The Journey Back to Love
By Shereá Denise
I have often believed that I was someone who was not meant to have successful or healthy romantic relationships. My childhood did not offer examples of the love I saw on television or in movies… and none of what I saw on the big screen or in my own life was the type of love I wanted. At some point I started to believe that what I wanted must not exist. Most relationships and situationships that I entered were happenstance. Though they felt like serendipity in the moment, I often found myself being overly consumed with being the perfect person for people I knew were not perfect for me. Too often I physically remained in relationships long after my heart had departed them.
Now here I am. Countless relationships later and with limited hope remaining, I decided to get a handle on the decades long disappointment that has become my love life. There were so many things that I learned from my past situations and I planned to address and unlearn them all in an effort to revisit the authentic version of love that I knew and hoped for prior to my first heartbreak. You know, that feeling that you had before you learned to be overly skeptical of people’s statements and whereabouts. That feeling that you had before you learned to put other people’s needs before your own, before you compromised what you wanted for what they were willing to offer.
I started this journey back to my own personal brand of love by asking other people the questions that I was pondering. The questions ranged from “Are care and love synonymous?” to “What is one thing you have never truly been vulnerable about in your romantic dealings?”
While looking for answers to these questions, I realized that the answers I was getting from other people were not always enough. I quickly recognized that love and intimacy were subject matters that I needed to study further to truly understand where I had gone wrong and how I could prevent those same wrong turns in the future. Though I did not plan to make flash cards or break out my highlighters, I definitely felt drawn to books that I believed could help me answer all of these questions in my brain… and maybe even the questions that I could not articulate yet.
I started with After the Rain by Alex Elle. In her discussion of her experiences and lessons, I learned the value in making the decision “not to [entertain] people who I knew were temporary and [in deciding] that settling was no longer an option in my life.” Alex Elle talks about her own decision to take a break from dating and do the self-work to determine who she was outside of who she was to other people. I made the decision to do the same. Beginning January 12, 2021, I was taking a break from whatever this dating thing was. I did not enjoy it and I was not being true to myself. If anything I was spinning my wheels and had been for longer than I truly wanted to admit.
While reading After the Rain, I began engaging with members of a book club on Clubhouse. The group was reading All About Love by bell hooks. Ironically, I had picked this book up years ago and could not bring myself to read more than the first few chapters. I can now own that part of the reason for that is because I did not like some of the conclusions that bell hooks drew pertaining to traumatic childhood experiences and adult comprehension of love. Her words - albeit probably unintentionally - were sharp and I am still not completely able to digest and accept all that she is saying in this book. I feel tried regularly, but it is helpful to talk it through with a group of people who are all in different positions and who have different lived experiences with love than mine.
The amazing mastermind behind The Love Lab also provided me with a copy of The Seven Levels of Intimacy by Matthew Kelly, which is already teaching me to re-evaluate what I understand about intimate relationships at a very basic level. It has helped me to understand that some of the more difficult things about intimacy are that it proves to be a mirror to your real self and that it requires surrender. Not only did I realize (in the first thirteen pages) that I do not completely care for what was in the mirror that my past relationships have shown me, but I was also reminded that I tend to struggle with surrendering, despite how much I long to be able to do so.
I sit in this space knowing that I am only starting this journey and accepting that I have a lot of work and unlearning to do. I sit in this space knowing that this journey will not be a short one, but that it is one that is beyond necessary and worthwhile. I am recognizing my mistakes while also refusing to continue carrying the baggage and insecurities that past lovers left me with. I am making unexpected promises to myself and committing to them wholeheartedly.
Writing this post allows me to make some promises to you too. I promise that we all can recall and experience the kind of love that we imagined before our first heartbreak. I promise that we all can take this journey back to who we truly are. I promise that - if we do the work - we will receive all that we truly want and need. I promise that you are worthy of all of the love that you desire and even more than you can possibly imagine.