intentions

why dating myself changed everything

It was a Friday at the end of July, 2013. The evening before, my two-year relationship had finally ended. I still think of that Thursday as my own personal day of liberation.

He was still living with me, would continue to live at my apartment for the next four days before he moved out to live with his parents in a nearby town. But I woke up that Friday morning with a weight off my shoulders, a feeling of such blinding lightness and release that I don’t believe I’ll ever forget. I don’t want to forget it.

Before I got ready for work, I wrote a group text to my closest friends letting them know what had happened. None of them were surprised, all were relieved and hopeful. We’d broken up briefly a few weeks before, at his pleading and promises I’d agreed to give him a second chance. He blew it, of course, and I was done.

The song lyrics to Christina Aguilera’s “Fighter” pretty much describe the relationship and everything I feel about it, and him, now that it’s over. I’m not sorry it happened. It changed me and set me on a revolutionary course in my love life.

Once we’re out, the best thing that can result from a toxic relationship—or really any relationship, toxic or not—is a reevaluation of everything we believe about love and partnership. Clearly I didn’t know what I was doing, between my disintegrated marriage and my stint as punching bag and “sugar mama” (ugh) to a charming and manipulative thief. At first I was so giddy with relief and confused by the pain of detachment, I couldn’t think further ahead than a few weeks.

I read a lot of rich, validating books during those first months—books about breakups, about choosing yourself, about narcissists and emotional abuse and boundaries. And I realized that I’d never actually taken the time to think about what I wanted in a relationship. I mean, what did I actually want?? I knew what I didn’t want—a lying scumbag or a man-child like my ex-husband. But where did that leave me?

I came to the conclusion that the best thing I could possibly do for myself was not to date for a while. A long while. To remove myself from the dating arena entirely until I’d figured a few things out. But I didn’t want to be single by default again—killing time until the next guy showed up, using my energy to look or long for him. I wanted to be consciously single, to feel empowered by my choice not to date or enter a new relationship.

More than that, I wanted to date myself.

From my senior year in college on, I never had a chance to really be single—not involved with or distracted by a man or men. Between my boyfriend who became my husband who became my ex, to the men I dated while we were separated, to the man I ended up allowing to live off me for two years, I hadn’t ever truly taken a break from romantic encounters, and certainly not on purpose. I was a late bloomer in dating, didn’t have a boyfriend until college, but of course I didn’t spend those early years consciously creating a healthy sense of self-worth, I mostly had a series of crushes that went nowhere. When my husband and I split up, it would have been a great opportunity to take a long, honest look at myself.

Instead I was scared of being alone, lost without my married identity. I wanted to find what I thought I was lacking pronto—a new partner who would take me away from myself and all the unprocessed emotions from the last few years of crisis, loss and separation. So I ran headlong into the lion’s den and held myself an anxious, unhappy prisoner there.

In my heady sense of freedom when I finally got out, I vowed never to make those mistakes again. I had a second chance to embrace the kind of growth and self-awareness I could have prioritized after my marriage ended, and I was going to take it—joyfully, purposefully, powerfully.

I gave myself a year, though was open to ending that year early if I felt I was ready. But I intentionally set out to date myself for a year. This meant consciously giving myself all the time, effort, attention and affection that I’d previously given to men. Not being distracted by a lack of men or my interest in men, but focusing on what I needed—and giving it to myself. Recognizing what healthy partnership means to me and what I want it to look like. Loving myself in every way, learning what it means to be the partner I need. Identifying and writing down my core values. Writing letters and journaling to process pain, anger and shame from my past. I made an empowering playlist which I listened to while I walked my neighborhood, cleaned my apartment and sat dreaming in my living room. I learned to trust my instincts, to recognize and honor my own boundaries.

I invested in a relationship with myself in a way I’d never imagined possible.

About midway through this year, on a particularly festive New Year’s Eve out with two friends, I ended up kissing a stranger at midnight, who then asked for my number. I gave it to him—not because I wanted to, I didn’t, but because I hadn’t prepared a response. He texted the next day and asked me out, to which I never replied. I was hung over and full of chagrin, and took stock of where I was. I hadn’t meant for that to happen, but did it mean I was ready? If not this guy, would I want to say “yes” to the next one?

The answer was a very emphatic “no.” I wasn’t ready to give this up yet. I wasn’t ready to stop pouring my energy into me—relishing my alone time—living my life without the drama that dating and relationships bring. Of course there were lonely moments, but I had friends, family and pets to help me through those—not to mention myself. I lived through holiday weekends alone, I learned from the lonesome moments. I thought about a future partner, but I didn’t feel the lack of one.

Eleven months after my breakup, I went to a Match.com rafting event with a girlfriend. I enjoyed it, and found I was interested in what online dating could offer me. I was ready to dip a cautious toe in the pool—but this time I was prepared. I was going to do this differently and I knew exactly what that meant—conscious dating, open to adaptation as needed. I wrote my New Rules in Love and read them over daily. When I started communicating and going on dates with men, I listened to my gut—my best and truest ally—and never doubted or second-guessed what it told me. If it said never see this man again, I would tell him it wasn’t going to work and move on. I journaled before and after almost every date, keeping a clear perspective on every experience, discussing my reactions openly with friends.

And it was fun. I had fun meeting different men—always a little nerve-wracking right before the date began, but once it started I was fine. I allowed myself to say both “yes” and “no” frequently, dating from a place of strength and abundance and confidence, rather than fear and lack. I took breaks from dating for weeks at a time, hiding my profile and giving that energy back to myself. I eventually stopped online dating after six months, it was just too time-intensive for me, but it was a good way to get back in the game. After that I met men in the real world, which took intentionally accepting invitations to social events and creating my own opportunities to go out and talk to strangers.

When I met the man I’m with today, I knew immediately and instinctively that he was a good person. We chatted, exchanged numbers, met up casually at a concert the next week. Eventually I texted him first—but not out of desperation; I had another date that week with another man I’d met. After my first date with my current partner, I knew something was very different—and even then, we both took our time. We didn’t rush, nobody got love-bombed. Every step of the way going into this relationship, I used my conscious dating techniques. I continued to remember what mattered to me, to invest in my own wants and needs first. Even as my life opened to include him, even as we compromised and became closer, I made myself a priority. We’ve been living together for more than six months and I’m still doing that. It’s the healthiest relationship I’ve ever had—because I’m also still in a great relationship with me.

I believe he and I work because we share the same core values—ultimately I think that’s what creates the best chance for compatibility long-term. We have our issues, we talk them out. I see us building a life together, and I feel hopeful and excited about the future.

But at the same time, I know I’ll be OK no matter what happens. I’m not afraid of losing him. This isn’t cynicism or pessimism or denial; it would be devastating and heartbreaking beyond belief if we broke up. But I’d still have me. I’d still have a full life and as many chances for happiness, fulfillment and joy as I do with him. I’d still have a whole identity, something I never understood or valued before.

Dating myself was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I wouldn’t be the partner I am now without that experience, wouldn’t be in the relationship I am, wouldn’t be the person I am. Whether we’re on our own by choice or not, we don’t have to just live through singlehood because that’s what fate handed us, to sit resignedly in the Singles Waiting Room until we can board the next dating train. Societal pressures aside, being single has advantages we often fail to appreciate, not the least of which is a chance to intentionally prioritize ourselves.

If we redirect the energy we’d give to a partner or dating into ourselves, instead—into our ambitions and desires, our growth, our finances, our friendships, our hobbies and travels—for even one month, it might just lead to some pretty amazing results.

Dating ourselves isn’t solely a means to building a better, healthier love life in the future. It’s a radical and empowering re-imagining of our beliefs about love, partnership and fulfillment.

And that changes everything.

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40 things i’m giving up

As I contemplate turning 40 in two weeks, I’m ready to give up a lot of things. Things that have taken up time, energy, attention and ROOM in my heart and mind in my first four decades. Things that helped me become who I am today, but might not serve me any longer. By finally letting go of these behaviors, patterns and beliefs, I hope to create space for more of what really matters to me.

40 Things I’m Giving Up as I Turn 40

  1. Allowing others to disrespect, demean or devalue me. Been there and done that. It left its scars. I don’t need to try to convince anyone that I deserve to be treated better. I just won’t accept being treated without respect or consideration.
  2. Putting up with manipulation of any kind. Guilt trips, pressure, emotional abuse, games, steamrolling over my thoughts or feelings, tantrums. None of these are acceptable between adults, I won’t engage in them or play along ever again.
  3. Talking down to myself. I’m my best friend, strongest ally and partner for life. Rather than using angry hate-speech in my own mind, I’ve consciously started to speak to myself with a respectful, positive, loving honesty and treat myself with kindness.
  4. Negative filters. Viewing anything—relationships, situations, work, the world at large, other people, myself—through a filter that only allows me to see the things that might be negative, problematic or “wrong,” ignoring all the extraordinary things that are positive and right.
  5. Having expectations for how things will be. Getting attached to an idea of how something “should” be, setting myself up for disappointment when it doesn’t turn out that way, assuming that I know in advance how something is “supposed to” happen. It’s far healthier to commit to intentions and let things play out as they will.
  6. Believing that I should be anything other than what I am at this moment: skinnier, healthier, richer, more fit, more successful, more ambitious, a mom, a homeowner, married… more, different or better in some way.
  7. Feeling like an ugly duckling that never quite became a swan, like I somehow missed my “blossoming.” I’m blossoming RIGHT NOW. Every minute of every day I get to blossom, physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally and in character, until my last moment on earth.
  8. Being self-conscious. My extremely draining, awkward self-consciousness peaked when I was about 18 to 25. I’ve been on a downward trend lately, feeling less insecure every year, and find it incredibly relaxing. I’m ready to give it up for good and enjoy the same steady self-assurance that I had as a young child.
  9. The need to be RIGHT. It doesn’t serve me. It doesn’t serve anyone else. My truth is my own, and I can stand centered in my truth, but in the end it doesn’t matter who’s right and who’s wrong. I can drop my cases against others, drop my grudges, and give that energy to compassion, forgiveness and learning.
  10. Overwhelming, debilitating self-doubt. Listening to that negative voice of doubt telling me I’m going to fail has never helped me achieve anything. My inner wisdom tells it to me like it is and inspires me to work for my goals, all the while making me feel loved, encouraged and appreciated. That’s much more productive in every way.
  11. Not trusting my gut. Until recently, I did what I thought I was supposed to do or was told I should do, rationalizing away or outright ignoring the voice inside telling me “this is not OK.” It led me to making some terrible decisions and caused a lot of suffering. Now I trust my gut for everything. From the smallest reactions to the biggest decisions, my instincts will lead me exactly where I want to go by the best possible route.
  12. Compromising myself for the love, affection, attention or approval of others. I don’t need to earn love. I’m worthy of being loved exactly as I am, and anyone who expects or demands otherwise will not be trusted with my heart.
  13. Judging myself for not spending my time or energy a certain way. I could be giving more time to helping others, and I hope I will in the future, but that doesn’t mean I’m wrong for spending my free time in the ways that feel right to me right now.
  14. Worrying about looking foolish. Honestly, what does it matter? There are so many other things that I could be giving my attention to, rather than feeling embarrassed or worrying that other people are going to think I’m stupid or silly.
  15. Not speaking my mind or standing up for myself when it really counts. I try to be impeccable with my word and conscious of what I do and say, not speaking out of anger or to hurt, but I don’t have to hold my tongue out of politeness or fear when something deeply affects me. If the other person doesn’t want to hear it, that’s OK, but I’m allowed to say what I need to say.
  16. Not taking care of myself—neglecting myself and subverting my needs for the needs of others. There are times when other people are going to require more of my attention and energy, but my own health and happiness are always going to be my first priority, even as I honor the needs and take care of others.
  17. Overspending, under-saving and getting into debt. I didn’t manage my money for many years, and ended up in deep debt because of it, wasting a lot of time and energy being anxious. From here on out, I’m committed to carefully managing my money as well as enjoying it.
  18. Living in my old story. I’m no longer the person who believed that story or needed to live it in order to prove herself. I know what’s really true about myself and who I am today.
  19. Not giving myself credit for all the truly amazing things I am and do every day. All the things I do right. All the things I accomplish. All the ways I’m generous and loving and kind. I know I can always improve and learn and grow, but I also get to celebrate everything I’ve achieved so far.
  20. Endlessly spinning my wheels about something that won’t matter in 5 days, not to mention 5 weeks, months or years. I know I’ll still sweat the small stuff sometimes. I’m just a lot faster and better at reminding myself that life is short. This is it. We don’t have forever, we just have right now. Worrying isn’t productive or useful in any way. If I can do something about whatever’s bothering me, then I’ll do it. If I can’t, then I’ll find a way to let it go.
  21. Skimping, short-changing and playing small. I’ve spent a lot of time focused on lack, and it’s only led me to feeling insecure and pessimistic. When I focus on abundance, knowing there’s enough for everyone including me, I can accomplish so much more with my time and resources.
  22. Judging others. I can’t help but have my opinions sometimes, but they aren’t necessarily true. My truth is just that—mine. I can dislike and even disapprove of what someone is doing and still not righteously condemn them or believe that I know best.
  23. Comparing. My journey is my own. My mistakes and successes are my own. My timeline is my own. My body is my own. It’s all perfect and perfectly unique, and won’t benefit by being compared favorably or unfavorably to the journey, body, timeline, or choices of other people.
  24. Challenging others over trivial things. Having opinions is fine, I can speak up if I feel that someone is being offensive or abusive or I want to calmly share my views, but otherwise it’s a waste of energy and goodwill to get heated about sensitive issues or differing ideas, especially in casual conversations.
  25. Surviving on autopilot. Living day to day just barely making it through, overwhelmed and consumed by lack and fear, that’s something I never want to go through again. I commit to finding the deepest fulfillment and highest happiness for myself, whatever that might mean, and not accepting anything that stands in the way of it. I commit to thriving, and making the most of each day I have left.
  26. Shame. Feeling ashamed of who I am, what I’ve done, all my mistakes. I can take full responsibility for my choices without being weighed down by a load of ugly and useless shame.
  27. Over-apologizing. I’m accountable when I make mistakes, and will sincerely apologize for any hurt or inconvenience I cause. But I don’t need to use apologies as my gut-check response to everything. And I certainly don’t need to apologize for being myself, being human or having needs, wants and feelings.
  28. Taking things personally. In work, relationships, dating, family, it just isn’t worth it to take anything personally. Even when my initial response is to feel hurt, if I can just take a tiny step back and see that it’s not about me, I can see the truth of the situation much more clearly.
  29. Toxic people in my inner circle. By my definition, toxic relationships are those that suck my energy, bring negativity to my life or require more of me than I’m able to give. I now allow myself the freedom to end friendships, cut ties or just separate myself emotionally when I don’t feel the interactions are a source for good for either of us.
  30. Playing roles I’ve outgrown. Many of the ways I’ve defined myself in the past aren’t true to who I am now. Words that I used to describe myself and traits that were assigned to me or adopted by me at different times no longer apply, if they ever really did. Either way, they’re not authentic to my life today and can be left behind.
  31. Unhealthy boundaries. After living without boundaries and suffering for it, I understand how important it is to establish and enforce my personal boundaries. I’m now comfortable speaking up when my boundaries are crossed and relaxing them when I’m ready to adapt to a new situation.
  32. People pleasing. It’s a wonderful feeling to make the people I care about feel valued and loved. But it’s not so wonderful to swallow my anger or deny my hurt because I’m afraid of disappointing or upsetting anyone. It’s a codependent tendency that I learned early on and am finally ready to start unlearning for good.
  33. Bad habits. I challenge myself to continuously notice behaviors that are unhealthy or unhelpful, figure out what’s behind them and create healthier habits in their places.
  34. Making assumptions and believing them. Barely listening when someone is speaking because I assume I know what they’re going to say, jumping to conclusions, becoming attached to my ideas about how something is. Letting go of the clutter of assumptions will leave a lot of empty space to learn from others and challenge my preconceptions.
  35. Saying yes when I don’t really want to. I’m allowed to say no. I didn’t believe that for a very long time, but now that I know it’s true, I’m prepared to face the consequences of refusing when it’s right for me. It isn’t the beginning of a negotiation or the chance for someone to manipulate me into a different answer. It’s just no.
  36. Meeting other people’s expectations. Even if I helped create them at one point, as long as I’m clear about myself and the choices I’m making today, other people’s expectations are not my responsibility or problem to solve.
  37. Using old ways of measuring “good.” My mind still echoes with voices from my childhood instructing me on how to be good, how to impress authority figures, how to present myself best, what rules to follow. But none of that applies anymore. I’m the authority figure. I’m the person who decides what defines good and successful for me and what’s necessary for my growth. NO ONE ELSE. Every time I hear those echoes, I remind myself of this.
  38. Acting out of fear. Withholding love, suppressing my desires, subverting my needs, not taking necessary risks, missing opportunities, avoiding failures, hiding. You can either be brave or safe, you can’t be both. I trust my inner guide to help me face my fears with awareness, compassion and strength.
  39. Waiting for “someday.” There’s no magical ideal future waiting for me. This is it. This is all I’ve got. There are things I want to accomplish that aren’t priorities right now, but I’ll never again wait to be happy until my ship comes in and everything I imagine comes to fruition. I want the life I have, right now, exactly as it is today.
  40. Not living as my authentic self. I know what it’s like to feel like a stranger in my own mind, to be constantly off-key, constantly working to make it all fit somehow. It’s exhausting and overwhelming. The key to my happiness and fulfillment is knowing my core values and living aligned to what matters most to me in every single aspect of my life.

 

intentions vs. expectations

A few weeks ago, I sat with a friend on her porch in the sunshine, drinking beer and discussing relationships. “You know,” she said, “I’m realizing that women who have what they want got it because they had clear intentions. They didn’t just let things happen to them, they really knew what they wanted.”

I resisted the urge to leap up and shout, “Dear God, YES!!! This is EXACTLY what I’ve been saying for more than a year!!” Instead I resisted the impulse, nodded and agreed. “You’re so right. Intentions make all the difference.”

Everyone has to come to her or his own understanding of life’s biggest truths. How many times did I hear about the power of intention before I understood it in relation to my life? (Dozens, I’m guessing.) How many times did I read about toxic relationships, without applying it to my own? How many times was I presented with wisdom and advice that would have been invaluable to me, without seeing its value?

We all absorb information in our own way, relating it to ourselves if and when we’re ready. I look back at past journals and find pages describing wise solutions to my biggest issues, pages that I wrote myself, and am only now finally ready or able to absorb. My friend had to make her own discovery about intentions, no matter how many times she might have heard me or others say how important they are. Now she has the opportunity to apply that discovery—and to rediscover it again, and again, if necessary.

I’m in that process right now, too.

Even though I’ve understood the power of intention for years, and have applied that power to learn, grow and thrive, I’m only now learning how much I need to manage my expectations and replace them with intentions. It took rereading a passage by Mark Nepo for the third time, along with a series of small let-downs, to help me finally recognize this truth.

Expectations of how something will go, how someone will act, what outcome I’ll experience, all have a measure of entitlement, and almost always lead to disappointment and the reinforcement of limiting beliefs about myself and relationships. I can’t control what’s going to happen, and when I find myself being attached to expectations—not goals, and not standards for what’s acceptable or unacceptable, but my own projections of how something should be—I set myself and others up to fall short. Who am I to say how something should be, anyway? How do I know what’s best, given my own limited perspective and biases? There’s almost no way to avoid a negative experience when my expectations are inflated and ignited, when I’m attached to a mental image of the way things are supposed to turn out.

Intentions, however, are within my control, and consistently lead to positive experiences. The difference is not only in what they represent—a relative experience rather than a specific desired outcome—but in how I create them. Intentions are conscious, requiring me to understand and prioritize what’s most important to me. Of course we all operate on subconscious reflexes and desires, but the very definition of intention indicates a purpose, awareness of an objective.

With expectations, the objective is simply to have what we imagined come true in order to satisfy our egos. It implies that we’re somehow entitled to that outcome because we thought of it, we want it and it sounds good. With intention, I’m forced to determine the purpose driving anything and everything I do. My relationships. My health. My finances. My daily life. As well as any particular experience, such as having specific intentions for a social engagement, a meeting or a trip.

Sometimes intentions are easy. I know when I meet a dear girlfriend for coffee, we’re going to catch up on our latest stories, listen, validate, laugh, show support, provide honest advice if asked for, and come away feeling recharged by the time together. Those are my intentions for our date. But if I had expectations for how it was supposed to go, that we would talk for X minutes about me, that I would get X feedback, that she would say X and I would feel X about it, chances are I’d be let down—either that or be working so hard to manipulate the situation, I’d kill any possibility of spontaneous connection and the natural flow of conversation.

There’s actually a reason the cliché question for suitors is “what is your intention?” Intention implies a conscious objective, knowing yourself and what you want so you can bring that to your relationships, so it can inform every decision you make and even affect your unconscious actions. “What is your expectation?” would imply something very different, that you already have an expected outcome in mind, regardless of the opinions, wants or ideas of others, rather than simply an intentional purpose. People are described as having expectations for inheritance, passively waiting to receive what others choose to bestow on them, being disappointed if those expectations aren’t met. Visionaries who accomplish great things in life don’t have expectations for what will happen—they have purpose, and that allows them to falter and fail and try again, not limited by anything, not even their own imaginations.

I still struggle with this, with managing my expectations for others and myself as well as for specific situations. I’m still learning this lesson, continually reminding myself to let go of my attachment to the outcomes I think are going to be “right,” and focus instead on what matters most to me. Because in the end, I know this is the only way to find true happiness, fulfillment and alignment with myself. The only way to get what I really want.

Hopefully, at some point, this truth will finally stick.

choosing my words

A few years ago, a friend told me about an end-of-year practice of choosing two words. One represented the year that was ending, one the year about to start. I’ve continued this practice since then, and found it a simple and surprisingly powerful way to realize my intentions about the new year. It doesn’t involve goal-setting or resolutions or month-by-month reviews of what happened in the past. All of those practices can be helpful, but this is a hell of a lot simpler. Just choose two words, or sets of words, that represent each year to you. (There aren’t any rules, you can choose nouns or adjectives or verbs, many words or just one.)

It’s been interesting doing this over the course of multiple years and keeping a record of the words, as I often find in December that the word I chose the previous year accurately described my experiences. Last year I chose thriving as my word for 2014, and I felt like it was truly a year of thriving. It was also a year of personal breakthroughs, so that’s the word I chose to describe it in hindsight. Other words I’ve chosen have been adventure, acceptance, grace, loss and freedom. My words have even switched midyear, when I felt like they needed to change.

The simple practice allows me to both look backwards and to set intentions in a positive, effortless way. It never feels like a chore—it’s just two words! I look at where I’ve been and where I want to go, finding a word that represents what I’d like to accomplish in the months ahead. At the same time, the word for the previous year gives me a gentle resolution for what has come and gone.

My coming-year word is open to all kinds of interpretations and uses. It could be a sort of mantra, or a theme for my journal. I could choose to write a poem a week on the topic of the word (or more realistically, maybe a poem a month), and/or try to embody the word in the choices I make. It’s up to me how much or little I want the word to stay with me.

And, if I look back next December and the year had nothing to do with my word, I just choose another one to describe what happened, feeling empowered to change my story as it unfolds.

My 2014-2015 words…
2014:  breakthroughs
2015:  love

UPDATED 1/13/2016:

My 2015-2016 words…
2015:  release
2016:  balance