Show me someone who enjoys telling someone new about their past romances, and I’ll show you a liar. Even the most open and emotionally healthy person will bristle slightly when discussing their romantic history. I know that for me, telling a new paramour that I haven’t been in a long-term relationship, basically ever, causes me to break out in a mild sweat. I become completely self-conscious about how I will be judged and categorized. Perhaps as an unlovable commitment-phobe and someone with too much baggage?
Harsh, right? Here’s the thing: Those negative thoughts never come from someone else—they come from me. And while they worm their way into my mind every now and then, I know that “single” is not all that I am, and your past relationships (or lack thereof) are not all that you are, either.
Your self-worth is not wrapped up in other people—it is wrapped up in you.
Because we deeply value our romantic relationships, it’s easy to understand why so many of us let them shape the way we see ourselves. If you’re struggling to reconcile your self-worth with your relationship resume, let us help you gain a little perspective.
Have the tiny voices in your head said any of the following?
‘I’m perpetually single!’
The older you get, the more of a social stigma you may feel as a single person. It can be increasingly tough to stay positive and to view yourself as a worthy partner when deep, meaningful relationships seem to elude you. All sorts of thoughts come to mind: I’m too picky! I’m not pretty enough! I’m difficult! Men are scum!
Trust me when I say, I know the dating atmosphere can be tough—brutal, even. And it may feel like you’re kissing frog after frog without a prince in sight. What may help is to try and shift your perspective, and remember that you are not a victim of your circumstances. You are the change agent! If you think you’re being too picky, go out with someone that’s “not your type” and see how it makes you feel. If you’re in a rut? Try a new app. Or delete all the apps and chat up guys IRL. Negative self-talk won’t get you anywhere, but adjusting the way you approach dating and the people you go out with will help make a tangible impact on your life.
‘I’m a serial monogamist!’
Perhaps serious relationships are your thing. And, as one relationship ends, you usually skip over the “casual dating” thing and transition into another monogamous relationship. You might look back at your history of boyfriends and think, “Have I missed out on dating?” You might worry that you don’t even know yourself outside of a relationship. You might doubt that you even know how to “be” without someone by your side.
It’s normal to have these kinds of doubts, and while being a serial monogamist is a potential sign that you're avoiding greater issues, it's not necessarily a problem as long as you are introspective about your past relationships and take time to heal and learn from them once they end. Just remember to use the tools at your disposal to keep yourself in check—including books, your family, friends, maybe even a therapist.
‘I’m always the one being dumped!’
No matter who it is or how long you were with someone, being rejected hurts. Being left always hurts, even if it was only after one date. Never mind being broken up with after months or years of a relationship. But again, casting yourself as a victim in your own love life isn’t helpful or realistic. They say it takes two to tango, and that cliché phrase applies to breakups, too.
I’m not saying that all breakups are mutual—I’ve been dumped seemingly out of the blue and it is awful. You will feel blindsided, sad, angry and confused. But my guess is, when you’ve had some time to reflect and gain some perspective, you’ll see the red flags you missed before. People don’t end relationships when there's a clear future ahead. Even if you aren’t the first to walk away, take comfort in the truth: As perfect as he might have been, he wasn’t perfect for you, and that’s not a reflection of your character, it’s a reflection of a connection that just wasn’t meant to last.
‘My boyfriend cheated on me.’
Unfaithful behavior in a romantic relationship is a tough one, and I won't pretend for a second that it will leave you unscathed. Feelings of self-doubt, a bruised ego and a serious dip in your confidence will come and go as your process something like this. It’s normal to feel your fullest, deepest and darkest feelings after you’ve had an unfaithful partner. But don’t let that darkness pull you all the way under.
In situations like these, remember that you are not to blame. Those driven to cheat are struggling with issues that lie within themselves (Esther Perel explains this well in her TED talk), not with you. It may take some emotional work on your part to get to a healthy, resolved mindset, but an unfaithful partner is not a black mark on your relationship history. As with most things that feel painful and jarring at first, they are ultimately learning experiences—helping us grow and mature into the strong and loving people we want to be both for ourselves and our partners.