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Close-up portrait of thoughtful young friends

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How is it that when you are in a relationship, you invest so much time learning someone, but after the relationship ends, you question if you knew them at all? You become best friends only to walk away as strangers. Toward the end of my last relationship, the man I was dating asked why I keep giving myself to men who don’t deserve it as if it were an exit interview for our relationship. It stung to be questioned so casually. I loved this person who couldn’t comprehend why I would be okay with being treated less than I deserved, even if he was a contributing factor.

Some people call accepting less than you’re worth being thirsty. It’s a condition that exists when you operate from a place of lack and you seek something external to quench your thirst. Thinking on that made me recall a word I heard Iyanla Vanzant say years ago:  “When you give someone something you need for yourself you make the other person a thief..” She was right. In past relationships, I hadn’t kept my own cup full, nor understood how to.

So why did I give myself to men who didn’t deserve me? I replayed that question rolling off of his lips and I felt betrayed. I had disclosed my past wounds to him and, in return, I felt judged for my naivety and inability to protect myself. I felt delusional. I felt stupid. I felt embarrassed as I replayed my history of being involved with men who so easily detached from me emotionally while still pursuing an intimate relationship. I had been trying to prove my worth to them all along. Somewhere along the path, I had become grateful just to have a man and was operating from a spirit of fear, disguised as control, to keep him.

I replayed memories from the early stages of our romance to dissect where things took a wrong turn. When we first met, he said that he did not want a long-distance relationship. He said that he had trust issues. He said that he didn’t want a relationship until after he finished school. He said flights were too expensive for such a short amount of time to spend together. I heard him, but I wasn’t listening.

I decided to keep engaging with him and see what happened. I liked him. I could envision our future together. So we continued getting to know each other and months turned into years. We were talking more than texting now, multiple times a day. Our trips visiting one another became more frequent. We met each other’s friends and family during the holidays. We were now researching jobs in our respective cities. We were building, or so I thought. Next thing I knew he went missing. His warmth turned cold, and after days of not hearing from him, he texted that he was going through some things that he didn’t want to talk to me about.

There was an abrupt and complete change in communication followed by no contact for more than a month. Eventually, he resurfaced, and I discovered that he was in the process of creating a life that didn’t involve me. In fact, he had decided to include someone else without reservation. The shock to my system reintroduced a pain from my past I didn’t know still existed.  In the absence of words to describe a broken heart, it was in silence that I heard just how badly my heart ached.

Time passed, but not enough. After more time passed, we had a conversation during which he asked me that dreaded question. We referenced past relationship experiences and recognized our similar experiences, yet we had very different takeaways. Just when I thought he understood my trauma, it was clear he didn’t comprehend why I had chosen to reopen myself to love in the way I had. Alone, I did an inventory of my past romantic relationships and accepted that I had been lending men my trust without allowing trust to build.

I know what it feels like to hear “you should have known better,” so I refrain from passing on that advice because, no matter the age, intentionally taking advantage of someone is never okay. Instead of seeking outside counsel, I began raising my standards and studying how to set new boundaries. I familiarized myself with what I wanted a relationship of mutual love and respect to be. I have learned that although I desire honesty in my relationships, having it is beyond my control. So I focus on what is always within my control: my attitude and my effort. I take responsibility to establish boundaries in the beginning, and no longer do I compromise or settle.

If you have to convince someone you are an asset to their life now, expect that they may become your liability later. Once your value is set it is non-negotiable. It is my responsibility alone to keep my cup full. And when my cup runneth over, my overflow is to share.

For me, self-love is maintaining a healthy lifestyle by investing in my personal growth and development. Morning walks, spending time with God, exercising, staying hydrated, fueling my spirit with books and intellectually stimulating conversations, and living intentionally to create the life I want. When I invest in these things they return their investment to me. My thinking shifts to align with these habits, and there is less room for distractions to infiltrate my spirit. I create space to receive the best because I give the best. My goal is to become so lost in creating valuable output that those who don’t deserve me don’t affect my flow. I trust that the ones who matter will resonate with my energy and appreciate the value that I put out.

It is not my fault if someone doesn’t appreciate my love, but it is my responsibility to honor my worth. Looking back over my past relationships, would I do some things differently? Absolutely. I’ve learned from them so it would be fraudulent to make the same decisions with new knowledge. However, I accept the decisions that I made in my past because what I didn’t know then, I implement now I still give, but I do so from my overflow and I do so courageously.

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