What I know today is how it will feel and what I want my next relationship to look like. And for now, that is enough.
I have a confession to make: I am afraid of making the wrong decision 99% of the time in my post-divorce life, especially when it comes to dating and relationships. My fear? Choosing the wrong person and ending up alone. Again.
And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one who feels that way.
This is hard to admit. The last few years have brought me confidence in so many other ways. I’ve found my voice and had more parenting wins than losses. But my heart is my weakness. My marriage and my divorce shook my relationship confidence because at some point I believed that this was the right relationship when it clearly was not. I spent enough days asking myself, “How did I end up here?” to know I never want to do that again.
The silver lining of the last few years, for me, is the fresh start: a second chance to have a relationship with the benefit of the lessons I’ve learned.
But the downside is also the fresh start. Anything is now possible, including more mistakes. With so many options, how do we make the right choices and ultimately design a life that brings us the most happiness? It’s overwhelming sometimes. And it can be scary. But nothing good ever comes from making choices from fear, so how do we move past it?
I was talking about this recently with my best friend. “I think you need to get clear on what you want,” she said. “Because you can have anything. You just have to decide what that is.” And this is one reason why my friendship with her is my longest relationship yet. She always knows just what I need to hear.
What did I want? If you had asked me this just after my divorce, I would have said marriage, without hesitation. Now, I’ve started to wonder how that would fit into my life again. I love that I have this time to enjoy with my children without worrying about how to balance it with someone else’s needs. But I also miss having someone to share my day to day life with. To call when something amazing or awful happens. To share a dinner table with. To have a drink with in the kitchen after a long day when the house is finally quiet. To help me feel like I am not doing life all on my own.
So, I guess the answer is that I’m not really sure what I want my next relationship to look like, exactly.
But I do know how I want it to feel. And coming back to that is how I manage to move forward when I’m fearful about making the wrong choice.
If you find yourself conflicted like me, try spending time figuring out what the next chapter should feel like instead of focusing on what it should look like. This was something that I was introduced to by Gabrielle Bernstein’s work. And it makes sense. We can come up with all the lists we want about what our ideal partner should look like (“tall, dark, and handsome”) or what the ideal circumstances for a relationship should be (“When I have ‘X’, then I’ll be ready for a relationship”), but having a narrow focus on the image can make us nervous to make a wrong move.
What if his hair isn’t dark?
What if my career isn’t where I pictured it being when we meet?
Then this can’t work.
But what if it actually is the right relationship for us and we’re so worried that it doesn’t match our plan that we miss out on it?
Getting clear on how the next chapter should feel, rather than being caught up in how the person or the circumstances should look, is one way I’m working on trusting my instincts again. This is how I have confidence when the fear creeps in.
Here’s how I know I am making the right choice for my next relationship:
There is acceptance. Both of us feel like we are accepted right where we are but are allowed room to grow and change. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but being appreciated for both is important. I talk a lot. I sometimes overreact. I sometimes squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube and leave dishes in the sink. But I also like to make the people around me feel loved and cared for. I like to listen as much as I like to talk. I’m not perfect; I’m a package. And so is he. If we both feel accepted, I know I am making a good choice.
It’s safe. Being together is a safe place for both of us. No matter what craziness is going on outside, or even inside, we can exhale when we’re together. No topic is off-limits when we talk. No one walks on eggshells. We don’t always have all the answers. I feel taken care of. I know that this is a person I want in my life if spending time together gives us the energy to face the world separately. Or at least, to face the kids and the endless pile of paperwork the next day.
We feel valued. Feeling like I matter is important because I make sure the people in my life feel like they matter to me. This doesn’t mean being the center of someone’s world. But it does mean prioritizing and making room for one another. It means the occasional big gesture, like tickets to that concert I’ve been dying to go to for three years, and more frequent little ones, like leaving the mushrooms off the pizza. It means feeling heard and understood. I know that I don’t have to worry about caring for the wrong person when I feel like I’m important to him.
There’s Love. Obviously, this isn’t something that happens right away, but eventually, this should be a part of any healthy relationship. Because there’s nothing like it. And we deserve to know it, regardless of our past.
I don’t know what the future for me will look like, exactly. Maybe he will be tall, maybe he will be short. Maybe he’ll have dark hair, or maybe it will be gray. Maybe we’ll get married and blend a family under one roof or maybe the kids will be off to college and it will be the two of us in a condo on the beach. The picture will be filled in eventually. But what know today is how it will feel. And for now, that is enough.