an abusive relationship is difficult, but being alone can feel
worse. All your happily married friends are still happily married,
and here you are suddenly single. It’s a huge adjustment. Even
though you’ve triumphed by getting out of a bad situation, there’s
often an underlying sense of failure. There’s enormous pressure
to be a couple in this society.
When I was
single, the worst part wasn’t loneliness. It was the remarks
from people who wanted to know when I was finally going “to
hook up for real,” and the warnings from an aunt that I wasn’t
getting any younger. The worst comment came after I’d broken
up with a man who undermined my confidence, did not turn up
when he said he was going to, slapped me so hard my ears rang,
and threw a glass of wine in my face. A colleague told me that
I could not possibly last without him. “You think you’re happy,
but you’d be much happier with a boyfriend,” she said.
It is this
attitude, which persists even in 2004, that drives women to
date substandard men and put up with ridiculous behavior. It
makes it tempting to pick up the phone and ask a rotten fellow
if he has plans Friday night, rather than face the prospect
of attending a dinner party populated with giddy couples alone.
like to meet someone new, but the idea of dating makes you nervous.
You certainly don’t want to end up with another abuser. Women
tend to attract the same type of person again and again, unless
they take steps to do otherwise.
my story, anyway. After seeing a series of men who ranged from
being abusive to emotionally distant, I decided that it was
time to stop dating. I would become my own boyfriend. I started
treating myself the way the dreamiest man in the world would.
The results were fantastic. Two months later, I began my first
healthy relationship with a man. I never did fall in love with
him, though, so I broke it off. Then the man who would become
my husband walked into the picture, starting the most fulfilling
relationship I have ever known. What’s more, it’s an easy relationship:
no drama, no angst, and no mind games. We’ve been happily married
for 12 years.
have a healthy, fulfilling love relationship, too. But you have
to do some inner work first. Here’s how:
that you are capable of it.
If all your
relationships have been unhealthy, you may not believe that
you are capable of a healthy one. Maybe you don’t even know
what a happy and mutually supportive relationship is. Find a
pen and paper right this minute and write down the qualities
your perfect man would possess (hint: he’d be loving, honest,
faithful, gentle, and so on). Now write down how you’d feel
in a relationship with such a person (peaceful, content, joyous,
excited, and so on). Keep these lists with you at all times.
Dwell on them whenever you have a minute, perhaps in the ladies’
room at work. It’s especially helpful to read them—and feel
the emotions they bring up—for a minimum of 30 days. Do this
as you drop off to sleep at night and before you put your feet
on the floor in the morning. Your subconscious will go to work
on drawing a man with these qualities to you. It may sound like
hocus-pocus, but it works.
that you are a treasure yet to be discovered.
Make a list
of your own excellent qualities. Bring to mind every important
compliment you’ve ever gotten. Recognize that you deserve a
healthy relationship. Understand that you are worthy of love,
respect, tenderness, and whatever else was missing from--or
inconsistent in-- your former relationship. A lot of us have
been raised to think it’s conceited to dwell on our good qualities,
but you if you haven’t a sense of your own worth, you really
can’t attract a man who will give you the love you deserve.
It’s imperative that you overcome your own feelings of inadequacy
before you date again, or you’re bound to end up with your ex
in a different body.
all the things you put off while you were with Mr. Wrong.
Now is the
time to do all the things your ex held you back from, whether
that means going to a museum or eating in a particular restaurant.
Perhaps you’ve dreamed of vacationing in Malta, but your ex
insisted on a fishing trip every year. If you can afford it,
pencil in some vacation time and go for it-- by yourself. After
I decided to become my own best boyfriend, I took myself to
San Francisco for four days. I booked a room in a B&B instead
of a hotel because I’m shy; the communal breakfasts forced me
to talk to other people. As a result, I went sight-seeing with
a dancewear designer from South Africa. I enjoyed several meals
with a Londoner who’d sold her furniture business to travel
around the world. When I returned home to New York, I had a
completely new outlook. I felt capable, powerful, and independent.
Traveling by myself had a pronounced impact on my subsequent
relationships with men; I was no longer willing to take anything
less than the finest treatment from them.
a movie by yourself.
lovely boyfriend once told me, “You’re not an adult until you’ve
seen a movie by yourself.” After my last rotten relationship,
I took myself to see “Rain Man.” Yes, a couple of less-enlightened
jerks did look at me pityingly, but I didn’t care. I walked
out of the theater feeling great, even if the movie was overrated.
I started going on solo trips to the movies once every couple
of weeks, and it was absolutely freeing. I didn’t have to compromise
with anybody about what film to see, and I genuinely enjoyed
my own company. I began to feel that I could do whatever I wanted.
Once a week,
pick out an inexpensive bouquet from the corner grocer. Stop
making excuses. Stop telling yourself you can’t afford it, that
you should spend your money on something practical, and just
buy it. Take it home and put it in one of those empty vases
you have lying around. The flowers will cheer you every time
you see them. They will make you feel loved.
out with your old friends.
nothing quite like a night out with the girls. If you managed
to shut out your friends while you were with What’s-His-Name,
you may have some apologizing to do. So go to it, and resolve
never to let a man get between you and your friends again. Then,
go out and have a blast. Do it often! You deserve it.
yourself as you would a beloved child. You wouldn’t tell a little
one, “You’re so stupid,” or “You’re fat,” so stop saying such
things to yourself. Speak to yourself—and treat yourself—like
a perfect soul who is progressing every day. A baby doesn’t
come into the world with the ability to talk, but it learns
eventually. Treat yourself to something wonderful every chance
you get. It doesn’t have to cost money. Lose the guilt and eat
your lunch in the park instead of tying yourself to your desk.
Take a walk in the evening and discover a different part of
town. Do things that feel good. If you have the habit of eating
takeout because you don’t like “to cook for one,” it’s time
to impress the most important person in your life. Cook yourself
something simple and delicious. Set the table (no standing over
the stove and eating out of the pot) and serve it on your best
china. Enjoy it with a single glass of the most delightful wine
you can afford.
a class or join a club.
yeah, you’ve heard it before, but it really does make a difference.
Everybody has a special interest, and it’s time to explore yours.
You’ll develop confidence, meet new people, and most important,
get out of the house on a regular basis. When my friend Joe
found out that his girlfriend had been cheating on him for 15
years, he packed up her things and listened to sad music for
two weeks. Then he moved on. His interests are cooking and the
outdoors, so he enrolled in a cooking class and joined a hikers’
club. He made friends through both activities and, before long
he was inviting them to his house for dinner parties. One night,
a guest brought a female friend along, and Joe fell in love
with her. They got married two years ago.
your own boyfriend for a while, you may want a relationship
with a man again. (Or maybe you won’t.) When you’re out on dates,
ask yourself if the guy exhibits any of your ex’s qualities.
Abusers are utterly charming in the beginning, but they leave
clues that indicate they’re not good boyfriend material. Observe
carefully. Never make excuses for poor behavior. Ask yourself
if the guy is the kind of man you’d like your daughter to marry
(whether or not you have one). If the answer is no, give him
the slip. Continue to be your own boyfriend until the right
fellow shows up. Eventually, he will.
to develop a loving relationship with yourself, and the bad
boys you once found irresistible just won’t appeal to you anymore.
You will magnetize gentle, fun, upstanding, faithful men, and
you’ll be attracted to them, too, for a change. Before you know
it, you’ll find yourself in the relationship of your dreams.
I did it, and so can you.