The Reality of Single Life

I know I’m supposed to say that being single is great.  I even have several inspirational quotes, a couple you may find on this post, for being single.  However, I want to address the reality of being single.  It isn’t always great, but it isn’t always a suck fest either.

The reality is that being single is hard.  For a lot of you, it may not be the place you want to end up in life.   Many of you, if you’re honest with yourselves may even say you are very afraid of being single.  I don’t blame you.  It isn’t easy to be alone at times.  I think it is unrealistic to expect that you will be happy all the time while being single.  I also think it is unrealistic to expect to be happy all the time in a relationship as well.  Life just isn’t meant to be happy all the time.

The truth is, LIFE IS HARD.  In general, life tends to be up and down.  Sometimes you can feel like it is more down than up.  Being single is kind of like that.  Which is why it is good to learn how to live the single life.  Life is full of hard moments.  If you can deal with it on your own, then you will begin to build confidence in yourself and your abilities.  It just may be scary because you’ve never had to be on your own before, especially without your parents supporting you.    I also want to remind you that there are happy times while being single, I’m just saying don’t expect to always feel happy.  You will have times of the day when you don’t mind not having a boyfriend or girlfriend to talk to.  You will learn how to fill your time with other things that make you feel good even being on your own.  You may learn to repeat positive affirmations about being single and be able to believe it for a few minutes or even a few days if you practice!

However, be prepared to sometimes wake up and feel very alone.  Some days you will just feel like crying.  It is also normal to still dream about finding the one who just “gets you” and wants to be with you forever even though you’re choosing to be single at the moment.  You may still walk into Wal-Mart and wonder if you’re going to pass the person of your dreams as you’re walking through the cereal aisle.    It is normal to feel that longing to be with someone.  However, that longing is why people are afraid of being single.  It would be so nice if we didn’t have an urge to be in a relationship until we found someone, but life doesn’t work that way.

It’s hard because you don’t always know what to expect.  Although I’m here to tell you that relationships can be very unpredictable too at times.   It still can be scary to be single and never know what is coming around the next corner.  Sometimes you may have a date and end up spending the night with that person.  It is almost like being in a relationship, except there isn’t a guarantee that will happen again in the future.  Sometimes you may go out on a date or go out with your friends and still come home alone.  You may feel lonely, or you may feel fine.  Depends on how the night went.  Sometimes you may be home all alone or have no one to hang out with, but you find things to do and the loneliness isn’t so bad.  Sometimes you spend the whole night crying because you’ve been texting your ex who continues to ignore you.  Like I said, its up and down, and not knowing when you are going to meet someone right can be very frustrating for a lot of people.  Remember, this will prepare you for those up and down moments of being in a relationship and not having things always go your way either.

I try to encourage students not to be too hard on themselves when they have those down moments, hours, days or weeks.  They happen.  Just remember that they do pass.  Not every moment of every hour of every day will you feel so sad and alone.  Some days you will have to push yourself to be more positive, other days it may be a little easier.  Some days you just have to let yourself have a pity party because no amount of positive thinking is going to work.

I do tell students that the best way to deal with being single is to expect those down times, but try to focus on other things when possible.  Do try to reconnect with your friends.  If you don’t have a lot of close friends, it is never too late to try to make some.  Start a new hobby or find a place to become a volunteer.  It is a great way to get outside of yourself and meet new people.  I also suggest focusing on making someone else happy that day.  It could be a friend or family member or a complete stranger.  A student here at Aurora University is doing just that.  Every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in December she is going to downtown Chicago to spread a little encouragement to complete strangers.  It has made a huge impact not only on the lives of others, but in her life as well.  Click here to read about her experience.  Those kinds of things can help you get through those lonely moments.

No, being single isn’t always this great happy experience some people want to make it out to be.  However, it doesn’t have to be the worst thing that has ever happened to you either.  Take it in stride, because if you can learn to be on your own even in the rough times, you will find you will be less afraid of losing people.  Which in turn can reduce jealousy and other negative emotions that harm, not help relationships.

Facing Rejection

It’s not easy to put yourself out there.  Some people live to meet new people and have no fear going up and starting a conversation with a perfect stranger.  Other people struggle with their fear of rejection.  They are interested in new people around them, but it can be scary to start something with someone new.  Especially if you’ve recently gone through a bad break up or you’ve been single for awhile.

If you have fear, the only way to get over it is to face it.  Outgoing people will tell you they are less worried about how they feel and more concerned with making others feel good.  If your goal is go out and meet new people, try to take your focus off your fear and focus on making just one person you meet smile.  Realize that not everyone you meet is going to be interested in talking to you.  That doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or with something you said.  Some people just won’t be in a good mood or be interested in any type of conversation.  Don’t let those people set you back.

Look for people who seem more open or friendly.  Dare yourself to give them a compliment.  Try to learn something from what they are wearing or how they are interacting with others.  Use your observation skills to give you something to start a conversation with.  If you’ve ever noticed, shoes will tell you a lot about a person.  Shoes can give you clues into hobbies someone has or what type of job they do.  Their shoes can tell you if they are more laid back or more stylish with fashion.  Their clothes will also give you other clues as well.  Finally, look at their face and their body language.  Do they gesture or show a lot of expression?  Or do they seem more closed off because their arms or crossed and their face seems blank?

Also, realize that you are giving off vibes as well.  What does your appearance say about you?  Non-verbal cues give off a lot of information to others to let them know if you are more open or closed to being approached.  Are you smiling and interacting with others?  Or are you sitting alone hunched over your drink at the bar?  You don’t have to be super fit and all GQ to get attention.  Your appearance does matter, but how you are projecting yourself to others matters even more.  You want to seem approachable instead of giving off a vibe that says, “Please leave me alone”.

It is okay to be nervous, but try to be aware if you are sending off desperation signals.  Sometimes you can try TOO hard and make the initial approach very awkward.  Remember to think positive and tell yourself positive things to keep your anxiety at bay.  Every person has great qualities, but not all people are aware or acknowledge their positive traits.  Try to focus on those qualities and realize you have a lot to offer other people.  When people get nervous they can focus too much on the negative and think of everything that can go wrong.  Instead, try to stop yourself from going down that path and try to be more positive about yourself and others around you.  Confidence will carry you a long way.

Even if you don’t feel all that confident, you can fake it a little until you get more comfortable initiating conversations.  Practicing will make it easier.  I often tell some of my shyer students to start conversations in less intimidating places.  For example, smile and ask how the gas station attendant’s day is going.  Talk to the cashier at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.  Go to places where you don’t know anyone and take a few risks without too much pressure.  The more you risk facing rejection, the easier it will become.  You will become used to the fact that not everyone responds positively, but that a lot of people will.

The key to remember is that you aren’t trying to make yourself feel better, you are trying to make someone else feel better that day.  Not every person you interact with has soul mate potential or even one night stand potential, but you never know when you may interact with the right person who ends up becoming someone significant in your life.  Just don’t give up and remember that nothing in life worth having is ever easy.

“Whether you think you can or you can’t- you are right”  Henry Ford

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent”  Eleanor Roosevelt

“This time, like all times is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Fall seven times, stand up eight”  Japanese Proverb

Why don’t you love ME??

Are you the person who dates someone, falls in love, only to have that person leave and fall in love with someone else right after they broke up with you?  I was reading another blog post (Live Love Learn Breathe) and I really resonated with what the blogger said in her post.  I’ve quoted her below…

“From my first “real” boyfriend back in 7th grade to the love of my life from college, and all of those in between that I may have crushed on once before (or vice versa), their current status makes me feel that I am a mandatory stepping stone on his way to finding love.  In other words I am not the one for him, but one he must ’experience’ before finding the one who is.  And when he makes her his, I’m left behind with a bruised heart and the never-ending question, What is it about me that he couldn’t love?”  I met a great guy about a year ago.  He was the first great guy I had met in a while.  I thought there was potential, and believed he thought the same.  But as always, I had it all wrong.  He stopped writing; he stopped caring.  I was confused as to what caused this, but learned that he met someone else.  And now, that someone is his fiancée.  In thinking about him, and the connection we had, I cannot help but wonder, why her and not me?”

I can relate to this very well myself, and I know a lot of the students I’ve met with have felt the same way.  It is hard not to question yourself and wonder if there is something you’re doing that makes you unlovable.  The truth is that it’s really hard to find someone you connect with that connects with you in the same way at the same time.  Sometimes, the timing is just off.  Sometimes you meet someone too soon and they aren’t ready for a commitment.  They haven’t grown up yet or they have some unresolved issues that unfortunately resolve themselves after they break up with you.  This has nothing to do with you, but it’s hard not to feel rejected anyway.

Other times, it’s the chemistry.  No matter what you do or how perfect you are, it isn’t going to work.  Chemistry is more than just physical attraction.  It is a complicated dynamic between two people.  You feel the chemistry but for some reason they feel it more with someone else.  This doesn’t mean you are the ugliest, most boring, unintelligent person on the planet.  Like I said, its complicated and some of us don’t have the good luck to find the love of our life the first time around…or even the 5th time around.  However, there is no denying that it really sucks when you break up with  someone and find out a few months later that person found love and it wasn’t with you.

So, you may wonder when your good luck is going to kick in right?  If only we all had crystal balls.  Life would be a lot less stressful.  I look back now and tell myself, “If I knew at 20 I wasn’t going to get married until I was 36, I would have just relaxed and and enjoyed myself.  I wouldn’t have wasted so much time being anxious and sad about being single.”  It is the unknown that is scary, but unfortunately life doesn’t give us clarity and foresight.  We all have to fumble through it.  Just try not to be jealous of the high school sweethearts that are getting married in their early 20’s and having babies before 30.  It happens for some, but not for most.  It may seem like life would be simpler if we could all meet someone when we are still in high school, but those couples have to go through a lot of growing pains together that other couples who meet in their late 20’s or early 30’s don’t have to deal with.  Lets just say I learned a lot of what NOT to do while dating when I was younger.  Not that my relationship now is perfect, but I certainly have improved my communication and relationship skills, and my husband is benefiting from it.

It does hurt to know that someone fell in love, but it just wasn’t with you.  It is hard to be confident and self assured that your time will come.  All I know is that waiting can make you stronger and wiser.  Take this time to learn how to be more independent and confident.  Focus on your friends and family while you still have the time and energy (before you have an all consuming relationship and then later your own family).  Volunteer to help others and engage in hobbies or activities that you really enjoy.  Maybe you’ll end up meeting someone who you really do have an awesome chemistry with.  Focus on school or work and take time for yourself.  If you find there are things you want to improve on, this is the time.  I encourage people to focus on what they can control in the moment.  You may not be able to control having someone fall in love with you, but you can still control  A LOT of things about your life in the meantime.

It is okay to have moments, sometimes days or weeks of sadness.  You may feel lonely at times.  It isn’t fun, but be assured that you can handle it.  This time will pass and eventually you’ll find a great person and hopefully have a great relationship in the future.  Try not to compare yourself to the couples you see on campus all the time.  Trust me, there are a lot of single people walking around you too, all feeling the same way.  You aren’t alone.  And believe me, there really isn’t anything wrong with you!!  Don’t give up on yourself.  Remember, it’s a big world out there and you have plenty of time to find true love.

Love Yourself…I Know. Crazy, Right?

Why is it that everyone in the world seems so obsessed with love, but no one seems to know how to love themselves?  I know some people think they are the center of the universe.  However, that sounds more to me like self-absorbed, not self-love.  I’m talking about enjoying being in your own company.

I hear a lot of people say they don’t like to be alone.  Is this because they are extroverted and feel energized around people?  Sometimes.  A lot of the times I notice people are trying to distract themselves from their negative thoughts.  Even introverted people who like to be alone will distract themselves in their alone time.   These distractions come in the form of friends, the internet, food, alcohol, marijuana, shopping, tv and even homework.  Anything, instead of having to deal with their emotions.  Why is that?  I think it is because if people stay busy they don’t have to admit they don’t really like themselves.

When I ask students in my office to tell me what they like about themselves, I usually get a long pause.  Those words don’t come easy for most.  However, if I ask the same students what they don’t like, I better have a pen and paper ready because I’m going to have a list of many things in a few seconds.

Some people have never had a positive role model in their life.  They’ve never had someone say positive things about them or even seen anyone have a positive attitude in general.  This person will not only have to learn how to create positive thoughts, they will most likely have to work hard at erasing all the negative voices in their head.  Some people are lucky and have had people around to support and love them.  However, they are still their own worst enemy.  They still have to learn to find their own positive voice inside.

Let me tell ya, a little kindness can go a long way.  It has to start small.  You aren’t going to wake up one day and find that you are suddenly full of love for yourself.  The first way to start is to think of little things you enjoy or like about yourself.  They can be about the way you look, feel, or things you do.  You can even appreciate things that no one else does.  Not everyone sees things the same way.  For example, my dad believes to be successful you have to make a lot of money.  I realized I started to feel successful when I saw how I could help people.  Even though I don’t make a lot of money doing it.   Others don’t have to agree or believe the same way for you to believe it about yourself.

Another example is this:  A girl walks into a grocery store to buy ice cream.  As she grabs the Ben & Jerry’s off the shelf, a girl on her left thinks, “I wish I could be that skinny and eat ice cream.”  Another girl on her right thinks, “No wonder she is so fat.  She eats ice cream.”  So what should this girl believe about herself?  That she is fat or skinny?  It all depends on who she asks I guess.  That is why it is important to develop your own beliefs because not everyone is going to have the same perspective.   And that is okay.  Beliefs aren’t wrong or right.  However, they can be more positive or more negative.  Many people tend to believe more negative things about themselves.  In order to change, you have to sometimes shove out what you’ve heard from others and develop your own ideas.

This isn’t easy, but it is also not impossible.  Beliefs are very powerful and you can change them.  I’ve also found that no one can reassure you but yourself.  Some people think they need to be in a relationship to feel good about themselves.  They feel if someone else loves them then it will be easier to love themselves.  However, I’ve found your significant other can tell you all day long that you’re smart and fun, but if you believe you’re stupid and boring you will bounce those compliments right off your negative shield.  It is good if there are positive people around you, but it doesn’t always make a difference unless you choose to embrace those positive beliefs yourself.

This means you can be single and still learn to love yourself for who you are.  It is actually better to learn to love yourself before you get into a relationship.  Then you won’t be as vulnerable to people who tell you what you want to hear just to get something from you.  You will be confident enough to see through other people’s manipulation and strong enough to stand up for yourself.  You will also be more willing to wait for a truly great person to come along.

P.S.  Just because you love yourself doesn’t mean you can’t set goals and improve things about yourself.  But it does mean that you shouldn’t try to improve only because you are comparing yourself to others.  Once you can let go of the comparing game, you can spend that time focusing on your own beliefs to reach the goals that make you happy, not someone else.

P.S.S.  Just because you love yourself also doesn’t mean you can’t spend just as much time and energy to love others.  You don’t have to stop doing one to improve upon the other.  There is room for yourself and others in your heart.

Letting Go of the Safety Net

Still have that number programmed into your phone?  You know the one of that person on the back burner who you only call in those lonely moments when there isn’t anything better to do?  The casual hook up that you know you shouldn’t indulge in because that person has more feelings for you than you have for them?

Being single can be tough sometimes, hell, a lot of the time.  It can be an ego boost to have that one person who happens to adore you unconditionally.  You’ve probably asked yourself several times why you aren’t head over heels in love with this person.  They are perfectly nice, good looking and fun, but there seems to be something missing.  Love is strange like that.  It doesn’t always make sense why some people just hit us harder than others.  This person on paper seems perfect, yet you aren’t drawn to them like other people in your past.

Yet, you can’t let them go either.  They continue to stay on the back burner for a reason.  It is very rare for a person to go from the backseat position to the front.  However, your brain may lie to you and convince you to keep this person around, just in case.  Just in case you have you have a wedding you need a date for.  Just in case no one better comes along.  Just in case you do cut them loose only to find they were the love of your life.  It feels safer to have this person around then to delete that number from your phone.

No one likes to make a mistake.  Some people have a hard time making choices and are afraid of making the wrong choice.  Here is this person that doesn’t turn you off, but doesn’t exactly turn you on either.  It can be very tempting to keep them around in case you change your mind.  However, in this case, another person’s heart is involved.  If they are into you, then it is going to be a crazy roller coaster ride of emotions for them.  While you are busy looking for other people to date they are going to feel lonely and left out.  When you need them in a moment of weakness you are going to give them hope for the future.  Only to disappoint them again if someone with more potential comes around.  You may not realize that they are hanging on every move you make, hoping for more one day.  Giving them hope can be very cruel, even though it may seem very innocent to you.

You may also tell yourself that it isn’t your fault that they continue to take your calls.  You may think they have a choice, and that they don’t have to hook up with you if they don’t want to.  What you are failing to consider is that their emotions are a lot stronger than yours.  That makes them not so smart when it comes to making decisions about you.  They KNOW they shouldn’t text you back, but they can’t help it.  They are in love with you, and you just gave them a glimmer of hope.  It is really hard to turn away from that.  What they also don’t need is your pity.  Don’t text them because you feel sorry for them.  They need you to make a choice.  Either love them or leave them alone.

Leaving them alone means letting go of your safety net.  It will help them see reality and be able to move on.  You learn to be alone and not depend on someone you “sorta” like in moments of loneliness.  If they were really just your friend there wouldn’t be this awkwardness when you do talk about other people you are attracted to.   You know when someone is just your friend and when they’re the person you keep on the back burner.  There is a difference.  In moments of loneliness choose to hang out with friends or family.  Find a new hobby or find new places to hang out where you will be able to meet new people easily.  Being alone is different than being lonely.  Many single people learn to be content being alone at times without being lonely.  It is possible.  It is a matter of adjustment in the way you think and in the things you do.  Being alone at times isn’t the worst thing that can happen to you.

It is a better choice than to use someone just because you’d rather be with them over being alone.  That isn’t a good reason to be with someone, and it isn’t fair to them to be your second choice.  Try going solo for awhile without having that backup phone number programmed into your phone.  You may find that it helps you meet someone you are truly into sooner rather than later.  Once you learn to be content being alone you don’t come off as desperate to others.  You may also try harder to meet new people since you don’t have that safety net to fall back on.  It isn’t easy, but it is the more mature way to go.

What Could Have Been…

Are you the type of person who second guesses your decisions?  Do you go back and think about any of your ex’s and wonder what it would’ve been like if you didn’t break up?  If you do, you aren’t the only one.  I have many students who come into my office because they wonder if they’ve made a mistake.  Or they regret breaking up with someone.  Loneliness has a way of twisting your thoughts and making the past seem more idealistic than it really was.  A couple of things I’ve learned are that you can’t go back and it doesn’t help to live in the past.

It is good to sometimes remember your past relationships and smile about certain moments, or remember things you definitely don’t want to repeat in the future.  However, it isn’t good to fantasize about any of your ex’s and believe that somehow you missed out on the best thing that ever happened to you.  When you’re single you can have those moments when you romanticize how it was to be in a relationship.  You may think to yourself, even the bad times were better than being alone.  I would have to disagree.  Watching so many people suffer through bad relationships I can attest that it isn’t always easier than being on your own.  A friend who was in a bad marriage once told me when I was single, that at least there was potential for me to still find happiness.  Being single is just a different kind of pain and frustration from being in a bad relationship.

It is easy to believe that things may have turned out differently if you only stuck it out with your ex.  Most of the time, this belief is false.  Break ups happen for a reason.  If you were the one to break up with your ex, think back to why you really made that decision at the time.  It could be for a number of reasons.  Maybe you didn’t feel attracted enough to your ex.  Maybe they didn’t spend enough time with you or you were too busy at the time for a relationship.  Maybe they were disrespectful to you or were manipulative. If your ex broke up with you, remember there was a reason they didn’t put you first.  Whether it was really about them and not you, they still chose to leave, which means you do deserve better. Whatever the reason, don’t forget about those negative qualities that broke you up in the first place.  So many students will tell me about what they miss.  It is hard for them to remember what they really don’t miss.  Sometimes you have to push yourself to be more realistic about your ex and your past relationship with them.

So many people are unhappy because they are thinking about what they don’t have or wishing they could have back what they used to have instead of being grateful for what they already have.  I know this isn’t easy.  It is why many Americans live beyond their means. Its always easy to focus on what we are missing in our lives and want more.  With the technology today we are able to see what so many other people have.  Ignorance is bliss.  If you didn’t realize what you were missing, it may be easier to be content.  However, we do have the ability to see other people living lives we wish we could have.  This can make it harder to let go of your past relationship if you’re tempted to think about what life would be like now if you’d never broken up with your ex.

My advice is to try and stop yourself when your thoughts start to go in this direction.  This takes some effort and creativity.  Some people actually tell themselves to stop out loud if they are by themselves.  I recommend having a note card handy in your purse or wallet that has positive statements written down that you can easily access in a bad moment.  A lot of students look at me like I’m crazy when I suggest this, but it usually does work.  When you are in a good mood, write down what you like about your current single life.  Then when you are in a bad mood and can’t think straight it will be helpful to see those statements in black and white.  It is hard to think of positive things when you are in a negative mood.  However, you can’t think a negative and a positive thought at the same time.  If you want to have a pity party, go right ahead.  Sometimes that will help, but if you want to get out of feeling sorry for yourself sooner, I suggest changing the kinds of thoughts you are putting into that imagination of yours.

Another thing a friend once told me that helps me in a bad moment is this:  If everyone put their problems in a big pile and you could see them all, you would be happy to take yours and not look back.  One of the worst things and best things about my job is that I get a front row seat to people’s pain.  It is the worst thing because it is hard to see people in pain.  It is the best thing because it makes me feel blessed to own the few problems I do have in my own life.  It puts a lot of things in perspective for me.  I hope if you are living in a world of what could have been, you will stop and be thankful for what is and look forward to what could be.

Great Expectations

Expectations are like hope…a double edged sword.  They are good to have because they can be very motivating.  On the other hand, they can lead you to places of great sadness.  So what to do?  To have or have not?  I’ve pondered this many times.  My pessimistic self says, don’t have too many expectations.  They can lead to a lot of disappointment.  However, if you don’t expect anything of yourself or your life, how will get anywhere.

For example…is it dangerous to expect or even hope you will find a great person to date and eventually marry?  There are two sides to this coin and I will try to explore each side.  Maybe I’ll be able to find a happy medium.  Since I’m a pessimist by nature I will explore the negative side first.  For instance, it may not be too dangerous to expect that you are going to get married.  Statistics point to the fact that you have a good chance.   Most people do get married in their lifetime, sometimes more than once.  However, some students I meet have high expectations for not only who they are going to marry but when.  I know some people who say they want to marry right out of college.  It can work out for you this way, but you may feel very disappointed or wonder what is wrong with you if you don’t get married in this expected time line.

In my experience, friends and acquaintances who have put too many expectations on getting married by a certain age tend to settle.  They just want the title so bad they don’t really care how they get it.  I don’t think this is a smart idea.  How about the expectations on who you are going to marry?  This can be tricky.  I would say the negative side of this expectation is setting the bar too high or being too narrow minded in your opinion.  You never know who you are going to meet and be attracted to.  You might think you only are attracted to people who have dark hair and are athletic, but you may be surprised by who really catches your eye and is a keeper.  I also think some people focus too much on what their partner should do for them in a marriage and not on what they need to bring to the table.   Some people expect to be taken care of and always be put first.  This isn’t how marriage always works.  I think it is important to also focus on your own character, not just your partner’s.  If you want to be with someone great, then try to be someone great yourself first.

Now, for the positive side of expectations.  I think it is a good thing to dream and use your imagination when it comes to your future.  I think it can be great to have expectations for how your life is going to turn out.  You don’t need to settle for less in your life.  The great thing about having expectations is that is can push you to a higher level.  I always tell people to believe in themselves.  You may not think someone could be attracted to you either because they have more money, they seem a lot smarter, or in your mind they are way more hot than you see yourself.  I find that love can be blind at times.  It sees beyond money, brains, and sometimes even looks.  You never know who may fall in love with you.  I have dated people who never went beyond a high school education.  They didn’t think I would be attracted to them because I had my Master’s degree and went to a private school.  It didn’t really matter to me that they didn’t go to college as long as we had other things in common.  I also underestimated myself a lot.  I would often think I wasn’t pretty enough for someone to be attracted to.  I wasn’t confident and probably missed out on opportunities because I didn’t think they were possible.  Some of the guys who have asked me out I’ve thought were out of my league.  They saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself at that time.  I wish I would have had higher expectations because then maybe more doors would have been open to me.

I’ve seen a lot of disappointment  and a lot of great things from having high expectations.  I think it is good to have some realistic expectations, but be willing to make changes and compromises in your vision for your future.  Nothing is set in stone and people change.  As you go through college you change so much.  You will also change even more in the few years after college when you go out and live on your own and have your first career type job.  No one says you have to be married by 25, have your first child by 28 and live happily ever after with a vacation home in Aruba.  Everyone’s vision is different and you may have to adjust yours if your timeline is a little off what reality is going to throw your way.  Also remember, that some people do marry young and it works out.  However, some people marry young and change a lot.  Some people end up divorced and it wasn’t what they expected to deal with in their life.  When things change, roll with it.  A lot of people get divorced and then go on to meet the love of their life in their later 20’s, 30’s or even 40’s and 5o’s.  None of us have a crystal ball, so we make the best choices with the information we have at the time.  If your choice doesn’t live up your expectations, you can either make adjustments in your expectations or make different choices that lead you in a different direction.

Like most things in life, you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.  I think this is true of having expectations and hope.  It has its wonderful side, but it also has a dark side.  I recommend pushing yourself, but not too hard!  It is a fine line to walk.  I know this is true for yourself, your relationships and even when you become a parent.  There will be days when your realize you pushed too hard and had too many expectations, and there will be times when you don’t push hard enough and you realize you may have missed out on an opportunity.  All I can say is, just keep doing your best and that is all anyone should ever expect of you.

The One That Got Away

Do you ever get over your first love?  How do you move on when you still love someone but either they don’t love you back or life seems to keep you apart?  These are questions I ponder sometimes.  I get asked all sorts of questions in my office.  Luckily I’m not a black and white thinker, because most of the questions I get asked don’t have black and white answers.  Do I believe that some people go to their grave loving someone they couldn’t have?  Yes.  Do I believe some people are able to move on and get over the one that got away?  Yes.

It is hard for me to tell a student that yes, eventually they will move on.  The fact is that some people do NOT move on.  Some people never get over someone from their past.  I unfortunately don’t have a crystal ball and can’t tell if they are going to find someone better than their first love who has broken up with them.  I believe it does happen to most people that they move on and find someone else who they love even more than the one they thought got away.  However, not everyone gets married in this life and not everyone marries someone they are head over heels in love with.  This leaves the door open to fantasize about the one you did love.

You would think that if someone has had the experience of being in love they wouldn’t settle for something less.  I find this isn’t always true.  Some people feel they will never find someone better than that first one.  They settle in the next relationship because they feel they have no choice.  Their true love either can’t or won’t be with them.  Instead of being alone, they stay in a relationship they aren’t satisfied in and continue to fantasize about the one that got away.  It is easy for you to romanticize a relationship you are no longer in.  You can imagine how that person would fulfill your longings more than the person you are currently with.  It is easy to block out some of the bad stuff and only focus on what you miss about a person.  You don’t have to go through the daily stresses or have a build up of petty arguments to help your rose colored glasses fall off.  In other people’s cases, they fell in love with someone but the timing or other things in life kept them apart.  Again, it is easy for someone to romanticize what this relationship could have been.  You will never know what reality would’ve brought you in that relationship.  That makes it easy to fantasize about all the great things you are missing out on because life has kept you from this person who you believe was supposed to be with you.

I think this is why a lot of people hold onto thoughts of people from the past.  In my opinion, it is better to be alone than in a bad relationship.  If you truly did love this other person, than wait until you find someone who makes you feel that way again.  People who stay in unsatisfying relationships usually end up cheating or making it worse by taking out their resentment on each other.  In any case, it won’t bring back the one you are still fantasizing about.  It keeps you locked into the past and this is why some people never move on.

Here are the facts as I see them.  Life is short and it isn’t fair.  You aren’t going to always get what you want.  I also know some people really get the shaft in this life.  Sometimes the one that got away didn’t just move or date someone else.  Sometimes that person dies.  A good friend of mine’s fiance died in a car accident a few months before their wedding.  I remember her thinking at the time that it took her so long to find him and now he was gone.  I know she thought, “what if there isn’t anyone else out there for me”?  What could I say?  I couldn’t assure her that she would definitely meet someone else that she would love as much as she loved him.  I also couldn’t tell her that she definitely wouldn’t either.  I remember her stating at one point that she was afraid she would settle for someone and always be thinking about how things would’ve worked out with her fiance.  She made a pact with herself that she would wait until she found someone she wasn’t going to constantly compare her fiance to.  She grieved his loss for a long time, but then realized that life does go on.  It isn’t easy and it isn’t always fun, but it just keeps moving along whether you want it to or not.  She did eventually meet someone, got married and has kids.  I’m thankful that she waited because it wouldn’t be fair for her current husband to live with a ghost from the past.

Some people may be saying, “It’s easier to move on when someone has died.  It’s not so easy when the person you love is still walking around and isn’t with you”.  I agree, this can be harder to get past, but it isn’t impossible.  I don’t think you can hold onto the past and move towards the future at the same time.  I truly think if this person was meant to be with you, then it will work out at some point in the future.  You can choose to wait for that time or you can choose to take some control and look for other possibilities in the meantime.  My suggestion is to not settle for someone in the meantime because of the dangers I mentioned above.  It makes it easier to hold onto the fantasy and harder to actually move on.

It does take time to get over someone.  You shouldn’t push yourself to move on too fast.  However, I think it is healthy to eventually let go of fantasies of someone who has chosen or isn’t able to be with you.  Life is full of choices.  I truly believe it is harder to get over some people than others.  However, I also truly believe we have a choice over what we want to focus our thoughts on.  It’s true that you will have moments when this person comes into your thoughts out of nowhere.  You may think about what could have been for a few minutes, but then I think you should try to refocus your thoughts on what you’ve been given.  I always think it is better to be thankful for what you have than to think about what you don’t.  Also, remember that we have a lot of room in our hearts.  You don’t have to forget about one person to make room for another.  Just also remember that the one that is currently in your life is the one who should get most of your focus.  If you want a relationship to work, you have to put that person first.  Your relationship is doomed if your partner is constantly competing with a ghost from the past.  Do your best to let go of the one that got away and focus on the one who is to come or the one who has chosen to be part of your life already.

Unrequited Love

I’m reading a book called “All He Ever Wanted” by Anita Shreve.  It is set back in the early 1900’s in a New England college town.  It is about a college professor that sees this woman and instantly falls in love with her.  He meets her and starts inviting her to go on walks with him around town.  It is obvious that he is in love with her and she is merely just fond of him.  He asks her to marry him even though he is aware that she may not love him back.  At first she tells him no because she admits she does not love him.  Instead of backing out gracefully he practically begs her to be with him.  He plays to her weakness and offers her an opportunity to raise her own children and run her own household instead of living with her sister and being a governess to her children.  She agrees to marry him when she sees how much her rejection has affected him.

They get married a couple of months later and immediately after the ceremony he finds her in a room looking in the mirror with a horrible look of despair on her face.  He is aware at that moment that she has regrets, but believes his love for her will win her over in time.  Their honeymoon is lackluster to say the least and he is unable to please her in bed.  During the day they seem to get along and have a friendly relationship, but it is very cold in their bed at night.  The book then flash forwards fourteen years later.  They now have a 13-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son.  Everything is the same in their marriage.  He continues to love her more every day despite their horrible sex life and she continues to focus on her children and is merely friendly to her husband.  I haven’t finished the book yet, but it hints that she meets another man and their marriage somehow falls apart.  He is narrating the story from a time in the future when he is alone and traveling to his sister’s funeral.  The book has a thread of sadness throughout.  It doesn’t look like it will have a happy ending.

Yet, I am intrigued by this story because I can put myself in his place so easily.  As I read this story I want to scream at this man to wait for someone else who will really love him.  Yet if I’m honest, if I was in his position, I would probably be able to convince myself of the same things he does.  I would tell myself that this person would love me more over time.  I could also see myself reading into things to keep myself in denial about the reality of the situation.  I know other people can relate as well because I see this a lot in my office with people who are in love.  They don’t make any sense.  Nobody does when they are blinded by love.  They will torture themselves without mercy in order to be closer to someone they have deep feelings for.  Everyone around them is frustrated by their exercise in futility, but they continue to have hope that this person will love them back if they just try hard enough.  A person in love is so sad when they aren’t around their object of affection that they can’t believe they would ever be happy if they gave up their pursuit.  This is why unrequited love can go on for so long.

A person can also feel so happy in the presence of someone they love that they truly are blinded to how the other person really feels.  This story is also interesting to me in that love makes the guy somewhat selfless, but also selfish at the same time.  He would bend over backwards to make her happy in selfless acts of love, but doesn’t realize that not pushing her to marry him and allowing her to eventually find someone she truly loved would have been the more selfless act.  Instead it seems incredibly selfish for him to push her to marry him in order for him to be happy.  He does not truly consider how she feels at all because it is hard for him to imagine her not as happy as he is.  The woman in the story is also in the same boat.  Some people would say she was truly selfless to give herself to this man who truly loved her so much.  She gave up her own happiness to make him happy.  Yet, she holds herself back from ever growing to love him.  She only marries him because she wants to have her own children and because she feels sorry for him.  She may have believed at the time that she would never have the chance to marry someone else and have her own family.  She then uses him to gain those things she desires.

I think it is ironic that he marries for love which is what most of us aspire to, but it isn’t a good thing.  She marries to make someone else happy, which is another seemingly selfless act, however it back fires horribly.  My point in unrequited love happens to the best of us.  I don’t understand the reason for it because it doesn’t make sense for someone to have to suffer so much.  That suffering usually leads people to make unwise decisions.  It is easy to see from the outside, but from the inside it becomes blurry.  No one wants to be in pain.  Unrequited love is painful.  The brain tells you that this person makes the pain go away.  Therefore you will stop at nothing to be around this person, even though another part of your brain tells you that you’re only making it worse by continuing to put yourself in this position.  Only time will make it more painful to be with someone who truly isn’t into you than to be around them.  When that time comes, it is easier to walk away and be open to finding someone else to love.

It can be a long process to find someone who equally loves you as much as you love them.  It always seems to me that a lot of relationships are unbalanced in the love department.  After reading this book, I would encourage people to wait for the one that loves you back and don’t settle for someone that you don’t really love just because they love you.  It doesn’t usually work out well because years of a marriage can easily build up resentments.  It is better to start off as equally as you can because marriage isn’t easy in the best circumstances.  I also recommend this book to anyone who has gone through unrequited love.  It is an excellent read.

It Was All A Dream

I have a great imagination.  Even when I was only 5 years old I was already imagining having a boyfriend.  I was in kindergarten and he was in 5th grade.  I liked him because he was cute and nice to me on the bus.  I’ve always been the type of person who was able to pretend very easily.  I can retreat inside my head and live in my own little world.  I have an idealistic personality type.  I usually see the potential in things rather than the reality of the situation.  Sometimes this is a blessing and a gift, other times it’s a curse.

I grew up thinking about marrying this guy who would be loving and affectionate.  He would be able to put up with my moods or make them disappear altogether.  He would also think I was the most beautiful person in the world.  I had this dream inside of my head, and I didn’t know if it would ever become a reality.  Would I ever find this ideal person?  Would anyone ever find me beautiful or think my moodiness was sexy?  In my fantasy world I believed this person existed and that I would find him.  I lived with this dream and some days it was the only thing that kept me going when I was single.

Even in college I held on to my dream of finding, not the perfect person, but the perfect person for me.  Someone who would just get me.  After I graduated and started my career in counseling my dream slowly began to fade.  I started to see the reality of relationships in the families I counseled.  I started to realize how hard it really is to communicate and get along, let alone raise a couple of kids.  I started to realize how hard life is for most families.  My fantasy world didn’t seem anything like the real world I was witnessing.  At first I was sad.  I didn’t even know if I still wanted to get married.  I started to think it was better to be by myself.  Then I would get invited to a wedding of a friend of mine and a flicker of my imagination would kick back into high gear.  I would see my friends so happy on their wedding day and I still wanted that for myself.

However, I didn’t get married when most of my friends did.  So, after a few years of being around married couples I realized it wasn’t just my clients that had communication problems.  My friends had great marriages, but I still witnessed plenty of arguments and heated moments.  I witnessed exhaustion over trying to get kids to eat their dinner and get ready for bed.  I witnessed financial struggles as well as struggles to get pregnant.  So many stressors on a marriage.  I thought to myself, how does anyone make it these days?

By the time I finally met my husband, I had a more realistic view of relationships and marriage.  I remember meeting his grandparents, who have been married over 61 years, and thinking, “how have the made this far”?  I asked his grandmother what helped their marriage last so long.  She told me that having a lot of humility (the ability to admit when I’m wrong and say I’m sorry) and common courtesy (being polite to each other) went a long way to creating a long-lasting marriage.  To be honest, I didn’t really consider those things when idealizing my perfect marriage.  Now I do realize that they are very important and that she is very wise.  It is much easier for me to do something for Steve when he says please and thanks me afterwards.  It is nice to hear him admit when he is wrong and it makes it easier for me to do the same when I’m wrong.  It is easier for me to let go of past hurts and not build up resentment and I’m sure it is the same for him.

I took her wisdom which has helped me so much more than my fantasies from childhood.  In my dreams I would make up in my head that my husband would always love me no matter what I said or did.  I realize now, this is not true.  I can poison my husbands thoughts and feelings against me very easily if I’m not careful.  Just because he said “I do” at our wedding doesn’t give me license to take advantage of him.  I think a lot of people let their guard down in a committed relationship.  I know I used to think that if someone loved me they would put up with everything about me.   I didn’t imagine that I would have to work so hard and reign my personality in a lot of the times for the sake of my relationship.  Now I know that I have to make a lot of sacrifices and so does my husband.  If we were going to have kids, we would have to make even more.

Marriage is not a dream of happily ever after.  It is about two people who love each other enough to gut through the hard times and not take advantage of each other in the weak times.  It is about admitting when you are wrong and being nice even if you don’t think you have to be that way anymore.  I’m glad I was able to shed my imaginary relationship.  I remember thinking one day a few years ago that I could stay single and keep the fantasy in my head for the rest of my life, or I could accept reality and be in a long term relationship with a man who can be hurt and would most likely hurt me at times.  I eventually chose to give up the dream and marry the real man who is now my husband.  He is not even close to perfect, but neither am I.  Together we are making it work one day at a time until hopefully we can say that we’ve made it over 61 years together.

I hope if you are single and waiting for “the one” to come along you will let go of the dreams you have for your marriage and embrace reality.  Focus on being the right person instead of finding the right person.  Be realistic about sacrifices that will have to be made and that you won’t be able to do whatever you want when you want while having a relationship at the same time.  Being single is hard, but being married isn’t any easier.  I’m not saying your should settle and marry just anyone because marriage is hard no matter what.  I’m saying that even if you find the best person you could possibly find, it will still be hard at times.  You will still have to admit when you’re wrong and say please when you want something if you want to make it last.  However, I can tell you that it is worth it to give up the fantasy to live a real life with someone you do love.  I hope everyone is able to have that in their life at some point.