Can a breakup be a gift in disguise? Most people would probably say no. After all, how could anything that hurts that much be good for us? That’s how I felt, for a really long time. Until I had the masterpiece of all breakups and it handed me the key to the relationship castle.
To my surprise, that key was not loving someone harder, deferring my needs for theirs, getting thinner, prettier, or more accommodating. It was not settling for less than I deserved, or convincing myself that I was destined to be alone forever.
That key showed me that all I needed to do to find happy, healthy love with the right person was to love myself first.
When I was 41, I was in a long-term relationship with a man I deeply loved. I wanted to get married and he didn’t. Somehow, in year 12, I’d convinced him to see a condo that was for sale in our area to see whether we liked it enough to live in it together. It was the biggest step we’d taken.
I was so excited, that I got there early. And then…he didn’t show up.
Embarrassed and ashamed in front of two realtors, I ran into the bathroom, locked the door, and didn’t come out for a really long time. I was devastated. I ran through every possible scenario in my head because standing me up was out of character for Hector. Maybe he got lost? Forgot? Got a flat tire.
The fact was, he chose not to show up. To leave me there, bowled over some stranger’s toilet, feeling like I had a knife in my stomach, forcing me to an epiphany I never wanted to have. One that confirmed for me what I knew I had to do. Not only did I not want to do it, I didn’t know if I had the nerve to go through with it.
I had to let go of him.
Hector and I met 12 years earlier in a bar. I was sitting there, drinking coffee, wondering how long before I could go home and get in my pajamas, when he sat down next to me and said, “I’ll have what she’s having.” We talked for hours. It was magic. I had no idea that he’d even call, let alone become one of the great loves of my life. But that’s precisely what happened.
On the heels of some pretty crappy relationships with some pretty crappy guys, he also taught me what it meant to be good. To be respected. And that I was worthy of love.
And, in letting go of him more than a decade later, I’d ultimately learn to love myself.
Sitting on that bathroom floor, I realized it was him or me. I could stay in a relationship with a good guy who would never give me what I truly wanted. Or I could leave. And suffer a heartbreak I knew could take me out at the knees.
Who would I choose?
Over the years, there had been many times I felt nudged to cut my losses. But I never did. For so many reasons, not the least of which was the fact that I was no stranger to the part of heartbreak that really, well, sucked.
By the time I’d met Hector, I’d already survived two painful, broken engagements and a string of failed short-term relationships with men who’d behaved badly for blood sport. And yes, I picked them. I can see now how that was my first mistake. But in my defense, I was woefully low on self-love, and lacked the tools and insights I needed to see those guys for what and who they were.
I allowed a marvelously un-examined and misguided set of limiting beliefs choose for me. They ran at an impressive clip just under the surface of my psyche, telling me, like your worst best friend, to take whatever and whoever I could get. That a relationship where both people loved each other honorably and equally was inaccessible. That any missteps in terms of these ideas would lead me to having dinner for one into perpetuity.
That if I didn’t listen to those limiting beliefs in all their splendid negativity—delivered into my subconscious by an intravenous of voices other than my own (think convention, mother, ex-boyfriends, etc.)—I might find myself a very alone Jane Doe in the old age home, with no one to pluck the hair from my chin or bring me donuts.
The fact that I was woefully low on self-love didn’t really come as a surprise since we didn’t talk about self-love when I was coming up in the sixties and seventies.
Certainly not like we do today. In those days, the real prize was winning the love of another person, which I did with great vigor. I’d martyr myself for someone else’s love at any cost, reasoning that as long as the other person was happy, well, that would be my reward.
My blatant lack of self-love—executed in the myriad of ways I accepted less for myself—would define and derail me clear through adulthood. I’d make the same mistakes with the same lousy outcomes for decades, questioning my destiny and my worth…but never my choices, beliefs, or approach.
Until Hector and that epiphany wised me up.
That breakup was a rite-of-passage moment that compelled me to finally ask the hard questions: Why was I attracted to the wrong partners? What did I believe about myself and love? What was the payoff for being in a situation that didn’t serve me?
Once I’d answered those questions and understood how I’d failed myself at love, I began to create change. I trashed limiting beliefs and replaced them with more positive versions. I stopped blaming my relationship failures on other people, and took accountability for my role … along with any lessons.
I ditched the old sad story I’d been telling myself for years – the one that ended with me always being alone and unworthy. And wrote myself a new, more empowering narrative about how the love and relationship I wanted was not only possible for me, but that I deserved it.
And you know what happened? I found my way back to loving the self I’d lost…while settling for less and tending to love that failed me. I also got the guy. Met him online six months after that crushing breakup with Hector, and we got married.
At age 43, I had finally figured out that the key to the castle didn’t have to be so elusive or hard won. That everything I needed to find the love I’d always dreamed of was inside of me the whole time. I just had to see it for the gift it was.
Jill Sherer Murray is the founder of Let Go For It®, a lifestyle brand dedicated to helping individuals let go for a better life. Jill’s TEDx talk called “The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go” as well as her forthcoming book called Big Wild Love: The Unstoppable Power of Letting Go have been created in service to her loyal and growing fan base, who seek support in the act and the art of letting go for the love they desire and deserve. Follow Jill @letgoforit on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. And at Jill Sherer Murray on LinkedIn.