In the beginning, I was living the dream ...
At the ripe old age of 30, I saw him while working out at the gym. He was blond, 6' 1" tall, good looking, and in great shape. Our eyes met across the room several times and instead of giving him an inviting glance, I looked away. I felt awkward and nervous, my confidence faltering.
He came over and I learned he had just moved to Kansas City. At that point, I'd been living in Kansas City for almost 4 years and dated guys, but hadn't yet met one I was really in love with. We clicked instantly and started spending most of our time together. He was new to the area, didn't know anyone, and we fell into an instant relationship. It truly felt like I was living the dream.
Six months after we met, my job promoted me and I relocated to southern California. My excitement of moving back home to live near my family and friends was even greater when he decided to move with me. I felt excited for him to meet my family and friends, since I thought he was the one I would marry. Little did I know at the time that this one critical move would stress me out for years to come.
Like most beginnings, things were magical. And when things are magical, it's easy to overlook the subtle, yet critical, things that really matter.
I became stuck in the "in-between" while living with my parents.
We stayed with my parents while looking for our own place. 1 month turned into 6 months and during those months, he would tell my parents to keep the noise down, saying it was bothering me when it was actually bothering him. Although my parents showed concern for me, they never said anything bad about him. They even loaned him their car so he wouldn't have to buy his own.
Because unhappiness set in for him soon after our move, he made molehills into mountains. Small things set him off and caused his mood to sour. He didn't know anyone in southern California and was unhappy about the kind of people he was meeting. He was rude to my friends on the phone at times, and his dislike for traffic limited where we went.
These unsettling feelings sat in the pit of my stomach from being caught in between him and my parents ... and his unhappiness. I either dismissed those feelings or talked myself into being more understanding because I thought love is innately hard and requires us to make sacrifices. After all, he made a sacrifice by quitting his job and moving with me.
Things aren't perfect in the middle stages of most relationships. It's during this time that it's especially important to listen closely to your intuition.
Things turned for the worse when we started living on our own.
Six months later when we moved into our own place, I believed things would go back to being magical like they were in the beginning ... they never did.
I wanted to feel optimistic about us and believed we were going to marry. There were moments of happiness interspersed with long periods of uncertainty, confusion and stress. These moments, optimism, and fears about getting older and having to start over kept me staying 4 years too long.
If I was self-aware, self-confident and courageous, our 5 year relationship would have lasted a year. Instead, I let so many things—beliefs about love being hard and sacrificing myself, fears about not finding anyone else, over-thinking things, guilt, responsibility for his happiness, etc.—keep me stuck.
The time finally came when I just knew it was over. And when I finally decided to break up with him, those unsettling feelings in the pit of my stomach dissipated and a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. The angst that filled me from sacrificing so many parts of myself made way for me to begin knowing myself.
When I knew that it was over and decided to end things, I still felt angst and great sadness. The difference was, I was more committed to loving myself by doing what was best and healthier for me.
Most endings are painful; that's why we call them endings. Yet, endings also lead to new and wonderful beginnings.
And from these new beginnings, I found the courage to leave.
A year after our relationship ended, he contacted me and apologized for the way he was in our relationship. He said that if I still wanted to get married, he wanted to marry me. It's ironic how the words I most wanted to hear from him back then were words that I no longer wanted to hear.
For years, I was critical of myself for being in a 5 year relationship that shouldn't have lasted that long. I wondered why I wasn't able to find the courage to break up sooner when the signs to leave were clearly there. Then, I remembered this quote: "Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes, courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow," by Mary Anne Radmacher. That is how I finally found the courage to leave.
If you know you should leave and are finding it difficult, remain patient and compassionate with yourself. I believe you are here because you've been courageous enough put yourself out there in the name of love. This is for sure: when you have had enough, you will just know. And when you know, that is when you'll have the courage to leave.
If you're feeling stuck in a relationship and know you should leave, what is one thing you can start doing?
Janet Ong Zimmerman is the founder of Love for Successful Women, and creator of the Woo Course: 9 Juicy Ways to Bring Out a Man's Desire to Woo You. She works with successful women who are self-aware, courageous, and committed to finding the love they desire. Take the Does he woo you? quiz and learn if he is wooing, dating or using you.