… and they lived happily ever after.
as long as I can remember, those words filled my eyes with hearts and my stomach with butterflies. disney movies, romantic comedies, and love songs created a foundation for what I expected from a relationship. add to that the religious teachings of purity culture and I felt like I had my fool proof plan to earn my happily ever after. I just had to put in my time, right? I had to earn it.
at 16, I found myself in my first relationship, it lasted a month or two before I felt “convicted” about the relationship distracting me from my summer missions trips and plans to spend the years after high school at a christian internship. I loved him and he made me feel so very special, but I was filled with guilt and shame because I had “kissed dating goodbye” and my body wanted more from him than my guilt and fear would let me explore. I didn’t want to mess up my chance to earn that happily ever after and I knew if I spent much more time with him I would give him more than just my first kiss. And in the moment, the guilt of wanting that as bad as I did weighed heavier than my teenage hormones and I wrote him a break up letter and left it for him at work. I think I told him I would pray for him or something terribly self righteous. I buried my heart break in bible verses and youth group meetings.
at 20, while at that christian internship, I met a boy. My eyes filled with hearts and my stomach filled with butterflies. this had to be it. i followed all the rules, did everything i was supposed to. this was it, it was time for my happily ever after. i’d earned it. Our long distance dating turned into a quick engagement. because we were so “desperately in love” (or incredibly co-dependent) we cancelled our wedding plans and eloped, less than 6 months after we met. for nearly a decade I clung to the belief that I earned my happily ever after and convinced myself (and everyone else) I was living it. and for awhile, I think I was. I thought that happily ever after was something you reached and then just kept it. I thought those hearty eyes and butterflies were permanent.
and then… at 30, I was divorced… my perfect fairy tale had been fractured and my happily ever after had shattered to pieces. I lost hope that I would ever experience that hearty eye, butterfly filled stomach kind of love again.
Since then I have dated a few different guys, allowing each one to occupy some space in my life while simultaneously suppressing that lifelong desire to find my happily (and healthily) ever after. I made one guy I dated, the pastor with that amazing voice made especially for Disney songs, promise he wouldn’t fall in love with me… we were just going to be casual because he had been heartbroken by divorce as well. of course, we connected over our heartbreak and when our feelings got too big, we ran. And the dapper fellow, with whom I shared a love of bourbon and cozy sweaters. By the time I met him I had done enough healing to be open to catching feelings for him, but due to our life circumstances we had very defined boundaries that my heart struggled to stay within so I knew it had an expiration date. But he made me feel like maybe, just maybe, hearty eyes, butterflies, and good guys could all co-exist.
I had a wonderful long term boyfriend, the viking, who was my rock throughout the hardest times of my life. He too was divorced and older and very much content with the type of relationship we had built over time. and so was I. He was safe and exactly what I needed for that season. I found him when I needed someone to protect me from myself and he was that. But little by little, I realized I wasn’t broken like I used to be. I wondered if I could ever be anything but his little broken girl in need of his fixing and protecting. We also had built a life that was intentionally separate at times and it had become increasingly difficult for me. As the realization that I wasn’t in the same place I was when we met began to stir, that desire to have a life partner that wasn’t so loosely woven into my story was growing within me. but I couldn’t be honest about any of that. Not to him and certainly not to myself. I held on to that relationship, that safety and security, for as long as my terrified soul could muster. I tried every way I knew how to convince myself (and everyone else) that I didn’t want what my heart was asking for.
“I’m not interested.”
” I just need me time.”
“Never again, it’s too much hassle when it inevitably ends”
“I’m an independent woman who don’t need no man.”
And every other reason in the book to deny the fact that I truly desire a partner to share life with. Because I was terrified of the pain… the pain of those shattered pieces of my life crumbling around me. Because I wasn’t sure I could handle another loss. I couldn’t start to get used to sharing life with someone again because when it ended, I’d become even more broken. You see, in all this … I’d chosen what I perceived to be safety. I’d chosen loyalty over my own desires. because I was terrified of change, of loss, of rejection, of abandonment. of not being chosen. and what I didn’t see was my fear of not being chosen by others was keeping me from choosing myself. because I thought I was just too broken for someone to choose.
but isn’t that where my strength blossomed and I found my warrior? in that brokenness. isn’t that where I learned to be honest with myself and those around me and embrace my imperfection? in that pain. Isn’t that where I finally found myself? In that darkness. isn’t that where I learned that happily ever after is really just a bunch of right nows stacked on top of each other? Yes. It was. and isn’t it in the midst of that brokenness that I learned what I was capable of? absolutely, it was. and so, despite my fear, instead of choosing the safe path that had become so familiar – I chose to swipe right on myself and follow my strong, independent heart down it’s own wonderful path.
and in doing so I swiped right on the greatest adventure my heart could have dreamt up.
and now, here I am… nearing 33, finding myself in the healthiest and happiest relationship of my life. it was unexpected… something neither of us were looking for (I used to hate when everyone would tell me you’d find exactly what you needed as soon as you stopped looking for it, but they apparently were right)… It was a fluke really. You see the artist was in one of the busiest seasons of his life and “didn’t really have time for something serious” and I was…. a mess, honestly. I don’t know what I was looking for… maybe I was looking for someone to who saw me as my over the top, messy, broken, and independent but needy self and didn’t try to fix me or try to come to my rescue or change me. He is one of the smartest, kindest, most thoughtful people to ever exist. He didn’t certainly didn’t try to fix me or change me. He has simply just been with me. I don’t feel like a project or someone who needs protected. I just feel like me. Our relationship is truly a give and take. see, in the past I would give and the other party would take. but not with him, he pushes me past my comfort in all the best ways.
and yes, there are hearty eyes and butterflies. and laughing until we cry. and forehead kisses. and all night long conversations that are both refreshing and uncomfortable and exciting and terrifying. and the safest, most home like home I have known. we respect and challenge each other in appropriate ways. we respect each others autonomy while collaboratively creating our beautiful little world. creating those moments of choosing each other and supporting each other and just being present with each other. he absolutely is my happily right now and has been for the last year. and I plan to continue to stack those right nows on top of one another day after day and year after year. together we will create our happily ever after by choosing to live it right now.
I thought my fairy tale was forever fractured and that happily ever after didn’t exist. I guess I just needed to learn that happily ever after isn’t just an ending to a fairy tale, it’s a choice I get to make every day. embracing my brokenness, choosing myself instead of begging others choose me, allowing people to love me where I am, loving others exactly where they are… those are choices I get to make every day. And damn, I feel so lucky to have such a wonderful partner to stand with as we both strive to get better at choosing to live our happily right now 🙂