Q: I have dated compulsive liars, drug addicts, the emotionally abusive and mentally disturbed. These have been terrible choices, and I have learned my lessons. I have been single for six months and have dedicated my time to self-love and deciding what I really want in a relationship.
I recently met a guy who feels like a dream come true. He is not a drug user, doesn't smoke and doesn't really drink, either. He has a steady job and a close relationship with his family. He shows me more respect than any man ever has. I'm totally smitten! At the same time, I suddenly feel less secure, although we both have made it clear that we want this relationship to go somewhere. I almost feel safer being single because I feel like relationships always take a little piece of me away. I'm frustrated that I can't simply enjoy this healthy new relationship with a guy who complements my lifestyle. How do I get over these distracting doubts?
A: You do give a little piece of yourself to every relationship, but what you take away should ultimately outweigh what you put in. It doesn't always happen right away; you can go months after a breakup before you realize that you actually benefitted from the experience. Even the worst exes are always good for one thing: training us to see red flags. Those abusers you dated were probably also cheaters, so you now know that a guy who won't meet you at eight of the 10 bars you suggest most likely has something to hide. You know drug addicts are worthless boyfriends, so if a guy walks out of the bathroom every 30 minutes with a ring of powder around each nostril, you'll steer clear of him.
Liars are tougher to spot, but there is a way to weed them out. When you lay it out in the beginning of relationships that you expect the truth at all times, you deter people who don't want to work hard at deceiving you. Dishonest people tend to be emotionally lazy. They pick easy targets and spin lies around them in order to get what they want -- usually unconditional adoration, a false sense of stability or even money. A clear no-tolerance policy on lying will keep this type of person out of your life. If your new man feels the same way (and doesn't use aliases or shoot heroin), then you're off to a good start.
Little fun fact about me: I collect cheesy refrigerator magnets. A childhood friend once bought me one of an airbrushed, galloping white horse and the inspirational quote, "Believe in yourself!" It's ugly as all hell and I laughed to tears when he gave it to me, but you know what? That little piece of kitsch is now front and center on my fridge, because it actually served as a reminder to trust my gut. You have to believe that you're stronger and smarter as a result of your experiences. With each passing boyfriend, your instincts have been made sharper, and you're becoming more in tune with what's good (and bad) for you. Stick a Post-It to your bathroom mirror or buy a cheesy refrigerator magnet of your own. A daily dose of "I believe in my ability to do what's best for me" will help boost your confidence in taking the next step in a relationship.
Your instincts are telling you full-speed ahead, but your past decisions are holding you back. To love and trust people isn't a fault, so stop torturing yourself with the idea that you'll just make another mistake. Those dudes messed it up, not you. This new guy is being genuine about moving forward into a meaningful relationship, right? Trust your experience rather than letting it hinder you, and let your optimism and enthusiasm lead the way.