By many measures, my relationship with my current boyfriend, known to y’all here as The Cowboy, is the first healthy relationship I’ve had. Though it’s easy to sit back and look at the failed relationships of my past and blame the men who “hurt” or “betrayed” me, I am certain that my relative success this time around has had a lot to do with me changing key behaviors that sabotaged me before. I’ve listed four big ones here for you.
1. Stop expecting bad things.
I had a rough childhood, and I got good at certain survival skills that hurt me as a grownup. I was mistrustful of everyone. Defensive. Overly independent, able to disconnect from people like they’d never mattered. This was rooted in a subconscious belief that I didn’t deserve love, and it ended up as a self-fulfilling prophecy, again and again.
This time around, I made a conscious effort to act like everything would be okay, even when I went into panic mode. I did as Dr. Phil suggests, and faked it ’til I made it. It worked. I am no longer in the habit of expecting bad things to happen to me. I now assume good things will come. And they do.
2. Quit comparing yourself to his ex-girlfriends.
The Cowboy is the first man I have ever dated who told me right from the start that he did not need or want to know about my romantic history. He has shared next to nothing with me about his own romantic past. Before him, every man I ever dated wanted to go into excruciating detail about his exes, in a hope to bond with me I suppose. The result of such over-sharing was a constant nagging awareness of the women who’d come before. It was hard not to compare myself constantly to them. The Cowboy is absolutely correct when he says that partners need to maintain the illusion of being the first and only loves for one another, if there’s any hope for that love to be the last.
3. Dress like you’re dating, all the time.
In the past, I used to think that if a man loved me he’d just have to accept me looking like crap. Once we’d passed the dating stage, I reasoned, it was okay to just sort of let myself go. After all, I thought, he loved me for what was inside. This was a mistake.
I’ll never forget the day The Cowboy, upon seeing me in my Birkenstocks, laughed out loud and said, “Darlin’, you just don’t get it, do you?” He then told me that he thought partners ought to dress not for themselves, but for each other. “You’re the one who has to look at me,” he said, “so I figure you might as well like what you’re looking at.” Truth was, I loved looking at him. It was a source of pride for me to be seen with him, because he looked so good. Why would I not want him to feel the same about me?
I went out that same week and got some jeweled flip-flops that were as comfortable as the Birkenstocks, but did not set off alarm bells of ugliness in Cowboy’s mind. That little extra effort is a sign of respect and consideration to your mate, and one that will have lasting positive consequences—including the bonus that you will probably feel better about yourself all of the time, even when he’s not around.
4. Find your own happiness first.
For years, I sought happiness in my mate. I thought my mate would save me from the existential terror of being alive and alone. After my marriage, and before The Cowboy, I finally decided to do that one thing that everyone always said you should do, which was to find peace and happiness as a single woman first. This had scared me, a lot, all my life, for all of the reasons alluded to in point No. 1. I’d always needed a boyfriend, and being so desperate meant I’d probably chosen men who weren’t quite right for me, because to me that seemed better than being alone.
By the time The Cowboy met me, I’d gone through the feared solitude, and come to terms with it. I’d spent time with me, and learned to like me, even to enjoy being alone so much that I got to the point that I would have truly been okay with remaining that way. I liked me, and I built myself a life that I liked, too. You have no idea how appealing this is to a man who is also happy with himself and his life! Happily single women are also less attractive to needy, unstable men, because they know you’ll kick them to the curb.
Your own happiness is the best insurance you can have against bad relationships, and modeling a good relationship is the best insurance you can give your child that he might one day find one of his own.