the life you were given vs. the one you think you should have

If I don't meet a guy today, I told my roommate, Melly, I'm going to lose it.

I was at my wit's end. I felt like I couldn't go more day being single. I was lonely, felt stuck and wasn't enjoying this season of my 20s at all. I felt so far behind my friends; it was as if they had all boarded a cruise ship and I was stuck on the shore, waving goodbye, holding back tears.

I liked my job and loved Atlanta, but the life I had created felt secondary to the one I was waiting for: the one that included a husband and babies. I felt like a casette player, cycling through the same tired magentic tape, waiting for someone to switch it out and give me a new song to sing. 

The loneliness felt unbearable. The waiting unrelenting.

I tried making plans to meet a guy, thinking that perhaps he, too, enjoyed dinner at Whole Foods or a 6 a.m. Flywheel class. I gave myself pep talks, repeating the not-so-encouraging platitudes I'd been given: You can meet a guy anywhere! Stay positive; positivity attracts a relationship! 

One day after church, an older woman stopped me as I exited the pew. As she took my name and age, I thought, Yes! This is it! She's going to set me up with her son! I was already planning a happy dance. I'd love for you to babysit my grandchildren, she exclaimed. It wasn't quite the Friday night I was looking for. 

I stalked other couples' relationships on Facebook, trying to figure out if they were older than me so I could calculate just how far behind I was. When I'd meet an engaged girl at a party, I'd ask very pointed questions: How did you meet your husband? What did you talk about? How long did it take for you to go on a date after meeting? I thought researching enough would provide a formula for how and when you can meet your husband. 

If you've been around this blog enough, you know I quit dating for a while before I met my husband. This was an essential step for me to break free from the idol that marriage had become.

I also had to break free from the future I'd planned, the concern that my ovaries were going out of commission and the belief that my life would begin when I met my husband. 

Those things are lies and those lies will suffocate you. They will take all of the joy out of this season of life. They will paralyze you, give you anxiety and make you panic every time you near your birthday. 

I've learned lately that singleness isn't the only thing that will do this to you. Every step throughout our lives has the power to make us believe we are behind -  but only if we let it. As we enter into our second year of marriage and begin discussing a house and a family, it would be easy to lose touch with the phase we're currently in. It is tempting to look to that future with wanting eyes, feeling stuck in our rental.  But we aren't going to do that this time around. 

I've learned we have to let go of the lives we thought we'd have in order to embrace the lives we are meant to have. 

I recently heard Deidra Riggs speak about expectations vs. reality. She said she's learned you have to walk through the doors that are opened to you and stop trying to knock on the ones that are closed. Her message resonated deeply with me.

For years, I was banging on doors that were not meant to be opened. I wasted a lot of energy looking for keys to those doors. As I've gotten older, I've tried to leave the closed doors alone and, instead, run through the ones that are already opened to me. 

I can't help but wonder how many of us are standing in front of doors that aren't meant to be opened today. Perhaps it's a relationship, a job or grad school. Perhaps it's followers on social media or business success. Perhaps it's a new baby or city.

I'm learning that there are so many doors that are already opened to us, but so often we get stuck standing behind ones that aren't meant to be ours. When we stop resisting where we are in life and, instead, open our hands up to the possibility of each season, we unlock the beauty in it. 

Nothing has changed my life more than learning to embrace the one I already have - the messy, the complicated, the unplanned - and resisting the urge to covet what I think I should have. Comparing where I am to where I think I should be is like swimming up stream - it's tiring and you don't get anywhere in the end. When we learn to move with the rhythm of each season, not against it, we wind up exactly where we are meant to be. 

Should You Give Your Ex Another Chance?

I know a lot of people who think there are no second chances in relationships. If it didn't work once, they ask, why would it work twice? I get that, but, as with most things in life, I don't think there are a lot of one-size-fits-all statements that apply to relationships. I know many a good couples who took a break in college, just to be sure they were right for each other, only to learn that they were, in fact, a perfect fit. But, I also know many who tried and tried to make it work, knowing each time they got back together that the bruises and bandages were becoming more apparent, not less. Yet, they couldn't quite let each other go.

Years ago, when Twitter first came out, my profile read "Always hold them, never fold them." My friend, Sara, and I thought this was hilarious insight into my life because I refused to quit anything or anyone. Whether he be a boyfriend, friend, or anything in between, I believed everybody deserved chance after chance to try again.

One day in 2010, I had to decide just how seriously I took that one-line bio. I'd had my heart broken in March and had prayed, every day since then, that he'd come back. I was certain he'd made a mistake and was just going through a hard time. I was convinced it wasn't about us. For as hard as I'd prayed for it, when he came back in May, I was consumed by anxiety.

He'd hurt me so badly, I found it impossible to relax into the joy of seeing him again. He'd shown so little care for my heart during our initial breakup, I could not trust him when he told me he still loved me. 

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After we broke up in March, I'd started seeing a therapist for the first time. I told her how anxious I was and that I found it impossible to trust him. How can I be sure he won't do it again? I asked her as I sat on her couch one July day, my knee bouncing with anxiety. Honestly, you can't be completely sure, she told me with gentle eyes, sensing my fragility. But, one thing I can be sure of is this:

If you ask him what went wrong and he can tell you, with certainty, exactly why he broke up with you and why he won't do it again, I trust he's reflected enough to give this another shot. If he tells you he's not sure, but he just really misses you, he hasn't done his homework. 

I took her advice that night as I paced my parents' front yard, talking to him on the phone. He'd asked me to move to Atlanta to give it another shot - he was tired of long distance, but didn't want to move to Indiana. I posed his question to her, asking him why he was sure it was right this time, but not last time. Well, he told me without much pause. I just figure 10,000 customers can't be wrong. I waited, wanting more explanation. None came. Huh? I asked him. Everyone in my life thinks I made a mistake, he told me. If every single person I know said I messed up, I probably did.  

I remember feeling saddened by the answer, but wanting to get back together so badly, I dismissed the sadness and decided it was romantic. All of his friends and family love me! That's great! I remember telling myself as I laid in bed that night, disregarding my therapist's wisdom.

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I moved to Atlanta a few months later and, in retrospect somewhat predictably, found myself in the familiar spot one year later: heartbroken over the same guy. My therapist had been right; he hadn't reflected enough while we'd been apart. He'd just missed me. 

I still believe there are no one-size-fits-all rules for relationships, but, as I've gotten older, I've learned a few truths. I now hold my old therapist's advice as one of them. As I've watched a few friends wrestle with the same question, I have passed along her insight, urging them to pay more attention to it than I did. I put it in the same category as he must pursue you and gentleness is manliness. How these things manifest in relationships may vary, but, the end, we all deserve love that is certain, gentle and kind.