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AUGUST 7, 2012

Photo by Michael Hoy

And so my chapter as a Guinea Pig of Love comes to a close. (Spoiler! This chapter has a happy ending).

For me, this moment is a long time coming, a process that started when I was twenty-one years old, a junior at Georgetown, when I made the choice that would change the rest of my life: to write a column about dating.

They say you teach what you yourself need to learn.  Perhaps I knew then (subconsciously) that I didn’t have the tools for a healthy relationship, and my subsequent decade of dating – and writing about dating – grew out of that.

I started this column to “visit unconventional experts and delve deep into toxic patterns I may have unconsciously been replicating in my love life.  I’ll talk to a tarot card reader, work with a love coach, visit witches, attend a pleasure workshop, and sit down with a mind architect, all to see whether I can actually move toward the thing I want most in this world: love.”

What I had expected happened: The experiments were messy. They were sad.  I cried more than a few times. But I did learn to believe in love again. And, most importantly, I found peace – and a new theory on love and relationships:

I believe that you receive the partner best suited to whoever you are, whatever lessons you need to learn, whatever stage of development you’re at, and however you see yourself.  If you don’t believe you’re deserving of love on a deeper level (I’m not talking about what you say, I’m talking about how you feel inside), you will be met with unavailable, disinterested, or non-committal partners—or you’ll find men who love you, but whom you don’t find to be a good match. You’ll feel those insidious doubts and you’ll wonder, “Is this it?” You will feel frustrated, like you’re banging your head against a wall.  That’s because you (metaphorically) ARE.

The real issue always lies in you.  Always.  Every time.  It lies in you to make the changes that you need in order to have the relationship you want.

When I look back at my relationships over the years, I’ve gotten exactly what I—deep down—thought I deserved.  And it’s clear that sometimes I didn’t feel I deserved very much at all.

With every expert I visited, I changed.  I listened, I learned, I confronted issues within myself that I had buried for decades.  And I found the question inside me shifting from “How can I find a future husband who embodies everything I want in a man?” to “How can I become the woman that man would want to marry?”

Would my man want to marry a woman with low self-esteem?  Of course not. Would he want to marry a woman who didn’t love her body? No. Would he want to marry a woman who was frantic or stressed all the time? A woman who was desperate? A woman who is frequently defensive? An uptight perfectionist? Absolutely not.

So I evolved myself, and in the process, a miraculous thing happened: I stopped caring about the end goal—this future husband, this future marriage.  It isn’t that I stopped desiring a life partner.  It’s that I started loving myself, and I felt enough. I felt whole. Prince Charming wasn’t coming, and that was actually okay. Instead I choose to focus on creating a life so full of adventure, love, and growth that I’m fulfilled without such a man. I stopped looking outside myself for validation and started knowing (not thinking, but knowing, on a deeper level) that although I am not perfect, never will be, I am lovable and I am enough.

And of course, the minute I gave up … truly gave up – and started loving myself, guess what happened?

I met the very man I had been looking for all along.

This man is now my boyfriend, and I love him more than I thought possible.  The relationship we have is more satisfying than any I have had in my entire life, due entirely to the work that I did on myself and my ability to give to another person.

All of us have people in our lives to help us do things: We go to an accountant to help us with our finances, a mechanic to help us with our car, and a doctor to help us with our health.  Yet many of us languish with no guidance, no expertise, no assistance whatsoever in the area most important to us: love.  I can say for sure that I would not be in this happy, healthy, deeply-fulfilling relationship were it not for the help I received from these unconventional experts.

If there is one lesson I can leave you with, it’s this: Every relationship comes into our lives to teach us lessons we need to grow into the people we’re meant to become – and the relationship that teaches us the most is the one with ourselves. So whether you’re single and frustrated or in a relationship you don’t quite find satisfying, turn yourself into your own guinea pig of love. Experiment. Learn. Grow. Love yourself more. Make new mistakes.  Dance with your fear instead of fighting it.

Most of all, know that you can create any sort of life and relationship you want – if you’re willing to do the work to become the woman your ideal man would want to be with.  It’s certainly not easy, but I can tell you from experience … it’s worth it.

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