I grew up believing that marriage was the end-all, be-all of a woman’s life. Family, friends, religion, they all confirmed this belief. The fact that I was already late to the dating game and didn’t seem to find a reliable partner added to the frustration and loneliness I was feeling.
It took me a long time before I gave up my convictions and embraced the idea of living alone, possibly for the rest of my life. Ironically, the moment I let go of any expectations, I found the man who is now my husband.
Looking back to all the struggles and heartache that could have been avoided, I can see where I was wrong to either cling to relationships or give up too soon. I’m grateful for these experiences that shaped me, but I remember needing guidance at the time and not receiving any empowering advice.
This is what I wish my young self would have known and applied in her life:
I needed to be in a place of emotional maturity.
I don’t know if this feels true anymore, but I’ve experienced this quiet assumption that men were the ones who needed to become “ready” to settle down. Women were supposed to be born ready and wait patiently until the guy reached an acceptable level of commitment.
Feminism and social emancipation may have changed relationship dynamics, but ten years ago, I never asked myself if I was ready to settle down. I automatically assumed that I was, and I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I wasn’t mature enough by any standard. I had little control over my emotions, and any misinterpreted words, looks, or actions threw me off. I didn’t know how to fight right, how to be assertive, or how to give someone space.
I freaked out if my boyfriend didn’t pick up the phone; I got upset over the tiniest of things and sulked instead of openly expressing my feelings. I acted insecure and clingy, suffocating relationships in their early stages.
And most of all, I didn’t love myself. How could I expect anyone to love me?
Slowly, life shaped me into a more even-tempered balanced person. I learned to give the other person the benefit of the doubt when they didn’t call me back. I learned to set healthy boundaries and be more persuasive with the things I wanted in my life. I learned to accept rejection and not take it so personally.
But it took me a very long time — turning thirty was like a coming of age.
. . .
I needed to fight for my dreams.
My first serious relationship was intense, and it moved very fast from one stage to another. I didn’t know any different, and my own parents’ example didn’t help— they got married three months after they met.
Before I could even wake up from the “honeymoon” phase, my boyfriend was already planning our life together — without me. He was wild and reckless, which was initially the reason I was attracted to him. But his dreams about the future included living a sustainable life off-grid before it was fashionable. Things got very real when he found a secluded cabin in the mountains and asked me to give up university and move there with him.
I was two years away from graduating and working as a dentist at the time. My parents strongly disagreed with our relationship, which added to the stress of our situation. When I realized his world was so different than mine and that he never intended for me to work, open an office, or even live in the city, I naturally freaked out. And I felt incredibly embarrassed for being so stupidly naive.
There’s nothing wrong with living close to nature, and this lifestyle appeals to me now, as we’re moving closer to a more quiet, peaceful existence. But it wasn’t my dream at the time; it was someone else’s. And he was trying to force me into it.
History repeated itself a few years later. This new partner hated leaving his comfort zone and was overly attached to his parents. He was kind, and we had some things in common, but after dating for two years, I realized we didn’t share that many interests after all. I had big goals, but he wanted to play small. I loved traveling and moving, and he was a homebody.
Once more, I had to give up dreams and reinvent plans for the future, just to accommodate my partner’s wishes. It didn’t work out, and I’m grateful for that.
Over the years, I’ve learned to be more assertive. I realized that giving up my dreams wasn’t my partner’s fault; it was my own for not speaking up. In any relationship, one person will naturally be more dominant than the other, and that’s how resentment builds up. I’m lucky to have learned to speak my truth before it was too late.
. . .
Changing cities is a big deal, and not everyone will be up for it.
I have shallow roots, and moving is incredibly easy for me. I like the novelty and excitement of it; I like the clean slate. Because of my nomadic nature, I’ve changed cities a couple of times to be closer to the guys I had feelings for. Needless to say, it didn’t end well for many reasons.
One of those reasons was that they wouldn’t have done the same for me. And what’s even worse — deep down, I knew this. But I was so afraid to let go, to have yet another relationship go sour, that I chose to ignore it.
Most of the guys I’ve been with didn’t want to move. Some loved the city they were in; others were simply comfortable. One of them had even built his own house, which was impressive for a twenty-something, but it also meant that he wouldn’t give it up for me.
When I met my husband, I was in a place of transition. I had applied for a position in the UK, and I was waiting to hear back from the company. Relationships were the last thing on my mind, and I was convinced that if I got the job, it would have been the end of us. But he surprised me by offering to move with me, even if it meant relocating to another country. No one had ever done that for me, and it felt so reassuring.
I didn’t get the job, but we did change cities together — we moved to our dream town in the mountains. And we’ll move again if we want because home is not a physical place. It’s being in each other’s presence.
. . .
I never needed a man to settle down.
I wish I’d realized sooner that I had the option to “settle down,” pursue my career, decide on a city, buy an apartment — all of this without a man. That just wasn’t on my radar until I got really fed up with relationships.
In my late twenties, I was still living like a student: I shared an apartment with multiple people and lived entirely for the weekend. My career suffered from all the moving, and the little money that I had was spent on clothes, trips, and hiking gear.
In my mind, getting married was the catalyst for adulting, for starting to build a future with someone. And since I didn’t have that, there was no point in getting serious about life.
At some point, I got fed up with it all — renting godawful apartments, not having the freedom to decorate, not affording furniture or nice things, hating the city I was in. I was alone, and for the first time, I dared to dream about how my life would look like if I had designed it entirely for myself.
Being alone felt like a gift. I was now free to choose the city I liked, to focus on finding a better workplace, to dream about buying land and building a tiny house. I promised myself I would do all those things and more.
Dreaming big and accepting my situation helped me solidify my identity and my goals. When I met my husband, I was already in this place of newfound confidence and optimism.
. . .
I once thought that love was enough to make any relationship work, but it turns out there are so many other aspects of life to consider.
Maybe I have the idea of love wrong. Maybe if it’s all-encompassing and mutual, if partners put each other’s well being first, things will work out.
Love is often not an equal exchange, and so many things can disturb a very fragile balance. In my case, it was bad timing and wanting different things, coupled with not being yet mature enough to be part of a healthy, nurturing relationship.
Settling down is hard work. It’s not a prize waiting for you at the other side of commitment, it’s not a “happily ever after.” I’m still learning to grow roots, tame my restlessness, and live a steady lifestyle. So far, I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.
This post was previously published on Hello, Love.
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