I’ve been in an unhappy marriage for 20 years. He cheated on me, had a child with another woman, and left me twice for another woman. Last year a younger guy I work with caught my eye. Things evolved to where we had sex and have continued to do so. The sex is great, we can talk about anything and generally enjoy spending time together. We both realized that we would not be in a relationship, and if he happened to get a girlfriend, our friendship agreement would end. Trouble is, I fell in love with him. He knows, but told me that while he loves me, he’s not in love with me.
We don’t go out in public anymore, we don’t hang out outside of work anymore, we haven’t really done anything that would justify being a couple. He made sure of that. I was fine with all of this, but lately I’ve noticed that he stopped texting me sexually (which I didn’t mind) and stopped touching me in the presence of other people. He is interested in another woman we know and has started pursuing her. I knew this was going to happen but I feel like I got hit by a bus. I keep asking myself why wasn’t I good enough for him? Why am I not good enough for anyone?
The question isn’t why aren’t you good enough for these men. The question is, why do you keep settling for men and relationships that aren’t good enough for you? And unfortunately, these two things are linked – you believe that you don’t deserve respectful, loving, honest relationships, and so you settle for those relationships and situations that are disrespectful, unfulfilling, and cause you great pain. You stay with these men because you think you deserve it. You endure this pain because you believe you don’t deserve more. You’re wrong, you are.
One of the very clear connections between your relationship with your husband and the relationship you have with the man you work with is that both are emotionally unavailable and have proven unwilling or unable to committing to you in that way and taking care of you you need. But another important connection between these two relationships is that in both of them you believed that one big, abstract idea—marriage or love—is enough. You were married and that was reason enough to endure the cheating, the lying, the unhappiness. You have fallen in love with the man at work and believe that love is reason enough to put up with a lack of commitment and playing with your feelings. But marriage is not enough. love is not enough That might be hard to hear – after all, we’re constantly being told that love is all we need, love is all. But for a healthy relationship, love is not enough — that sense of love must be accompanied by respect, honesty, commitment (in whatever form), and caring. These actions must be performed by both people, not just one of you.
At the moment you are content with the feeling of love instead of asking about the effects of it. You settle for your one-sided feeling of love instead of asking for a mutually shared feeling and commitment. You settle for the abstract concepts of marriage and love without believing that you deserve their loving, tender, respectful, fulfilling, fun, and joyful reality.
Many people make this mistake. Many people prioritize the feeling of love over the damage to their reality. Many people believe that if their feelings are strong enough, passionate enough for someone, that will empower them. And for people who are attracted to unavailable people, or who are in unhealthy or abusive relationships, or people who are simply in relationships that aren’t fulfilling, challenging, or developing, this lie can be harmful. The lie that love is enough can keep people in unattainable, unhealthy, or unfulfilled attachments. What we need to prioritize is love and the mutual consummation of this love and the realities of a relationship, combined.
One way to think clearly about this is to stop thinking about these men and try to mold yourself to fit their ideas and instead think about what kind of relationship you want. What does your ideal love look like? You have already started your list in this letter as you write down the things that have happened to you that have hurt you or made you unhappy. You have learned from your marriage that you want a respectful, loyal, committed, honest, trusting and reliable relationship – because you know how much pain the other person has brought. From your relationship with the man in work you have realized that you want a relationship where you feel prioritized, where love is mutual, and where your partner is delighted and proud to be with you and you appreciate – and only you. You know you want those things because you know how awful it felt to put those desires aside and belittle yourself for a man who doesn’t prioritize you.
There may be other things on your list that you didn’t dare to think about because you’ve been so busy putting the men in your life first. Maybe you want adventure. Perhaps you want a relationship that prioritizes personal growth. Maybe you want to start a family. Think about what your ideal relationship looks like, how it feels, what the long-term dreams of that relationship are, and what it looks like on a day-to-day basis. Really try to imagine it and write it down. Now notice how different your current reality is. None of the men in your life are offering what you want, what you need, or what you deserve. Do not despair at this thought and do not blame yourself. Look at your list and contemplate this beautiful, shimmering possibility of another reality, another love, and recognize this moment for what it is: a moment of transformation. You can live and love differently. You can talk about yourself from people who don’t make you feel safe, respected, or loved, and you can look for something else instead. Once you understand the difference between prioritizing love as a one-sided emotion and prioritizing both giving and receiving love in a healthy relationship, you will never forget it. This is your new origin story – the woman who learned what she wanted and wouldn’t settle for less.
This truth may be simple – it can be more difficult to learn in your mind, body and heart. You’ve spent at least two decades dating emotionally unavailable men who made you feel like you didn’t deserve more. You’ve gotten used to belittling yourself and believing you’re worth it. These are deep wounds that need healing and I urge you to find a therapist to help you through this.
These men don’t define you. They don’t dictate your worth or your future. You were always worthy – and now you can shape your future and your future love. It will be great.
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