By Lisa Arends for MariaShriver.com
When we are young and our hearts are relatively intact, love seems to be an easy endeavor. Potential partners are everywhere and the possibilities seem endless. As we get older (or, as I prefer to think of it, wiser), love no longer seems so simple. We are more aware of the pitfalls and are more critical of potential partners. Our hearts are laced with cracks and we fear any other breakages. We become more accustomed to our ways and less likely to want to change them.
Finding love again is possible but it takes a different approach than before. First, you have to be ready to allow yourself to love again. This means choosing to move through the fear of being vulnerable again, to release the trepidation of another broken heart. Since life isn’t a romantic comedy, simply welcoming love is not sufficient to make that special person appear; you have to be an active participant in life and engage in opportunities that will allow you to meet people. Once you find that connection, it needs to be nurtured. It will take deliberate action to create and sustain the relationship that you want. Hold a vision of what you want and consciously work to create and maintain the vision.
I’m often told that I’m lucky to have found love again. Sure, there is an element of serendipity but there is also quite a bit of choice and deliberate action.
I screwed a lot of things up on the way to love. I had a tendency to act married immediately upon meeting someone (what can I say, I knew how to be married, but I had no idea how to date!). I looked to men for escape or validation. I confused dates with old friends, looking to them for emotional support. I walled myself off, using my strength and survival skills to keep men at arm’s length. I didn’t always listen to my gut. I let my anger get the best of me. I dated before I had fully dissected my role in the end of my marriage. I overlooked certain things that I probably shouldn’t have. I hurt feelings carelessly and I failed to listen to advice (that damn defensiveness!).
But I also did a lot of things right. I saw dating as practice and I made sure to get plenty of it. I was patient with myself and others. I said “yes” more than I said “no,” and, as a result, I opened myself up to new people and experiences. I made time to play and I didn’t take myself or dating too seriously. I may have been angry with my ex, but I never transferred that animosity to all that carry the XY chromosome. I didn’t let my natural introverted nature keep me inside, buried in a book. I approached everything as a learning experience and I allowed myself to be open to change. After some false starts, I accepted the value of baby-steps and taking a relationship as it comes.
Here’s what I learned from my journey to love again. Maybe this list can save you from some of my mistakes!
1. Intention: Know what you want. Have a mental vision board. If something or someone doesn’t fit, it may be best to let them go.
2. Step Out: Step out of your comfort zone. Step outside. Step out of your routine. Step out of your normal group.
3. Acknowledge: Accept your fear. Your doubt. Your hesitations. Acknowledge them but don’t let them control you.
4. Practice: You won’t get it right at first. No one does. Try again.
5. Patience: Be gentle with yourself. And others. Most people are doing the best they can in that moment. Be patient in your search. Enjoy the journey.
6. Openness: Say “yes.” Remove barriers. Explore new ideas and new experiences. Withhold judgment. Replace it with reflection.
7. Forgiveness: Forgive yourself. You are not damaged goods. You are whole and okay as you are. You are worthy of love.
8. Levity: Have fun. Laugh. Everything is better with a smile.
9. Effort: Love isn’t passive. You have to be willing to be an active participant and to make an effort.
10. Listen: It’s amazing what you can learn.
11. Grow: Let your successes and not-quite-successes fuel your development.
Love is worth it. Allow it in, seek it out and create it in your own life.
An earlier version of this post appeared on the blog Lessons From the End of a Marriage.