series impressed upon me that the only relationship I can truly guarantee I will have for my life, is the one with myself. Significant others (as well the people in other types of relationships) are always free to come and go as they please. Even bigger than that, no day is guaranteed to any of us and at any moment those most dear to us could be taken in the most tragic and senseless of ways. No amount of good intentions, promises, precautions, or even vows alters that hard truth. And since you have no control over the needs, desires, disasters or experiences of any other person, I’ve discovered that it is best (I’d even go as far as to say, necessary) for an individual to only prep himself or herself for a lifetime of commitment to themselves. No other person.

And as worthy as I think it has been to reflect on the past, I think it is equally worthy to contemplate the future. Specifically, how after decades of self-doubt, I can now see what I will bring to the table with any future “five”. 

As women in our culture, I think many of us have reservations (in some form or fashion) of having the confidence in ourselves to state boldly what we bring to a relationship. Men, I’ve found, are quite eager to tell us about all their good qualities. Of course, most of them haven’t been conditioned by society to constantly doubt themselves and their abilities. None of them have been told that being bold and confident equates to being a bitch. Most men have never been asked to hold their tongue or to think carefully about how they describe themselves to others. I have always found this intriguing in men, yet I’ve never once felt the desire to think about myself in such terms. Until now. Now, I can see my worth and I can see yours. As women, we bring a lot to the table. We don’t often talk about it. We usually downplay it. But I don’t think we should anymore. Let’s be honest about ourselves. I’ll start: 

I love hard and I am faithful. When I make a commitment, I honor it and expect the same in return. No matter what. I love the people in my life and often worry on their behalf. If I care for someone, I cannot simply turn off that facet of myself. I do everything in my power to make their lives easier, happier, and more fulfilling. If I know someone is struggling in some capacity, I have a drive to fix it for them. I expect “I’m home” texts from the people I love and if you give me any cause to be concerned about you – any at all – I will be. The very core of my nature is to love hard; to be true and faithful. I will never be made to feel ashamed of these qualities.

I am financially independent. I don’t need anyone to pay my bills. Not a one. I’m good sir. Anything you bring to the table in that respect is just icing on the cake that I baked and am already enjoying.  

I am an amazing mother. Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever been tasked with and sometimes, I mess it up.  None of us are perfect. But I apologize when I’m wrong – usually directly to my daughter – and I work hard (especially when I falter) to show my daughter the type of woman I want her to grow up to be. I don’t get it right every day, but I wake up every day and try my best to get it right. No one compares to my daughter and anyone who wants me will have to prove themselves to her as well.  

I’m emotionally secure. I’ve done the hard work. No wait – I do the hard work. Our mental and emotional health isn’t a one-time box we can check off and forget. I am incredibly privileged to have the financial ability to seek therapy and guidance from professional third parties – and I do. Openly. Without fear of judgment or reprisal. And most importantly, I do not do so for other people. I do it for myself. I understand that I owe it to myself to sort through what life throws at me to the best of my ability. Life is never static. Neither is mental health.

I am independently happy and healthy. I do not look to my partner to provide these things for me. Once in my life, I did. But now, I can find solace in spending an entire day alone reading books or working in the garden. I am comfortable and happy in my own skin and do not require validation or approval from anyone. I can now (this one is rather recent) prioritize my physical health and not allow my standards to wax or wane with the circumstances of my life. I see how my physical health impacts other parts of my life and it is not something I’m willing to give up again.  

So now I want you to think about what you bring to the table. I guarantee it is far more than you give yourself credit for – whether you are in a relationship or not. This whole series, for me, has been an exercise in honest self-reflection; a necessary tool in our tool-belts that we don’t pull out as much as warranted.  

It is true that I do not know who “five” might be or if he even exists. There could never be a “five” at all. Or maybe there is, but he is followed by a “six,” “seven,” and “eight” as well. I used to think that I needed to be certain of these things. To nail them down so that I could have a sense of peace that everything would be alright. But truthfully, I don’t know these things and that’s okay. Because I do know Kate. And let’s just say, I’m impressed with her.  

“More than anything, I know that you just have to choose to make the best of things. You get one life, and it only goes forward. And there really are all kinds of happy endings.”

– Katherine Center

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