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.
A 20-something trying to find what it means to be me!