"You must learn to love yourself before you can truly love another."
By Tauni Howes
We've all heard these words of wisdom, but that never made any sense to me. Love myself? Sure, I'm great. I dig me.
So, why did I suck at dating? What was it I wasn't getting?
I was never a big dater when I was drinking. I was terrified of having my heart broken again like it had been in 2005 from a boyfriend who didn't turn out to be what he advertised. And as my disease manifested itself, I lost all interest in men.
I grew up in a household with what I believe to be one of those marriages that makes most people point and say, "THAT'S what I want." My parents were married for 43 years until my father died in 2007. They were each other's best friend, rarely apart, and flirted like teenagers. It was simultaneously nauseating and a powerful influence.
Like a lot of people, I figured I would get married someday, but it was scary to admit I may want to be married. I mean, what if it didn't happen? What then? What would my life look like if I had to face it alone?
Alone is the worst. At least, that's what I've been told. It's what we've all been told.
A dear friend's mom has been living with her alcoholic boyfriend for 24 years. She refuses to marry him until he "gets his drinking under control." Being unemployed and an around-the-clock heavy drinker, he cannot contribute anything to her life, and he needs constant care and babysitting. He routinely embarrasses her in public and was recently so intoxicated that he fell asleep in his mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving.
So, why doesn't she leave him? We all want to pound nails into the floor with our foreheads, asking WHYYYY??
You hear people say,"You need to learn to love yourself before anyone can love you." Great, but what does that mean? I don't know.
I do think I may be on the right track when I can honestly tell you: I'm no longer afraid to grow old alone.
Isn't that what you always hear? You never hear people say, "I'm afraid to grow old with a drunk," or "I'm afraid to grow old with someone who doesn't respect me," or "I'm afraid to grow old with someone who cheats on me." You always hear "I'm afraid to grow old alone.”"
My friend's mom has never vocally expressed that her fear of growing old alone is so crippling that she would rather allow a man to hijack her entire life; she doesn't have to. We know she is afraid, because she makes the decision every day to stay with him. The fear of growing old alone outweighs the fear of babysitting and financially supporting a drunk for the rest of her life.
Since getting sober almost seven years ago, I have faced a lot of fears: Job interviews, credit checks, making new friends and lots of apologies to old ones. I also had to face it without a spouse to support me through it. And you know, it wasn't so bad. At all.
Now that I wasn't a fall-down drunk, I began to enjoy my own company. I began to respect and enjoy this woman I was becoming, who is curious about the world around her and likes to try new things.
I realized there are a lot of things I like to do alone. Movies by myself? Don't have to share my popcorn. Concerts by myself? I don't have to stay for the encore if the band sucked. And I still had all my friends, so I could always call them if I was in the mood to share popcorn.
I knew I was ready to start dating when I realized that I really didn't need to.
Once I realized I really didn't need to, I became unwilling to settle for less than what I wanted or pretend I'm someone I'm not. I despise watching professional sports, and I'm obsessed with The Golden Girls. I own a cat stroller and love show tunes.
Last but not least, I'm an alcoholic who knows her sobriety must come first. Even before her boyfriend, or husband, friends and family.
I was no longer afraid to put these things front and center, because I was no longer afraid of never finding a guy who would love and accept those things about me. I knew, then, that I would never be an old woman, dragging my drunk husband to bed with mashed potatoes on his face.
I would be the old woman at the movies with her own popcorn.
This article was originally published at BlogHer. Reprinted with permission from the author.