When we are little girls, we dream of a prince. Maybe he has a horse (definitely white) or maybe he lives in castle. He will have perfect hair and save the day and take care of us. Also, we dream of someone to love us they way our daddy loves us.
When we are pre-teens, we just want to be able to make eye contact with the cute boy across the room. We wish we had different hair or clothing to attract his attention. We wish that our boobs and hips would just GROW IN ALREADY because we are behind the other girls in our grade. Seriously, we look like a boy. We want to be kissed but we have no idea where to even start.
When we are teenagers, we are raging with hormones and are confused about everything. Our bodies are changing rapidly and we have this deep need to procreate on a lizard-brain kind of level. We fall in love for the first time – and we fall hard. The world stops moving and then keeps moving again, and it is the force behind our passion and undying love that turns it.
When we are young adults, we have a variety of experiences that excite and confuse us. We experiment with all kinds of things – including being a lesbian or a slut. We are trying to cram our way into an existing society and create an identity for ourselves. Friends come and go and relationships are even more unstable; but we thrive on the passion and excitement of it all.
When we are heartbroken – again and again – we sometimes get to a point where we just want to stop trying. When you, say, flee an abusive marriage – you are shattered. It feels just as bad as when we were girls, pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults. The world, previously moved by our passions, continues to move and we realize it was never our passions that moved it. The plans we made and the feelings we have seem false in light of this new information. We want to crawl into a hole and forget everything that ever happened to us – good or bad. We are so broken – irrevocably it seems – that we don’t even know where to begin.
I used to want a prince. Someone to love me like my daddy does. Just to make eye contact with the cute boy in middle school. For breasts and hips and more expensive clothing. To sleep around and experiment my way through my sexual walkabout. I used to want to – more than all else – just to be loved and have the opportunity to love someone. That used to be enough.
I find, now, that I want so much more than for someone to just love me. The amount of heartbreak I have experienced and severely raised the bar. A casual hookup based on passion can be no more complicated than that – but lasting relationships need more than just love. They need a whole lot more.
I learned that I want to be respected. Ask anyone to define respect and they may look at you dumbfounded. We know all the things that are disrespectful, but what is respectful? Only the lack of disrespectful things? I don’t know. I don’t know how to define it, only that I want it.
I want to be listened to. I have a whole lot to say about everything and it’s all important. I don’t want to trim it down or give you the highlights. I want long and involved intellectual conversations and lively debates. I want you to ask me for more, not tell me to wrap it up.
I want to listen to someone. I want to be intellectually challenged and I want you to have your own opinions and own ideas about the world. I want to be exposed to your mind so that it may help me grow.
I want to be who I am without being asked to be someone else. I don’t want you to tweak me or make minor adjustments to my personality so that I fit your needs. I don’t want you to be embarrassed that I like to swing my arms when we hold hands or that I want to skip and sing in the grocery store sometimes. I want you to embrace my weirdness. I want to make my own decisions and I want your support.
I want to be trusted. I want to earn the trust and have it because I earned it. I want you to give me the space to make my own decisions without worrying that I may hurt you. I have been hurt in so many profound ways (and I will tell you all about them) and I would never hurt you that way.
I want to be able to be angry without having to yell. I want to have calm and rational decisions about how I feel. I don’t want to have to repeat myself. I want you to bring similar concerns to me so that I may decide for myself if I can provide what you need. I want you to provide what I need because you want to, not because you feel like you have to in order to be with me.
I want to make love. I want it to be sincere and emotional. Tender and intense. I want it to be a special act representative of the way we feel about one another. I want it to strengthen our connection and reflect the respect we have for one another and our relationship.
I want to be vulnerable. I want to be able to cry in front of you – and not the slightly attractive adorable cry – I’m talking the runny-nose and hysterical irrational emotional crying that people do sometimes. I want you to hold me and tell me that it will be okay because you understand that you cannot rationalize with someone who emotional.
I want you to have dreams, and I want you to stick to them. I don’t need sweeping sacrifices or a lifestyle change. If we are incompatible, that is okay with me, and it should be okay with you too. No hard feelings.
I want to be able to explain my boundaries to you, and I never want you to push them. I want to talk out my hopes and dreams, my innermost fears and secrets, and my shames. I want you to be a safe place where I can reveal the most carefully guarded parts of my heart because I know that you will handle them tenderly.
This list took many destructive relationships and poor lifestyle choices to come up with. It is this list that I use as a measuring tool for my relationships. I am so careful with my heart as it has been broken so many times, and I feel I don’t have another awful heartbreak in me. I came very close to throwing in the towel altogether… it is just so hard want to try when you get knocked down so many times.
Although I wrote this list thinking about some of my worst relationships and what I was lacking, it was not lost on me that this list also represents my current relationship. It started so simple – just a couple of people who met in a bar. The older brother of a friend of mine; I had met him only once. I knew his brother’s name but not his, and it was a comical introduction.
From there, the invitation to go on a date. Yes, that’s right, as in “Will you go on a date with me?” Naturally I said yes – the women in my generation will know how completely uncommon it is for a man to ask a woman who. It is always “Hey, wanna grab a drink?” or “Hey, wanna chill at my place?” Dude, that’s not how you get my attention. And yet that tactic had worked for so many years… despite my reservations, I had to accept. Who was this man?
On the first date I knew exactly what I needed to know about you. I knew that you were the real deal. I also knew that I was completely unprepared for what you had to offer, so I told you that I couldn’t see you and that we would remain friends.
A month or so later, I saw you again. I don’t really remember how it all got started, but I know that you would know – probably to the date. You’re good like that. We began seeing one another on a casual basis. I was still jittery about the idea of being official and exclusive. It didn’t take very long – however – to realize that if I didn’t just do it, some other woman was going to come take you away from me. I definitely couldn’t let go of someone so special, but I was still afraid. You were thrilled to be exclusive and understood my reservations.
We worked on it. A lot. Many conversations about my past relationships and yours. Many nights of emotional anxiety and fear of being vulnerable. You were patient and kind and you never pushed. You waited. You knew what I didn’t – that I was capable of something so deep and profound – if I would only come around to the idea!! =)
And then, one day, I realized that I had nothing to be afraid of. I realized that it had been six months and I had never gotten angry at you. I realized that, I’ve never worried what you might say or do. I realized that I knew you would never hurt me, and that you really loved me. The mushy stuff that everyone loves in the beginning of a relationship didn’t wear off. You still tell me at least twice a day how beautiful I am and how lucky you feel. You tell me that I am special and smart and funny and you enjoy my weirdness.
We never stop talking. About everything. You are just about as long-winded as I am. We laugh, we are serious, we are lively, and we are patient with one another. We pay attention to everything. We ask how the other one is doing. We have meaningful kisses every time we see each other. We have fun no matter what we are doing – whether it’s you reading me Chronicles of Narnia in a British accent or hanging out on the river in the canoe or just taking a walk. We always have a blast.
I came to realize that I feel most like myself when I am in your presence. I don’t have to be a version of myself for you; I can simply be. I can tell you absolutely anything. I trust you, completely, because I know you are a man of strong character and a good heart.
I love that we talk all the time. I love that we never have fights. I love that we have all of the things on my list. You are the reason that I feel I deserve these things for myself. You showed me how a person ought to be treated. Your behavior is the perfect definition of respect, and I find myself hoping that I am half as good to you as you are to me. I don’t know that I can pull off much more than that, but I want to try every day.
You never asked me to be something I am not. Rather, you asked me what I wanted to be and then you provided the support and space to do so. You watched me evolve into a person that didn’t want to have brunch (because that’s too intimate and serious and relationship-y) to a person that wants to move in with you and create a home for us. I went from being a person that was afraid to open up to a person that embraces being who I am. By providing a safe environment – where I would never be judged – and always providing honest feedback and positive reinforcement, you helped me repair my broken self-esteem. You gently guided me to the place in my heart where I know I deserve to be loved and treated with respect. I think I always knew that deep down, but it is so hard to really believe in your soul when so many people rip you apart inside. You showed me that there are people out there that care about others just as much as they care about themselves.
Most importantly, you helped me to realize that I can survive anything because I am a strong woman. Even in the unlikely event that you and I don’t work out long-term, I know that I will always be okay because I am here today. I don’t say that you saved me or that without you I wouldn’t be the person I am; you helped me realize I can save myself and I am special all by myself – not because of the person I am with.
I like myself more and more each day because you really made me believe that I have always been special, and no one can take that away from me.
For this I am eternally grateful – and I find it funny when you tell me that you are so lucky. The truth is, I am the lucky one.
I love you.