I had made of list of all the things I wanted in a man. It was great advice given to me by a close friend. “If you know what you’re looking for, you’re more apt to spot it when you see it,” she told me. I was online dating, a place where people were as interchangeable as clothing, when I met him.

He was tall, good looking, had a good job, his own home, nice car. He was intelligent, kind, respectful, charming, family oriented, all the things on my list. And he liked me. He wanted to get to know me, to spend time with me, to talk, to share and to make me laugh.

After our first date I went home and called my best friend. I said, “This guy is perfect. He’s everything I’m looking for.” Four weeks later it was Valentine’s Day. I went over to his place and he had cooked me an elaborate meal. We drank wine and talked. It was wonderful. But in my unhealthy mind something didn’t feel right.

He would call when he said he’d call. He was eager to share news of his promotion at work and I…. well I started to want out of the relationship. I started looking for reasons, because really there wasn’t anything wrong with him at all. I came up with foolish things like – he was too heavy (and he was a little overweight, but it wasn’t a big deal to me). I told myself that now that I was at a healthy weight I couldn’t be around someone who wasn’t. I told myself that I wasn’t attracted to him and when he kept calling me one night to tell me about his promotion I kept ignoring his calls, getting more and more irritated at his attempts to reach me.

Shortly thereafter I broke up with him via text message. It wasn’t until much later that I realized what I was doing and why.

He really was/is a great guy. My need to break up with him had nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. You see, I was not comfortable at all with the idea that someone could actually want me, like me, find me attractive. It was such a foreign concept and so against my programming that I was scrambling for any reason to get the hell out of dodge.

On top of that, I had a history of high risk and high intensity relationships. I was used to having to really work for affection. I was used to soaring and crashing in my relationships. I was calling those high intensity peak feelings, love and they were anything but and they made any normal relationship appear boring and lacking in excitement or feeling. They were an unhealthy high I got from getting back together with an emotional manipulator. They are those peak moments when they chose you and for a very brief moment you are soaring, because they want you and you feel validated. It’s equivalent can only be compared to as receiving a hit of heroin (not that I’ve ever done heroin). But it’s a good comparison because as soon as the light of day hits, everything goes back to the way it was before and you’re in the same relationship you were in before and nothing has changed except now your heart is broken again, you feel like a fool and you have to crawl around in the valley again, waiting for the next peak..

If this is what I was calling love, it was no wonder that when the potential for the real thing approached I mistook it for something else and ran the other way. Because I was used to jumping through hoops for love and this came easy and felt comfortable I called it boring. Because someone was actually interested in broken and flawed me I kept thinking, “If you’re interested in me, there must be something seriously wrong with you.” When a healthy man tried to have a healthy relationship with unhealthy me, I looked for any reason to run and I did. I’d use phrases like, boring, I’m not attracted to him, no chemistry, he doesn’t do anything for me,…or I’d make up any other number of excuses to explain why he wasn’t evoking those intense feelings in me that unhealthy partners did.

What Does Healthy Love Look Like Anyway?

It took me a long time to learn what healthy love really looks like, to understand that I didn’t have to dim my own light or change who I was to be liked. I couldn’t have a healthy relationship with anyone until I learned how to have a healthy relationship with myself. I had to accept the things about me that I didn’t like and couldn’t change and when I came into contact with someone who thought I was….take your pick of my flaws… too short, I stopped jumping up and down trying to get them to like me regardless and instead found someone that was ok with my height and accepting of me how I was.

Real love looks like this: It’s respectful – knowing that you are both valued and worthy of good treatment. It’s trusting – knowing that you can predict your partners behavior and that behavior will have your best interest at heart. It’s reciprocal – both partners are contributing equally to the relationship. It’s consistent and stable – there aren’t peaks and valleys and periods of hot and cold behavior. It’s supportive of individual growth and development. It’s accepting of each other having other close friendships and activities outside of the relationship. It evokes feelings of security and contentment – you are not always guessing where you stand and where your partner’s interests lie and you’re comfortable and trusting in that knowledge. It’s about self-care – making sure that both partners take time for themselves and take care of themselves. It’s about accepting each other as they are and not trying to fix or change the other. It’s about living in reality where you are fully aware of all aspects of yourself, your partner and the relationship. That’s what real love looks like to me.

Battling Codependency in a Healthy Relationship

Trying to get to the place where my relationship actually resembled something like that was no easy feat. When you are ready to start dating again keep the following in mind:

Ultimately this is about you and your relationship with yourself: The more you learn to respect and value yourself the more others will follow your lead. You do this by repetition – keep treating yourself with respect and as a person of value – this is how the subconscious mind learns and how thoughts become beliefs. Repetition, repetition, repetition.

Be mindful of your codependency at work: Your codependency wants you to continue to get involved with people that evoke feelings of,” I’m not good enough. I’m not worthy. There is something wrong with me. Nobody will ever love me.” Be aware of this and notice the thoughts and feelings when they occur. Know that this is your disease trying to keep you in a place of hurt and stop listening to the voices that are trying to steer you in the wrong direction. Instead label them as your disease and dismiss them. Until you have reprogrammed your thoughts and feelings, use logic as your guidance system.

Learn the difference between real love and toxic love: If you are calling the intense peak and valley feelings, that a toxic relationship evokes, love, then you’ve got to rearrange your thinking, because that’s not what love looks like. Those peak feelings are akin to a drug high and they are not normal or healthy. They’re obsessive and addicting and you need to eliminate them from your life. In contrast healthy love is all the things I have mentioned above and maybe they aren’t as dangerous or thrilling in a twisted sort of way, but when you have real love, you’ll wonder what the hell you’ve been doing all this time.

Get comfortable with being uncomfortable: Get comfortable with the idea that you are worth being in a relationship with. That people will actually find you attractive, interesting, fun, intelligent and a variety of all the other great things that you are. Get comfortable with letting someone get to know you and get close. Get comfortable with showing someone the real you. These things will feel uncomfortable at first because of the fear that someone will see who we really are and that they will judge us and find us lacking. Be ok with not being everyone’s cup of tea. Even if we do let someone get close to us and they, for whatever reason, decide they don’t want to continue the relationship, that’s ok. Not everyone is going to like us.

Know Where the Line Is: The biggest problems codependents face is with the cut off point. Anyone can get duped by a narcissist, but the difference is that healthy people have a line and when that line gets crossed they end it. They don’t stick around jumping higher and higher, putting up with poor treatment, all in the hopes that someone will see their worth and choose them. They walk on continuing to accept themselves and be ok with who they are.

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