Many people, myself included, have never been in a healthy relationship. We have taken abuse - both emotional and physical - and have been treated less than we deserve to be treated, partially because we didn't know we deserved any better. At least for me, I thought the constant anxiety and giving 110% just to get nothing in return, was normal. To me, that's what a relationship was.
When people started telling me that I deserved better, and when I finally realized I deserved better, I wondered, well how will I know once I'm in a healthy relationship? What does a healthy relationship look like?
Now that I'm (finally!) experiencing one, here's what I've learned:
1. They will respect your boundaries
I have never been good with boundaries, but I'm starting to practice them now. So, I set some up with my partner and got an "okay, cool. No problem" in response. And that was that. There was no bargaining, no "okay, but...." I expressed what I needed and my decision was respected. In a healthy relationship, each member should feel comfortable both setting up boundaries and respecting their partner's.
2. You will laugh all the time
This was one I didn't expect, but in my new, healthy relationship, I laugh. All the time. Neither of us take ourselves too seriously, and it's amazing. In a healthy relationship, laughter is a sign that you feel safe and comfortable with your partner.
3. It's not all about sex
Another shocker to me was that in healthy relationships, people talk about deep, personal things. They go out on dates to museums and movies. They share their favorite books and silly youtube videos with each other. They cry together. A healthy relationship is about so much more than physical intimacy or sexual satisfaction. And that's amazing.
4. You will feel safe
I never realized how not safe I felt in my previous relationships until I finally felt safe in this one. Feeling safe in a relationship means expressing your fears and desires and emotions without fear that the other person will judge you or leave you because of it. Feeling safe means falling asleep while cuddling, something I never thought was possible. Feeling safe means being 100% you and knowing that being yourself won't scare your partner away. In healthy relationships, both parties feel safe - safe to be who they are and say what they feel. And it's a beautiful thing.
5. The partnership will be equal
Being my codependent self, my previous relationships were all based on trying to be the perfect girlfriend, so that my partner wouldn't leave me. This meant having sex when I wasn't ready, driving ridiculously long hours when I wasn't asked to, and always paying when we went out for dinner. This meant texting them every day, to make sure that they still liked me. I was never asked to do these things - I felt obligated to. If I didn't go above and beyond what was asked of me, then they would leave me. I needed to give them an incentive to stay.
Now, I don't do that. I give as much as I want to give, and I receive in return. I'm not constantly worrying if I'm pretty enough or if I'm behaving like a good girlfriend should - because I know that they're not going anywhere. I trust my partner, and they trust me. Now, my relationship isn't work, it's effortless and freeing, like the most logical thing in the world.
6. You will be honest in your communication
Another thing that goes along with being codependent is wanting to be perfect all the time...well, spoiler alert: No one is perfect! But what this meant for me in relationships was that I would always hide how I really felt, if that emotion wasn't happiness or arousal. If I was worried or angry, I would swallow it. If I was sad, or nervous, or uncomfortable (especially uncomfortable) I wouldn't say a word. I had to be the perfect specimen all the time, because who wants a girlfriend with feelings, right? Wrong.
In healthy relationships, all emotions are authentic and expressed. And being angry or frustrated doesn't make your partner love you any less - It's just confirmation that you aren't a robot.
7. You will be excited about the future, while living in the present
Finally, healthy relationships bring excitement, and a desire to bring out the best in the other person and in yourself. But a healthy relationship is also realistic. There's no wedding planning before anyone is ready, and both parties understand that life happens and nothing is predictable. But in a healthy relationship, none of that unknowable future matters, because all you can think about is how happy you are today, and how much you want to make each second together count.
"A soulmate is the one person whose love is powerful enough; to motivate you to meet your soul - to do the emotional work of self-discovery; of awakening" - Mu'
I found this quote a few years ago, and I didn't really understand what it meant.
Now, as I'm deep into this journey of self-love and self-respect, this quote means so much to me that I almost want to get it tattooed on my body, somewhere where I will see it every day as a constant reminder to stand up for myself.
I have lived most of my life trying to please others. I've lived in fear of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, or simply being wrong. Each decision I made was carefully calculated to be the best for everyone else. And then, when people would still treat me poorly, or not like me, or disagree with me, I would get angry at myself for not being good enough.
I'm done consenting to feeling inferior.
Because really, that's what I was doing. I was choosing to live on everyone else's terms, believing firmly that they knew what was best for me. I was consenting to feeling inferior.
Since I've discovered self-love, I refuse to allow myself to feel inferior. I refuse to be treated like an object. I refuse to be used and then discarded.
I am worthy of respect and love. And it is my right to not accept anything less than what I deserve. I deserve to treat myself the way I treat others, with love and kindness and respect. And I deserve to surround myself with people who treat me that way too.
Unfortunately, this means I've had to walk away from many friendships and relationships. My circle of friends is much smaller than it used to be. And that's been hard. But since I've experienced unconditional self-respect, I refuse to go back.
And you should too.
No one can make us feel inferior without our consent.
I will be the first to admit that I never thought I would consider myself a "minimalist". If you know of me (or even have stalked me on Instagram for any short amount of time) you will know that I like stuff -- specifically clothing and accessories. (Oh and shoes. Can't forget the shoes.)
This love affair started for me at around 13 years old, when I finally started making some money of my own, teaching piano lessons. Suddenly, I had caught the shopping bug...each weekend it was a new purse or a new pair of shoes that I most certainly didn't need, and that I would probably only wear a few times before it got shoved to the back of my closet, never to be found again (fast fashion, anyone?).
Sitting here, reflecting on it now, I realize that I have never felt okay without having stuff around me. It wasn't just about the shopping. I can probably count the days as a kid that I could see the floor of my bedroom. My closet was never organized. My clothes were never put away. My bed was never made.
I write this in the past tense, but the truth is this was me up until about a month ago. I've been living alone for almost two years (!!!) and my friends can attest that I needed about a week's notice if I was going to have friends over because it took me about that long to make my apartment even presentable to the outside world. I had to put my clothes away, do maybe a month of laundry, do some dishes, make my bed, vacuum, etc...the list goes on and on.
And then, by some twist of fate/life happening, here came April and suddenly I WAS FORCED INTO BEING ORGANIZED. Basically, I'm moving out of my apartment in August, so my landlord needs to start showing the apartment. And I get one day of notice before a showing. So guess what? This means I have to keep my apartment ready at all times to show to potential renters. No more messy kitchen. No more laundry all over the floor. Time to maybe start making my bed.
Oh, I don't know, maybe start acting like a grown-up.
I took the impending move as a sign to start de-cluttering. I went beyond just washing dishes and hanging up clean clothes. I took the time (with the help of my best friend, of course) to really take a step back and examine all the stuff I had in my apartment, and decide whether or not I really needed it all.
(Spoiler alert: I didn't.)
I still have three more grocery bags of papers to go through, but here is what my bedroom looks like now:
Beautiful, right? (Look at that carpet! You can see it!)
I'm sitting here writing this blog post in my organized, clean, beautiful apartment and I'm realizing something. Having a clean apartment feels good. Like, really , really, really good. And I find myself wanting to keep everything clean and organized. (I hung up a pair of pants today after deciding not to wear them...progress, not perfection!)
And here's what I think it comes down to:
It's no coincidence that at about the same time I started organizing my apartment I experienced self-love for the first time (It was an emotional and life-changing experience, but a blog post for another day). The two things are inextricably linked.
For me, self-love means knowing what I deserve, and accepting nothing less. This discovery was first applied only to my relationships with men and dating, but now, I realize that it's influencing every part of my life. Including my messy apartment.
Before, when I was hoarding stuff, it was because I didn't love myself enough to think I deserved any less. I felt (subconsciously) that if I was stylish, and kept acquiring things, I would somehow be more desirable. To friends, to family members, to significant others. I surrounded myself (literally) with things so that I wouldn't feel so alone. (This of course was all done subconsciously. I truly, consciously believed that being messy just didn't bother me). I didn't love myself enough to recognize my self-worth without stuff, without new purses and shoes and dirty dishes and dusty shelves. I didn't think I deserved anything better.
Now, all of that has changed. Now that I love myself (authentically, deeply, unconditionally) I realize not only that I deserve a clean house, but that I am me without stuff. I don't need the latest pair of shoes to be considered beautiful. I don't need to punish myself for being unlovable by not having a clean apartment. I am worthy of cleanliness, and I am worthy of minimalism.
Once I recognized this, my entire perspective changed. Suddenly, I didn't want to be around stuff all the time. The stuff bothered me. I felt uncomfortable in it. Yucky. Angry. Anxious. So I got rid of it (4 boxes worth, and still counting). I got rid of it and I feel lighter. Happier. More authentically me.
I can feel myself going down the path of having less because I've finally realized that I have all that I need within myself. I am complete regardless of how many sweaters I own.
And it feels WONDERFUL.
It's 1 pm on a Tuesday afternoon, and I'm staring at a giant pile of clean laundry in my closet, waiting to be put away. I'm getting ready to move in a few months (grad school!!!) and I'm using the move as motivation to de-clutter my life. With a lot of help from my best friend (check out her blog and follow her on Instagram! She's adorable), I have gone through my entire closet and donated three large boxes of clothes, and one medium box of shoes to Goodwill. What I allowed to stay is staring up at me from my closet floor.
As I start to hang up my newly cleansed wardrobe, I can see a trend emerging -- jeans, dark colors, sweaters and tank tops. This describes my daily uniform, which I only discovered once I had cleared away everything that didn't feel 100% authentically me. My closet is no longer filled with patterned dresses I only wore once, or that bright orange shirt I bought that one time when I was trying to "wear more color," or the pants-suit some sales associate sold me that was probably on trend for all of five minutes. Everything in my closet is filled with clothes that have stood the test of time and that make me feel amazing when I wear them.
Once everything is put away, I stand back to admire my accomplishment (and for anyone who knows me, having all my laundry clean and put away is an accomplishment). But what I see before me isn't just a closet of clothes, it's a representation of Greta, of my true self, of the person I have always been.
And it feels so f**king good.
Now you're probably wondering where the f**kboys come into this conversation. We are just talking about clothes, after all.
Remember all those clothes that I got rid of in my purge? The items that I was infatuated with when I bought them but got bored of after wearing them only twice? The pieces that went out of style after one season? There's a name for it in the fashion industry: it's called fast fashion. It's fashion that's not meant to be in style for a long time, so that by definition it requires people to shop more frequently, in order to stay "on trend." These items have no staying power whatsoever; since they aren't made to last long-term, they are usually cheaply made. Lucrative for businesses, not great for consumers' wallets.
Fast fashion is the f**kboy of the fashion industry.
(For those of you that might not be familiar with the term "f**kboy", here's one definition that I found on the internet: "A ‘f**kboy’ is a young man who sleeps with women without any intention of having a relationship with them or perhaps even walking them to the door post-sex. He’s a womanizer, an especially callous one, as well as kind of a loser.”)
Think about it: Both come with the intention of very little commitment, are usually pretty cheap, and are not made to last-long term.
But if that didn't convince you already, maybe this list will.
5 ways that fast fashion and f**kboys are the same:
1. They are both "on trend" right now.
F**kboys are a product of the "hook-up" culture phenomenon, most popular with college-age kids and 20-somethings -- casual sex with no commitment that provides instant sexual gratification without any thought of the long-term.
In a similar way, fast fashion clothing items are meant to satisfy the customer instantly, all the while having no intention of lasting longer than a season (if the clothing doesn't fall apart before then). And who are these fast fashion companies targeting? The same age group participating in "hook-up culture" (Take Forever 21 as an example...the company name says it all!)
2. They have no intention of staying long-term.
Just like that weird-looking jumpsuit that had the strange parachute pants, f**kboys are typically a one-time-only thing.
3. They complicate things.
In my experience, (with both f**kboys and fast fashion) these one-time, commitment-less experiences can cause unnecessary (mental and physical) clutter in one's life.
-Is he ever going to text me back? Anxiety.
-Why do I have no space in my closet? Frustration.
-Even though I am "on trend," why do I still feel so empty inside? Sadness.
These are just extra stresses in one's life that are avoidable and unnecessary. Since I've gotten rid of both f**kboys and fast fashion, my life feels so much less cluttered!
4. They distract you from your true self.
Again, speaking from experience, both f**kboys and fast fashion have a way of dimming one's ability to express their true, authentic self. Despite what pop-culture and the media might tell you, the commitment-less, romance-less, "friends-with-benefits" hook-up thing does not bring the self-fulfillment it promises. I used to think that no-strings-attached sex would empower me...it did the opposite. It made me feel less powerful, less sure of myself, and less fulfilled. This is the same for fast fashion. Sure, that model wearing that leopard-print halter top leather-fringed maxi-dress might be perfectly toned and smiling ear-to-ear, but it's an advertisement. You may feel cute in it now, but how are you going to feel about that $50 you spent in 3 months when no one is wearing leopard-print anymore and that same model is now wearing a latex pants-suit? Did you really buy that dress because it was authentically you or because it was "in style" at the time?
5. There are other alternatives.
Fast fashion is not the only option available to you while clothes shopping. F**kboys are not the only men out there to be involved with. Don't be afraid of commitment, whether it be to an item of clothing or to a romantic partner. Listen to yourself and strive to be authentically you -- don't think that just because it's "popular" now that it's your only choice. You have options.
We all have had f**kboys in our closets and in our beds.
I de-cluttered mine. Will you?
A 20-something trying to find what it means to be me!