All my problems with love all led back to one person: me.
When I was three, I cried when Esmeralda didn't choose Quasimodo. Even then, I wanted to believe the Quasimodos of the world are capable of finding love.
I guess that makes me a hopeless romantic, but I only mention it because this genetic predisposition to love always makes it hard for me to handle breakups. They always make me feel like a ton of bricks are coming down on my chest, while my throat closes in on my esophagus — painful.
I remember a few years back when I was still in college: My friends with benefits relationship fizzled out, in addition to some old flames back home. The details of my frustration are hard to remember, but I can recall crying on the phone to my mother with 713 miles separating us.
"Why does love always hurt ? I'm only 19! Why does this always happen to me?" I sobbed while choking down a mixture of snot and tears.
Like many mothers in her shoes, she was at a loss for words. In that moment, she could feed me so much of the cliché bullsh*t everyone likes to believe about love or she could let her silence fill the void in the room, also answering my question.
Not wanting to corrode my underdeveloped portrayal of love, she chose not to answer the question directly.
She insisted I would overcome this, with the silent implication that there would be more heartbreak to come.
After that day, I made a vow that my next relationship would be just that — a relationship. No more friends with benefits business. Somehow, I knew the issue was bigger than me finding a guy willing to commit. I was part of the problem, too.
It was time to take a deeper look at my own actions and the part that I played in the demise of previous relationships.
My problem? I lacked self-respect. Was I too uninhibited? No, although I was (and still am) a young woman who loves sex.
But that didn't matter. I could make men wait three dates or a year for sex, but because of my self-respect issues, they'd think less of me long before it was time to lay me down.
I never demanded more for myself until after sex. Basically, I had already compromised my self-worth for the cheap price of a good sexing and an hour's worth of cuddling through the cold winter.
How would any man ever come to value all that I had to offer as a young woman if I had the self-esteem of a broken, meek girl?
I set out on a journey of discovery after learning what the root of the issue was. I didn't exile the thought of men (or sex), but I stopped being a slave to both. I didn't let my desire for someone to warm my bed cloud my judgment.
I took the next few years to learn how to be alone, so when a man came along who was ready for greatness, I wouldn't jump out in desperation, but in self-worth. There would no longer be a need to have silly rules — like making him wait for sex — because the man I envisioned had already gained my respect (and vice-versa) before we ever went that far.
This road led me to my most recent relationship, one that I truly want to be my last ... but if it's not, there's still so much good that has come from it. It was the first relationship where I was able to test out all the work that I put in.
Sure enough, I found that things were different. I was different.
I knew this guy was IT after our first outing (not a date), and from that moment I decided that I wouldn't play games just because it was something that I'd done in in the past. Plus, there's always a loser in games, but not in honesty.
Some wise person once said, "The very definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting different results." So, it was final — there would be no games and the past would be history, finally.
I wasted no time making my intentions clear the moment I sensed he might be playing me for a fool. I remember boldly (and surprisingly) telling him, "I like you a lot, but if that's not how you feel, let me know now and we'll be fine. I don't have time for games." This was simply a result of him not responding to my text and not calling when he said he would, letting days go by.
Was it a little extreme? Probably. Was it partially my wounded ego from not getting that call I had been promised? Maybe.
But I finally took a stance for myself: I wasn't taking any prisoners (or their bullsh*t). I was taken aback when he responded by sweeping away all my doubts and assuring me it was nothing like that.
I was in uncharted territory, but it was a result of me demanding more for myself. It was a result of me taking charge of MY love life.
And while it's no fairy tale ending, he stuck around. I think I'm finally getting comfortable with the idea that he plans on being here for awhile, with my sending him crazy texts at 3 in the morning and all.
The best part? It's never been a secret how much I adore him, but he doesn't use that knowledge to boost his own ego or tear mine down. In fact, I'm positive that the man that I'm surely falling hard for would never intentionally do anything to diminish my worth, despite his few faults.
I finally found a winner in my man ... but most importantly, in myself.