"If we are incapable of finding peace in ourselves, it is pointless to search elsewhere." —Francois de la Rochefoucauld
It is impossible to find real love and true friendship until we first love ourselves and are a friend to ourselves. People who have been in bad relationships are usually trying to find something outside themselves to fill up the emptiness, and it will never work. People who are empty attract others who are empty (or who are predators who prey on empty people).
People who are empty are prone to abusive, manipulative, chaotic types who keep them off their pins — or they are prone to withholding people who punish them when they don't "act properly." In any event, these types just add to the emptiness. While they might fill the void for a while, they usually make it quite worse in the long run.
The only solution to finding healthy relationships with others is to develop a healthy relationship with yourself first. This solves two problems at once: First, you get healthier, so you are attractive to, and attracted to, healthier people. Second, if you find yourself in a situation you don't like, you know how to be alone and are less afraid of getting out. Healthy people are not attracted to anyone who is ready to make them their world. They steer clear of that level of neediness. If you want to find the right person, meaning a healthy and loving partner, you have to be the right person.
Whenever I advise people to be alone for a while and work on learning to be alone, they balk; I did as well when it was first suggested to me. I finally caved to the suggestion, after beating my head against the same wall and continuing to be involved in relationships with people who were not good for me. My ex left me and walked right into another relationship, and I wanted that too. What I was able to see, only years later, was that his relationship wasn't healthy, and he was on the run, perpetually, from our breakup. He never dealt with it. I did, and in doing so, I was able to open myself up to a healthy, happy relationship with the love of my life. My journey took years between my ex and the love of my life. I was horrifically impatient, but kept doing what I never dreamed I'd be able to do: have a good life as a successful single person. I learned to depend on me and never let "I need you" play a part in my decisions to stay or go in a relationship.
I never suggest things that I, myself, was not willing to do, but I didn't do everything completely willingly either. I learned, the hard way, that the only way out is through, and the only way to find the right person is to be the right person. The right person makes choices, good choices, based on what they want and who and what fits into a perfectly good life. The right person has confidence and self-assuredness that can ONLY come from being comfortable in their own life.
People always ask me: What is involved in developing a relationship with yourself? Here is the short answer:
1. Learn to listen to yourself.
Journal. Talk to yourself. Mull things over. Figure yourself out. Learn to be quiet and have quiet times. It's uncomfortable at first, but cultivate a life in which you have downtime so things that need to be addressed can float to the surface. If you are forever looking at a smart phone, computer, or tablet, your brain is constantly engaged. That isn’t good for your brain; the powers of observation you will need when you get back out there; or figuring out what is wrong now and how to fix it. We must learn to be still without distractions if we are to find our way to our inner voice, the one that will tell us when we are doing the wrong thing or involved with the wrong person. We must hone that instinct, and we cannot do it if we are distracted 24/7. Learn to unplug, unwind, and listen to the inner voice that has something to say to you. When you are dating, you must hone your powers of observation.
2. Learn to be good to yourself.
Tune into what you like, what you want, and what you're all about. Take a class, write a poem or a song, paint, draw, or learn to ride a motorcycle. Have you ever wanted to learn something and never have? Do it now. Take music lessons, learn a new language, try woodworking, or join meet-ups. If you have money, travel by yourself. Does that sound scary? Maybe it is the first time, but you will get used to it. It's really a wonderful experience. I went to Europe by myself once. Another time, I took a long train ride, staying in an overnight compartment where I just read and watched the world go by. There is nothing so comforting as reading in a sleeper car with the world tuned out. (Again, turn off the phone, and learn to enjoy your own company.) There are so many things you can do now — take a craft class or a golf lesson. Learn to do things with you and for you. One of the things that drives people into bad relationships is the inability to be alone. Cultivate your life while alone, and you will never again stay in a relationship for the wrong reasons.
3. Do your grief work.
Cry, feel the sadness, get angry, accept your losses. Once you learn to face your grief, "losing" never feels as scary. You can make better choices when you are not afraid of losing and know that you can get through whatever happens.
4. Cultivate friendships with healthy people.
When I was moving to Massachusetts, it was a very scary time. I was leaving everything I knew and starting a new life for me and my kids. I had landed a great job; otherwise I would have never gone. Someone said to me, “Become friends with women who have what you want," and I did exactly that. I befriended women who had nice, healthy, happy lives on their own, and sometimes in a relationship. If you want what they have, do what they do. Everything you read on this list represents something I learned by watching people who had what I wanted.
5. Download meditation and relaxation audios and learn to sit still and meditate or relax.
Start soaking in bubble baths, or go to a spa. Get in touch with the physical you. Again, this requires being unplugged (except to listen to the meditation and relaxation audios), and it is soothing and helpful the more you do it. Don’t worry that you are not “doing it right.” It will come.
6. Learn to enjoy the solo journey and appreciate what is nice about not being with someone.
It's hard sometimes, but think about what you might be doing if a boyfriend or girlfriend were there with you. Stop glamorizing or fantasizing about what relationships are (walks on the beach, holding hands by candlelight), and think about the arguments, the controlling situations, the needless bickering when you're doing something alone — sometimes it is so much better to be alone than to be with an unhappy mate. Instead of fantasizing or hopelessly romanticizing a relationship, think about it realistically and make peace with the peace that comes from being alone.
Once you learn to cultivate a relationship with you, you will be better, wiser, and stronger and less likely to put up with less-than-optimal behavior from a mate. No one can take you hostage again.
Find you, and learn to love your life so much that you will never abandon you for anyone else. Healthy people are interesting people with varied passions, hobbies, friends, and things to do. They want someone who is well-rounded and won't depend completely on them for happiness.
Not only is it possible to love your single life, but, ironically, it makes you so much more attractive to others. It opens you to the best that life has to offer.