After my second divorce, I vowed that I would never marry again if there was even one tiny iota of doubt in my mind that I had found The One. I had already married twice against my better judgment. That is in no way a statement about my ex-husbands. It’s simply commentary on decisions I made at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I wanted to settle down. I wanted the family life, and though I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, I talked myself into marriage. Twice.
Since I was convinced that The One didn’t exist, I could safely bet that I would be single for the rest of my life. One divorce is enough to make a person cynical about forever love. Two is enough to make the thought of it completely cringe worthy.
In a sense, resigning to eternal singlehood was peaceful. No more arguments, no more washing man undies, no more balancing wife and mom duties, no more asking permission, no more answering to anyone. There was tremendous freedom in the knowledge that I could go to the store and buy any brand of coffee I wanted, that I didn’t have to buy THAT detergent, that I could buy a green blouse and wear it without getting the stink eye.
In other ways, though, it was hard. Really, really hard. Responsibilities that were once shared were now all mine. The yard still needed mowed, and I couldn’t mow it and take care of a 4-year-old at the same time. Now, there were two hands instead of four, one paycheck instead of two, but still three little ones with as many needs as they’d ever had.
And of course, there was the loneliness. A toxic relationship is still a relationship. There is comfort in having someone by your side. When that is stripped away, sometimes even the arguments and stink eyes can seem more tolerable than silence.
We can’t return to toxic love, though, and it takes some of us longer to understand that than others.
When I finally decided to be alone, I had to feed myself the self-love one liners for months. We’ve all heard them.
“No one will love you until you learn to love yourself.”
“Be with someone who makes you happy.”
“You don’t need a man to be happy.”
“You are enough.”
Yes, it was beneficial to my healing to remind myself that I was good enough alone, but I never liked the idea that I am only lovable at my healthiest, most secure, most confident, or most independent. If there was someone out there who was right for me, he would have to love me at my worst because I will inevitably at some point in my life be at my worst again.
That seemed unlikely, though. I’ve never known many single men who would jump at the chance at a relationship with a two-time divorcee with three children by two dads and financial hardships and mental health issues and cellulite and stretch marks and let’s just keep filling in this blank over and over again.
But here’s the beautiful thing. The idea that no one could love me because of this or that came from my own insecurities, which magnified everything I saw as a flaw and blew it completely out of proportion. I was so inundated with reminders of my own imperfection that I forgot that no one is free of them.
It wasn’t until I was okay with myself even to the extent of being comfortable with the version of myself that I thought no one could love that I was able to open myself up to the forever love that I was sure was nonexistent. That meant I would not settle for anyone who only wanted happy, successful, energetic, funny Jessica. Though I love that Jessica, she can be absent for long periods of time, and whoever I chose to spend forever with – if I were ever to make that decision – would have to be just as much in love with sad, tired, sarcastic, broke Jessica.
As it turned out, there was someone who could love every version of me. There was someone who thought my three kids by two dads were awesome. There was someone who saw me as a hero, stretch marks and cellulite and depression be damned.
I remember the moment I knew he was The One.
When I was little, I had a visual image in my head of what my husband would look like. Granted, I also had visual images of living in a huge house with fireplaces in every room that I bought with my huge writer’s salary. As you might imagine, my standards have changed a bit since then.
Anyway, this imagined husband of mine showed up in dreams sometimes. He was a little bit taller than me, brown hair, beard, always wore a black suit. I’ve never understood the suit; maybe it symbolized adulthood in some way.
Shua and I had been dating semi-seriously for a couple of months, had dated casually for a couple of months before that, and had been really good friends even before that. He most definitely knew me at my worst and talked me through some of my lowest moments.
I was performing for a theatre event, singing a duet from a show I was in some time ago. He was going to be there, so I kept an eye out for him while I waited in the lobby before the event. I was in line for wine – you know, nerves – and I turned just as he was coming through the door.
A little bit taller than me, brown hair, beard, black suit. I’m sure I stopped breathing for a few seconds. Standing at the door was the actual man of my dreams, and he was there to see me.
We didn’t start talking about marriage until several months later, but I knew that night that I had found The One. Or he had found me. Or we had found each other. I’ll be his wife in less than two weeks, and there is not one single iota of doubt in my mind that he is The One. Imagine that.
In the last year, he has played a huge role in helping me love myself. I am someone who makes me happy when I am with him. I don’t need a man, I want him. I know I am enough because he treats me like I am royalty. We complement each other, I think, filling in the holes in each other’s souls where we’ve been hurt or made mistakes. Where one is weak, the other is strong. And I think that’s what forever love is.
See, ours wasn’t a fairy tale love story. It was full of confusion, heartbreak, hesitance, sometimes anger and frustration. But it was also raw, honest, patient, generous, and forgiving. Unlike fairy tales, it was real.
I don’t like the idea that we are only worthy of love after we have learned to love ourselves. I think that sometimes, real love means loving someone how they really are at any time, and that being loved in the right way by the right person makes us the version of ourselves that we can love.
I can think of no love better or more real than that.
Jessica Thompson is a freelance writer and blogger located in Conway, Arkansas. She has written for local newspapers, nonprofit organizations, and niche magazines in the Little Rock Metro area. This article was originally posted on her personal blog, Little Memories, and can be found here. You can find Jessica on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.