I’ve been in a bit of a dating funk recently. The London dating scene can be pretty brutal and I really can’t remember the last time I went on a date because I’ve been so switched off from it. Instead of feeling down in the dumps, I decided to follow my own advice and change my mindset. I’ve been reflecting a lot about my past relationships and what I’ve learnt about myself and love. I realised that between the honeymoon periods and the heartbreaks, I’ve learnt a hell of a lot and I wanted to share everything I learned about love with you.
In the interest of transparency, I’ve had five serious relationships over about 15 years. After thinking about these relationships, I’ve learnt that I’ve loved A LOT. While I love *love* and being in love but I haven’t always picked the right person which has led to a lot of heartbreak. But I’ve also been lucky enough to meet some incredible men and even a couple who I’ll always love in one capacity, how beautiful is that? I’m grateful for all of the experiences, every high and every low. I feel fortunate that I’ve learnt so many lessons which I can take with me as I start to dip my toe in the London dating pool again.
1. Love hurts
Every single relationship and break up has shown me that love hurts. Being vulnerable is part of being in love. As you open yourself up to love and be loved, you open yourself up to the possibility of being hurt. This can happen during the relationship or as it ends. I haven’t been in a single relationship where I haven’t been hurt in some capacity, whether it’s a misunderstanding or purposeful.
Oh and the breakups are horrific. Not in that cute rom-com way where you wallow for a split second before having a makeover and immediately meeting Mr Right. If only! I’ve experienced gut-wrenching heartbreak which has taken months, if not years, to heal from.
I guess that’s the ugly side of love. But I learnt that you have to be fearless in the pursuit of love, you can’t experience it without the possibility of being hurt.
2. Sometimes love isn’t enough
As a child of the 80s, I grew up on Disney movies and the concept that love conquers all. As I’ve grown up, I’ve realised that love isn’t universal and one person’s perception of love doesn’t always match someone else’s perception of it. The amount you need to be loved can be different from how much love someone can offer you or you may need love to be expressed in a different way than they are able to.
I have one ex, who I will always love unconditionally but I learnt that sometimes love isn’t enough. We broke up a decade ago – one of those gutwrenching breakups – and we got back together several times over the last ten years but we realised that we just don’t work together. I know he loves me to the best of his ability but sadly it isn’t how I need to be loved. There are different ways to express love, if you haven’t explored the five love languages I’d recommend it.
It’s a hard lesson but learning about how I need to be loved was so valuable to learn.
3. Love can make you blind
Exactly a year ago, I wrote about escaping an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship. When we met and started dating, he was very different. He was the most considerate and attentive man and just swept me off my feet. It was such a whirlwind romance, I didn’t have time to catch my breath. When his sweet facade started giving way to controlling and manipulative behaviour, I just didn’t want to see it and fiercely clung onto the gentle and attentive version I initially met.
Over time, things got worse and even on the nights I’d cry myself to sleep, I desperately wanted to believe in that man I fell in love with rather than the one that was hurting me but I was blinded by my feelings. I’m so thankful that I finally woke up and eventually had the strength to walk away.
For a while, I didn’t trust myself to date but I slowly realised that I wasn’t to blame. Men like him are very calculating and manipulative. Now, I have my eyes wide open and make note of any red flags or alarming behaviour. I learnt that when people show you who they are, believe them.
4. Know your worth and never settle
My last serious relationship taught me a lot about myself and how much I value my self-worth. The relationship started wonderfully, serious talk and lots of laughs from our first date. We were similar in so many ways and I felt like I had truly met my equal. Our relationship was a partnership.
Eight months into the relationship, he moved abroad which is when everything changed. Suddenly, the entire relationship relied upon me to make it work. He even pressured me to move to be with him. I considered it but my entire life is in London. It meant giving up my career and blog opportunities alongside being separated from my family and friends. The decision I was left with was choosing him or choosing myself.
It was such a difficult decision but ultimately I decided I wasn’t able to sacrifice everything to be with someone who wasn’t willing to compromise or meet me halfway. I don’t regret this decision at all and I’m so glad I chose me.
5. Allow yourself to heal
A couple of years ago I read a brilliant book called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which had a profound impact on my outlook. I learnt that the concept of the self, and by extension the ego, tends to rule everything we as humans do. When it comes to relationships and especially breakups, the ego can really come into play.
Whether you’re the one who does the breaking up or the one who is getting broken up with, the situation hurts. Often the ego wants to remedy the bruising by going on the rebound and starting to date straight away. I’ve learnt from experience that the worst thing to do after a break up is going on a dating flurry or go careering straight into someone else, which is so tempting especially when you’re dating in London.
A break up can have such a negative effect on your self-worth and how you perceive yourself as well as leaving you craving affection. A rebound is only ever a temporary fix, the best thing to do is take all the time you need to work on yourself and be a happy and fulfilled person before moving on.
Throughout all of my relationships, I’ve concluded. Sure, relationships are hard and breaking up is harder but good things always come from the bad. I really do love love. I’ve been in five relationships which were great for a while and I poured myself into them to make them work. Each break up was devastating and it often feels like you’re also breaking as a person but piecing yourself together and becoming whole after pouring half of yourself into a relationship is a beautiful process.
Each time I’ve rediscovered myself, I’ve become stronger and more resilient. And after reflecting on the lessons love has taught me, I’m more determined than ever not to put boundaries up and to love harder. I’ve questioned whether I do want to find my person and settle down and I realised that I’m a loving person who wants to love and be loved. I’m going to be brace and unrelenting in my pursuit of love and a man who loves me how I deserve to be loved.
Photography by Lauren Dudley.