The Me Who Got Away

I’ve been blessed to love a few good men in my lifetime. And by a few, I mean three.

The word ‘love’ isn’t something I throw around casually – though it seems to be a word to describe me, according to my friends. Even in my most intense love addiction moments, I know how important and potentially harmful those three little words can be when they’re strung together and dangling in between two people. In the past, when I became brave enough and there was no way to escape that lovin’ feeling, I willing proclaimed and gave my heart to each of these men. Two reciprocated, while one was quite unrequited – but the all-consuming feeling I possessed, didn’t change in the least. Though it may sound cliche and against any independently geared mindset – when I’ve fallen in love, I’ve gone balls-to-the-walls without holding back, and allowed myself to be emotionally available because I didn’t feel like I had a choice. And really, with these three characters, I never quite cared if my decision was revoked by the masters of fates, anyways.

Each of them, in their own way and right, swooped in, and within a short amount of time, I found myself completely infatuated with this man who so easily became a vital part of my existence. In looking for patterns in past relationships to help make the future less complicated and heartbreaking, I’ve discovered the men I’ve loved have all viewed me in a similar fashion.

They’ve all crowned me with the title of “The One Who Got Away.”

And no, this isn’t by my own interpretations or inferences, but months after the relationship came to a close, they informed me of their regret, of their thoughts of “what could have been”, and how above all other things, wished me the very best in happiness…and in love.

Mr. Faithful, the high school boyfriend and very first love, was devastated when I broke up with him a mere three days into the college experience. After I crushed his heart for a chance to date Mr. Rebound, and then karma broke my heart in return, I went crawling back to Mr. Faithful.  He refused round two…until we crossed paths a year later, and attempted to rekindle the flame that was lit outside of Biology class, four years before. Though it ultimately didn’t work out, in one of our final conversations he said, “Linds, I hope you know you’ll always be the girl I compare everyone else to. You’re the standard. You’ve raised the bar. And I know this is dumb, but I think you’ll be the one girl I could never really get a handle on.

A few months later, I started seeing Mr. Fire, and found myself blind-sided by this rugby player who played the game as well as he played with my heart. Though we never officially slept together, dated, or shared sweet-nothings – our connection was something both of us have determined as “unlike anything else.”  He ended whatever-we-were-doing out of the blue, and then we  ran into each other before I graduated at a bar. And as if he knew I needed to hear “why” I wasn’t what he wanted (and the girl he was on Facebook with a day later, was), he smiled at me, pushed the hair out of my face, and took a deep breath. I gave him a puzzling look, and he said: “I was afraid of not having anything to offer you and I should have just sucked up my pride and took the chance that I could make you happy. Tigar, when you move to New York and make big things happen, know that to me, you’re beautiful. You’re the girl who got away and I will always wonder what could have happened between you and me.”

And last by not least, my most recent ex-boyfriend, Mr. Idea, who though I loved the idea of, I also did love him and what we shared. Even as complicated, messy, and toxic as it was. Over Christmas, when I wouldn’t grant him the second chance he thought he deserved, he asked if he wasn’t good enough for me.  I quickly rebutted his statement by letting him know that we were both great people, but not great together. In a rare moment where he allowed himself to be vulnerable and off of his incredibly high-horse, he said, “I want you to be happy and I’m sorry I can’t contribute to that happiness anymore. You’ve been the love of my life and I’m so thankful to have known you. I guess, Linds, you’ll be the girl who got away, huh?”

While I’m completely flattered by each of their sentiments and will always hold the conversations and intimacy close to my heart, if I’m honest with myself, when I fell in love with these guys, I felt like I lost myself. I became so enthralled, so indefinitely invested in these partnerships, that I let me get away. The me who valued her independence, her alone time, her confidence, her ambitions – disappeared and these men became the most important element of my life. My priorities were damned and they were deemed deserving of all of my attention.

To their credit, they never asked me to change. They never discouraged my vibrant personality or my fearless determination to become a writer in New York – but when I was with them, whatever they wanted, whatever they needed , from pancakes to cleaning their apartment – became my responsibility. Even if they didn’t ask me to do them a favor, I showered them with all of the affection and attention in the world. Friendships and family ties became strained, my work quality fell, and I can distinctly remember standing in Mr. Idea’s bathroom, looking at myself in the mirror, and wondering: “Who are you, anymore, Lindsay? Are you really the girl who is defined by her boyfriend?’

So now, a few years and experiences stronger, I’ve realized my tendency to do this in a relationship. I’m well aware of my mothering-like qualities when I fall in love, even if in the dating scene, I’m far from a mommy-dearest. And this journey, in all of its ups and downs, has helped me to know how important it is to keep yourself in tact, even when butterflies are swarming your head and tickling your tummy.

This, of course, is easier said than done. A large part of the reason I allowed myself to become lost in my partner was out of fear. With Mr. Faithful, I was so afraid of being alone that I attempted to go back to him, even when I knew he wasn’t the man for me. Mr. Fire appeared to be everything I had ever wanted – and was somewhat stunningly unattainable – and to keep him, or lure him into committment, I wanted to please him. And Mr. Idea came into my life when everything else was uncertain and before a dramatic change, and I wanted nothing more than to have one steady thing. So if I had to comfort him, put him first, and bake him cupcakes constantly, I’d do it, so I wouldn’t have to face myself and my apprehensions.

Basically, fear of singleness swallowed up my faith in who I was. And instead of finding myself again, I sought to seek a new definition in a man I loved. That if love was truly the answer to all of my problems, how could I not make a man, my everything?

There is a fine balance between being in love with a person and still being able to be in love  with and focus on yourself. Even though relationships are give-and-take, the giving shouldn’t always be towards your partner by taking away bits of who you once were before you met them. True love, who is deserving of attention and three fine words, will want you to keep yourself as much as you want to keep them.

And if being the lady who slipped away means I must lose myself, then I’d rather be the woman who even if she destroys a relationship or picks girl’s night over date night, or isn’t accommodating or agreeable, she is still, above all other things, herself.

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I Am Ms. Right

Somewhere in this world, and perhaps in this city, lives a man.

He is a living, breathing, actual person with a history that I don’t know. He was born somewhere and he may or may not have moved away from his hometown. He has a freckle in an odd place that’s hidden away under his clothes. He has an ex-girlfriend who broke his heart, a certain way he loves to be kissed, and he may care less if the Jets won or loss. He has a food that he can’t get enough of, a vegetable he isn’t the biggest fan of, and a scar that has a story. He has buddies he’s known since elementary school and a teacher who made an impact that lasted past the classroom. He knows every single word to a few songs, has read a book or two that he couldn’t put down, and he has a place he dreams of going, but never has. He may have an affinity for Southern-raised women who are writers with blue eyes and big city dreams, who also have the independence and ambition to make them a reality.

I haven’t met this man. Or if I have, I don’t know it yet. But this person, with all of his incredible and messy qualities, is the man I have faith I will meet, and possibly marry one day. I don’t believe in the idea of a soulmate who makes your “half” a whole, but I do trust there is a single person for everyone, who is suitable (and preferable) for life-long commitment.

Before this journey, the fact that my person, my hubby-to-be, existed, and I had no control over when I’d meet him – really bothered me. I would watch all of my friends, either on Facebook or in real life – getting engaged, talking about how they met their match, and waltzing down the aisle, and all I could think was: “Why not me?! Why don’t I deserve to meet my guy? Where the hell is he?

And so, to combat these desperate thoughts that made me feel unworthy and unattractive, I immersed myself in romantic illusions about him – and at any given moment, I prepared for our paths to cross.

Somehow, fantasies of an elusive Mr. Right: what he’ll look like, how he’ll kiss me, how we’ll meet, how we’ll both ‘just know’, and how it will all play into a divinity I’ve yet to experience – are easier to dream about then to focus on what really deserves attention: myself.

And that’s a self-defeating approach I’ve seemed to master. I’ve had a reoccurring dream about being married to someone named Brian Ward, who I’ve yet to meet – but if you’re out with me, and a dude says his name is Brian, my head whips around quicker than it does when I see a sample sale near my office. I’ve filled nearly two notebooks full of “Letters to My Husband” that have chronicled my life since junior year in college, and I only stopped writing in it when I started this blog. As ridiculous as it may sound, I went to a psychic (who has been scarily accurate thus far) and she told me to put a rose quartz in the most right-hand corner of my room along with a list of all the qualities I looked for in my future husband, to bring him near me, faster.

Yeah, you guessed it, I followed instructions. The little package even made the move to New York, only to be packed away when I decided I had enough of this love-addiction mess. Until I realized that my expectations of this man, who while I’m sure will be charming, will most likely not be a prince, and will really have no need to rescue me from anything. So what was I doing putting all of this energy into him? Especially when I haven’t even, technically, met him?

While I was picturing him, getting lost in the endless wondering of when (or if) I would meet him or pondering if I could catch a glimpse of him on the next train or bump into him at the next cocktail hour – I had forgotten that a relationship with myself is really the one I needed to be working on.

Really, I knew had a choice: I could get lost in this fantasy character I’ve established in my mind, with dark wavy hair, blue eyes, and perfect, succulent lips who makes more money than I can dream of (but is insanely humble and talented) – or I could first accept myself, and then accept him, for whoever he is. This doesn’t mean I settled for less than I deserved or lowered my standards, but I realized that instead of writing him letters and wishing on a “magical” pink-colored stone, I could just go about my life and let whatever is meant to happen, happen.

I still have a ways to go on this journey, but I hadn’t realized how much progress I made until a handsome stranger locked eyes with me on the subway yesterday and I smiled back, before getting off at my stop – and it occured to me: I haven’t thought about running into Mr. Right in such a long time.

And that was it. I did it. I finally let go of anticipating our encounter or wishing on stars to meet him.

And today, I’m a living, breathing person. I have dozens of stories that he doesn’t know. I’ve been lucky to love some wonderful men, and I’ve learned from the ones who have done me wrong. There are foods that I would never give up, for any diet, and I admittedly have memorized most Backstreet Boy songs. I have a scar on my left wrist that’ll forever remind me of the car accident that changed my view on charity. I’m full of endless hope and can be inspired by even the slightest of sightings, conversations, or words. I’m short, but my personality isn’t.

Regardless of when he stumbles into my life or what he is really like or what color his eyes are, I am just as important of a character, of a person, as he is. And finally, he isn’t my top concern, my highest priority, or the thing I worry the most about. I don’t dress to impress him, imagine all of the ways I could meet him during the activities before me each morning, or curse the universe for delaying our impending marriage.

Instead, my look, my style, is my own. I look forward to the moments of my day where I’ll do something that’s fulfilling and helps others. And I thank the heavens above for giving me the chance and the drive to devote my passion, my enthusiasm to the most important, most beautiful, and most life-altering relationship I’ll ever experience: the love I have for me, or what I’d like to call myself…Ms. Right.

Girl’s Got Game

It’s a story I don’t need to tell because it’s been told for decades before me, with different variations along the way: boy and girl meet and seem to hit it off, boy and girl exchange numbers, boy says he will call; girl waits around for approximately three days before “casually checking in” and officially starts freaking out.

As they say at the start of the Olympics, “Let the games begin.”

Sadly, as we figured out through “He’s Just Not That Into You” – our mind games and obsessing and reading into mixed signals (that maybe aren’t as complicated as we make them), start from the time we have that very first crush in kindergarten. By the time we reach middle school, we’ve decided who is in our league and who isn’t, and in high school, we fall so deeply in love with a sweetheart (could be reciprocated or unrequited) that we can barely stand to think of anything else. College rolls around and that first love syndrome leads to the first real heartbreak, and we battle the trenches of utterly confusing, mingled, and mangled “relationships” that may or may not have strings attached.

By the time we reach our 20s – if we haven’t mastered the game of love (and lust) in all of our battles and victories of the past, we decide either in frustration or in stride, that it’s time to start learning the tricks of the trade.

So we start dating Mr. Google, read blogs and articles that give us clues and how to give “the look” that’ll get us a drink and more, and we talk constantly (through BBM, Twitter, Facebook, Gchat, and so on) to our girlfriends, analyzing what we should do and what we shouldn’t, what he thinks and what he doesn’t think, if he’s interested or not interested.

And then, if you’re like me – you become such a pro at getting a man to look your way or ask you out on a date, that the whole first date scenario…sincerely becomes a play-by-play that you can predict. The game becomes irrelevant because it stops being interactive and you realize you’re just going through the motions as opposed to getting into the spirit and the energy of the practice.

I won’t say that I enjoy dating, but I also don’t dislike it completely either. One of the reasons I started this journey was due to the fact that I was getting too caught up in the “game” that I became discouraged. Dates were becoming absolutely and completely boring and I was sick of scripting what would happen before I even arrived at the restaurant.

I’m not sure if that means I mastered the game or I lost it.

Regardless, now I find myself at an odd crossroad. I’ve learned a lot from the dating scene, but because I’m not seeking (letting them come to me instead), a lot of the pressure has been taken off. I take some winning strategies with me on dates with guys, but I try to leave the fixation of expectations in the wind. I don’t project who I think they are, but I take them at their face value. And if he doesn’t call, well, he just doesn’t call and it’s time to turn on Jay-Z’s Onto The Next One.

The next man up to bat is Mr. Rescue. He’s been quite sweet this past week and pretty reliable with text messages and wit. Though I’m not quite sure where we’re going as I write this blog, we do have a reservation for dinner, and it’s snowing outside – so maybe I’ll get to kiss in the snow. As insignificant as it is, because I gave him a Mr title, he decided I needed one too, so he refers to me as Ms. Bradshaw. Quite cute, indeed.

And so far, I don’t feel like my head’s in the game or I’m really reading into anything. The obsession factor isn’t existent and I haven’t figured out if there is a chance for something of substance with him or not. If overcoming love addiction means learning to really take my time and choose what’s best with me, then I’m well on my way to health.

I don’t think a “game” is always necessary and I’d like to say that we should all stop being active members in the contests, but I don’t think it’ll ever go away. We all like some chasing, a spark of challenge, and a great story to tell the grandkids one day. As long as there is healthy sexual tension, the game will continue, and in the words of Shakespeare, we are all merely players.

Though I’m sure my rants and my analyzing (I am a Virgo, after all) will come back at some point, along with my first-date grilling methods – for all of you love addicts out there, like me, here are some pretty helpful tactics I’ve discovered that really help the game not seem so strenuous:

Don’t save his number.

I view my phone as the Holy Grail of my life. Maybe that’s a little extreme – but if you’re going to be saved in my phone, I either think you’re someone who is going to stick around or you have a voice I’d rather not hear. So when a guy gives me his number when I meet him, I take it – and then I delete it. And really, I don’t save it for a while – I think with Mr. Possibility, it took me about a month to allow him into my phone. This not only makes a guy seek you, but it prevents you from listening to the red, red wine when it whispers: “you should text that cute boy from Thursday” in your ear.

Ask open ended questions.

If you really want to get to know someone, ask them about themselves. Sounds simple enough, but as people we like to talk about ourselves and it is easy to go on and on about what you do, what you think, what you feel, on a first date. I’ve learned that if I slow down and let the guy open himself up a little bit, the date is far more enjoyable for me and I make better decisions for date two. Plus, if I’m totally not interested and can’t wait for the date to end, it gives me a break.

Stop making rules.

Ok – we all have boundaries and little things we usually stick-to-our guns about, but why are those so important at the start of dating? And really, why do we tell guys we’re on dates with, what our rules are? He goes in for a kiss and you say “I don’t do that on the first date!”, but why? That kiss could be the kiss that trumps all smooches to date –so why not try it out? And where did the three-day rule come from? Sure, it’s there, but it doesn’t have to be. When I loosened up on the rules, the game became so much easier and less complicated.

Make other plans.

In the past, when I first met a guy, I used to clear out my calendar for the weekend following “just in case” he texted me or wanted to wine-and-dine me. Yes, I’ve been that girl who cancelled plans with friends for a man, but really, chicks should always be before dicks – especially if it’s a man you don’t even know. Now, instead of “playing hard to get” or “being unavailable” – I really just have other things filling up my time. This isn’t playing the game; this is having a life outside of a man.

Demand dinner.

A lot of my friends in college and even now constantly ask me “how do you get so many guys to take you on an actual date and not just drinks or something casual?” Well, because I never agree to drinks. Maybe it’s my southern upbringing, but to me, if a guy wants to get to know me, I want to actually go on a date. This doesn’t mean a fancy restaurant with candles and flowers, but if a guy asks me if I’m free for drinks on Tuesday, I’ll say, “No, but I’m free for dinner on Friday.” Cocktails are for my girlfriends and I, not for my new male game player who I’m considering allowing getting to second base.

The Company of Confidence

For a few years now, running has been my way to escape from all the worries, the distractions, the sadness, the anxiety – and just go. To jam up Gaga and Fergie and feel the heat of the pavement on my soles.

Maybe it’s because I feel like a hamster on a revolving wheel being cooped up inside or the new gaggle of New Year’s resolution-ers who are determined to lose 10 pounds by Cupid’s Day – but lately, my daily run has been so monotonous. By the time I hit mile three, I’m ready to hop off and get back to my apartment – and not because I’m tired or out of breath, but because I’m just bored.

This has happened before and it is usually the time when I jack up the speed, switch to the elliptical or the bike for a few weeks, add in an extra mile, or sign up for some additional Pilates classes.  As a person who lives for the next challenge and can’t imagine not moving forward in her life – it is incredibly hard for me to take a back seat to anything or to ever just relax.

Including love.

Aside from Mr. Possibility (and now Mr. Rescue), when I met a guy – I dove right into the middle of everything. I looked for certain qualities, I took note of “signs”, I paraded him with questions and imagined everything from our wedding date, our names together, and how he would drop down on one knee. Before I even kissed a guy, I had him figured out in my head and placed these enormous expectations on what I thought the relationship would be. When I started seeing red flags arise, I would turn a blind eye, excuse the behavior and just “see what happens next” before I made any rash decisions. I forgave their pasts, no matter how ridiculous and I vowed to be the girl who changed everything in their life. Who fixed their troubles, who stood strong and reliable, and hoped to become this girl who entered their life and made it better.

Before I even really, truly, knew who the man was – as a person, not a romantic partner – I let myself fall completely in love with the idea of what could be with them. Now, I took this to extreme lengths with Mr. Idea, (hence his name) – but if I’m being honest about the “exact nature of my wrongs” in terms of love addiction, I think I’ve done this with every man I’ve ever known. Even ones I didn’t date longer than a week in college.

And then inevitably, at some point, it would all get to be too much. Those red flags would become less like fabric blowing in the wind and turn into screeching, violently scarlet lights surrounded by orange caution cones, begging me to just walk away. Yet, when I reached the point of turning on my toes and getting away from Mr. So-Not-Right-For-Me, and I hesitated, allowing him to be the one to end the courtship – I was hurt. My confidence became shattered, along with my viewpoints of relationships.

This pattern, as ugly and self-defeating as it is, has been pretty consistent with every Mr who has captured my interest. Instead of allowing myself time and room to really understand who I was dealing with or who I was truly kissing on the corner of Broadway or having drinks with downtown, I let my thirst for companionship, for love, for a consistent relationship take over my ability to form actual opinions and think realistically.

I allowed my fear of being alone, of being single, of not being good enough for a relationship, or my inability to keep a “good man” around to be at the forefront of my mind. No wonder I blamed myself for everything, no wonder I got myself to a plateau where I had to overcome what I coined “love addiction” through an intense journey that tests me every single day. No wonder I ended up crying in the corner of my tub, the day after my last birthday because I got myself in such a devastating state.

Because I didn’t stop. I just kept going. Even when I was bored, even when I knew it was wrong, even when I knew it wouldn’t work out one day, even when I was tired and nothing was changing – I kept running right back into the arms of someone who never deserved my embrace to begin with. Just like I switch to an elliptical to change up the pace, I would try to steer the man or the dating process in a better direction to ward off any negativity, or take on more work than the dude, so he wouldn’t feel overburdened.  I resumed responsibility for all of the things that were mine…and all of those that weren’t.

Even with Mr. Possibility (who continues to look less and less like his name) and new guys I meet, I have to remind myself to breathe, to pace myself, to not push myself to where I can’t even enjoy the next relationship because the last one banged me up so badly.

Finding self-love through this journey isn’t just about making myself a better person so I can find Mr. Right. It isn’t about going back through all of my old relationships and figuring out what I learned. It isn’t about preaching my viewpoints or spreading the message of independence.

It’s about finally being able to rest assured.

To have faith in myself so I don’t settle for less than I deserve, because I know that regardless if I get married or not, I have confidence in who I am and am proud of the decisions I’ve made. To listen to my gut when it tells me to hold back or to slow down or to think before I leap. To enjoy my life, with all of its uncertainties and complications, and stop waiting for it to begin, instead of just living it. To keep my eyes focused on today instead of worrying myself into a frenzy about several years from now.

But most importantly – it’s about getting back up in the race, clearing my head and my heart, and taking one huge breath, knowing that even if I feel stuck in a rut or like I’m not making progress, it’s my right, my responsibility to do what’s best for me.

And at times, the smartest thing a gal can do is accept the red flag…and run as fast as she can in the other direction. Even if that road is one she’ll have to take alone. After all, the company of confidence is much better than the company of a coward.

PS: If you’re a fan of Confessions of a Love Addict and want to be part of a new page on the blog, email Lindsay or send her a Tweet.