I'd heard that old saying many times growing up. Unfortunately, like so many other things I heard, it went in one ear and out the other. We have a tendency to dial out clichés and good advice in general. After all, something so easily acquired can't be worth much, can it?
Well, perhaps it's worth more than I first thought.
Relationships come in many shapes and sizes. Some are better than others, some we have whether we enjoy them or not (relatives come to mind), and others come and go. Regardless of who it is or the nature of the relationship, one thing is certain, the people we surround ourselves with play a major role in defining who we are as a human being.
However, when it comes to the people in my circle of trust, it took a long time for me to realize that I was not cursed by bad luck, I wasn't drawing the short straw, and God wasn't pulling strings to make sure my life remained a miserable existence.
Simply put, I was my own worst enemy. I was the one choosing with whom I would spend my time and with whom I would not, be it friends, girlfriends, business partners, or even people at Starbucks. As difficult as it is to admit, I was to blame for my relationship woes.
Yes, it's true that birds of a feather really do flock together.
She loves me, she loves me not.
Some of the relationships we care about most are often the ones that do the most damage. It's also interesting that those are the ones we put the most effort into when, instead, we should be using that effort to get as far away from them as possible.
I've had bad relationships of all kinds, from business partners to co-workers, "besties", family members, and people who have cut me off in the fast lane.
But among the worst of the worst were with the women I dated.
These women were supposed to be people I could care about, people I could trust, and people who reciprocated that care and trust. They were supposed to be there for me when I needed them most. At the very least, they were supposed to be fun to hang out with. I understand we're going to have good days and bad, but I can't tell you how many times those bad days turned into bad months.
Eventually, the misery ended with our goodbyes (or with the abrupt "click" of being hung up on), leaving me broken down, exhausted, and swearing on a stack of bibles to never again venture into the world of romance.
I didn't always look for the right qualities in the women I've been in relationships with. I've dated more than a few with deep-seated personal issues that no man could undo, no matter how hard he tried. And I tried.
While I believe in being there for someone, doing so at the expense of my own sanity crosses the line. After all, I wasn't married to any of these people nor even engaged. Except for the woman I’m married to now, my high school girlfriend was the only girl I ever gave a ring to—and it was my senior class ring. She only wore it for six months, until she too broke the circle of trust.
In their defense, I was certainly no catch and not someone a woman could plan a future with, nor was I interested in planning a future with them. I just enjoyed "living day-to-day", as I called it. I didn't uncover the real reason I was terrified of marriage until later in my life, but that's a subject for another post.
Looking back, I had several reasons for being hesitant to make a commitment to anyone, but perhaps one stands out above the rest. I never had confidence that any of those relationships would last, even if I thought I wanted them to. I'm glad I listened to my gut (which I now know was the Holy Spirit and God's protection) because the truth is, if I hadn't, I'd have a few divorces under my belt by now. One day, after many, many years of repeating the same horrific relationship patterns, it finally occurred to me that when you find yourself in a romantic relationship that dictates your happiness, or even your identity as a human being, it's time to consider making some serious changes.
Not guilty by reason of insanity.
That's what I told myself each time I reflected back over another disastrous relationship as I drowned my sorrows in my beverage of choice. I came out of each and every one feeling depressed, lonely, hopeless, and most of all, foolish.
And for good reason.
The word foolish has a few meanings, but the one I'll refer to here is "a person who is unwise, lacking judgment or prudence."
My process for finding love went something like this: keep looking until I could find someone who would be willing to date me, enter into a long-term relationship with them with the expectations of marriage but without the commitment of marriage, and without the intent of ever getting married.
Then, live happy ever after. This may sound silly, and even though I had no clue at the time, I’d agree with that assessment now. But as true as that is, why do so many people go about forging their relationships in this very same way?
Your bad relationships do not define you.
Let that sink in for a moment.
We all have the desires to love and to be loved; we’re innately wired that way. But that doesn’t give us cause to lose total control of our emotions and throw good sense out of the window. The negative effects of a destructive relationship—in the physical, mental, emotional, and especially in the spiritual sense—can be compared to having cancer cells injected directly into your body. That may sound harsh, but it’s reality and there are statistics out there to prove it.
I allowed many of those romantic relationships to have too much power over me. That’s a conscious choice I made. In fact, the relationships themselves weren’t even all that good. Rather, it was the idea of having something we all want—that we’re all innately wired to want—that proved to be my Achilles Heel.
I’m the one who determined that having a relationship was an indicator that life was good, that I was doing alright, and that I had something most people wanted. It made me feel special, cared about, and honestly, more like a man to have a woman at my side. I perceived having a relationship as a source of strength, even if it came at the expense of my mental and emotional well-being. The irony is it served as a huge brick wall that separated who I was from the person I wanted to be.
Your relationshipsdo not define you. Nothing of this earth defines you. Whether you believe that or not will depend on how honest you’re willing to be with yourself. Speaking from experience, I can say that honesty doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as being in an unhealthy relationship, and in fact, can lead you to personal freedom like you’ve never had.