Found this photo on Facebook today, and it got me thinking.

For a long time, I was with the “wrong guy”, wishing he had been the right one.
We met young, and I fell far too easily and far too fast.  I knew he had a history of being less-than-faithful to past girlfriends, but to me, it didn’t matter. I put it down to immaturity, and believed that it wouldn’t happen to me. I was different.

Oh, sixteen-year-old-me, when you were described as beautifully naive, they weren’t wrong.

In a little under a year, he had cheated on me with another boy and shattered my heart. We agreed to work through it, but he dumped me less than a month later.

That high school relationship was the beginning of nine rocky years of my life. We broke up and reunited several times. We lived together more than once. During this time, I was diagnosed with, and treated for, severe depression and anxiety. We fought constantly – horrible, screaming, door-slamming fights that I had never experienced before and never wish to experience again. I gained loads of weight, and he told me he was no longer attracted to me. He was unfaithful more than once, each time with a boy. I never seemed to be enough. Each time our relationship ended, I was devastated. I believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, and that I would never really be loved. After years of being on-again/off-again, he convinced me that he was serious about marrying me, and we got engaged. I think somewhere, in the back of my mind, was a niggling fear that nobody else would ever want me, and I think that was the driving force behind my saying  “yes”.
Not even nine months into our engagement, he began another affair. He told me that he just needed time to ‘figure himself out so he was sure’. He was not discreet.
I remember thinking “If this is what our marriage will be like, I don’t want it.” I deserved better. I deserved to be happy. Our engagement ended – a month after his new relationship had begun.

I’m sure you’ve all been tearing your hair out in exasperation for a while now at my painful naivety. I know. I look back and ask myself “Why??” too.

Why did he continue to treat me the same way over and over? Why was I the one responsible for maintaining our relationship? Why was he unfaithful more than once? Why was he so against me moving on? Why did he continue to hurt me??

The answer is surprisingly simple, in retrospect: Because I let him.

I had set a precedent with that first indiscretion in high school – he had shattered me, and not only had I let him, but I had still loved him. And so, he did it again, and then again. I kept giving him chances that he hadn’t earned and didn’t deserve. It would appear that I am a hopeless optimist, almost to a fault.
It was constantly suggested that if I improved, our relationship would improve. He had become an expert at making me question my own resolve, and at times, my own sanity.
As a result, I let him walk over me, hoping that one day he would realize how wonderful and faithful that I had been and change who he was, falling at my feet and praising me as the absolute Goddess that I actually was.

Yet, as I grew older, I began to realize that love shouldn’t make you feel less than. I saw the way my mother loved my father, and how he loved her in return, and knew that that was the kind of love I not only wanted, but deserved – a mutual, respectful, deep love, that was accepting of any and all flaws; One that wasn’t perfect, but it was honest and true. My parents piss each other off, of course, but they also make each other laugh – genuine, silly giggles and chortles. They are in their fifties and can still be caught pinching each other on the backside, or stealing kisses when they think nobody is looking. They have grown together throughout their lives. They truly support one another. They are a team.

It didn’t matter that I loved and trusted my ex, or that I was loyal to him, even when he was disloyal to me. Our feelings just didn’t match. I’m sure he loved me as best he could at some point, but we were never really a team. I don’t hold resentment toward him for this- in fact, I don’t feel anything toward him at all, really. We tried too hard for too long to be compatible when we weren’t, and in the end, our relationship was a place of misery and pain. I also understand that a lot of his relationship with me was him trying to fit a mould that he was not built for. It saddens me to think how lonely that must have been for him.
I don’t write this to rubbish him, or to paint him as some kind of horrible, inhuman being. Because at the end of the day, he’s just a person like I am. I’ve attempted to put forward the bare minimum of issues in our past relationship, and we certainly had some doozies, to illustrate my point that he treated me that way partially because I allowed it.
However, our relationship was not wasted. I don’t rue the day I met him, or wish that I never had. In fact, I learned a lot about myself, and what I am willing to put up with. Ultimately, it made me stronger and more resilient, and brave enough to not only recognize what I deserve, but to respectfully demand it too. I know that I love wholly and completely, and that I am not perfect, but I do my best. And I know it’s alright to be that way.

I’ve come to realize that if someone doesn’t match the effort, love, respect and loyalty that you give them, it’s not your fault. You can drive yourself mad over not being “enough” for them (because it will feel that way, in the beginning), but the thing is, you will one day come to realize that you are enough. You always have been. You deserve someone who will match your efforts, someone that you just click with. But until you let go of the one who isn’t making the effort, you won’t be able to find the one who will.

I am thankful now that things turned out the way they did. I have stumbled upon someone who matches my love, loyalty and efforts with their own.
Being with him is like being home – comfortable, easy, and no rules about having to wear pants. He seeks me out the minute he gets home from work, with the same small, goofy, satisfied smile on his face that endeared me to him in the beginning. He peppers my face with kisses out of nowhere. He reaches out to touch me, just because, and he butt-humps me at the most inappropriate times that he can think of (like in my parents kitchen midway through a conversation, or while placing an order at the deli counter at Woolworths). His sleep talking antics have me in stitches, even if he did once call me by the wrong name (although he immediately corrected himself in his sleep too, so brownie points for that). He finds my stubbornness endearing, the fact that I am prone to fainting when having blood drawn downright hilarious, and the only time we raise our voices is because we’re both partially deaf and we can’t hear one another. He makes me laugh without effort, he gets me a biscuit if I’m hangry, he understands me when I don’t quite understand myself and he picks up the tea towel without being asked when I start the dishes. There are so many other things that I absolutely adore about him that it would be impossible to list them all, and I’m discovering more to love about him as time goes on.
Most importantly, however, in the face of adversity, he takes my hand, squeezes it, and assures me, “I’ve got your back. We’ll get through this.”

Do not settle for less than. Find someone who matches your effort and accept nothing less. It’ll be so worth it in the end.