Love...the cause of many sleepless nights and tears, the greatest pleasure in life, the meaning of it all....no matter what your opinion or where you on your journey right now, I think we can all agree that love is one of the most important things in any persons life.
I was always the girl who had her head buried in Point Romance novels...always watching rom-coms and imaging myself in the heroine's place...always day dreaming about being swept off my feet by Mr Right in some dramatic and romantic fashion (Usually in these daydreams Mr Right would be played by Ronan Keating or someone equally as cringy, of course.)
It all seems so straight forward when you're younger...you'll simply grow up, meet Mr or Mrs Right, the path will be clear and you'll fall madly in love, get married, have babies and live happily ever after.
Ok that may not have been everybodys idea of perfect, but it was certainly mine.
And for some people, life may pan out exactly that way.
But most of us have a bit of a journey to go on before we get there.
And while it may seem appealing to find that perfect person right away and get right on with the wedding and the babies and the happily ever after....I've always been quite grateful for my journey.
The path to finding love hasn't been a particularly smooth one for me....in fact it's had twists and turns that I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined back in those 12 year old daydreamer days...but it's taught me things. A lot of things.
Lessons I needed and lessons I am so grateful for.
My relationship history is a bit of a long story I suppose...if you don't count boyfriends I had when I was 11, then I had my first "proper" boyfriend at 16 - and OH BOY did I think that was T-R-U-E-L-O-V-E!
I was convinced that he was THE ONE way before we even started dating...I wrote our names together as Mr & Mrs all over my school books (I'm not going to say the name coz he's still on my Facebook friends list and how bloody embarrassing would that be?!)....Oh yes, as far as I was concerned this was it.
After a year or so though, his family moved away and that was that.
There were a few boyfriends after him....including his best mate (A classy move on my part, don't you think?!)....until at 18, I met C.
C was the former local "Bad boy" and I quite enjoyed the raised eyebrow reactions I got when I told people I was dating him...I particularly enjoyed the lack of approval from my Mum, that definitely made him much more appealing to rebellious teenaged me!
C & I ended up being together for several years.
We never moved in together, but we had a long long relationship and I think everybody thought we would always be together.
But we weren't....things started to break down in the end, and I met someone else.
That someone else happened to live down in Devon, and so after about 6 months I moved the 250 miles from my home in Liverpool to live in Exeter with him.
I won't go into all of the details again as I've spoken in detail about it before, but to cut a long story short - we were together for 6 years or so, we were engaged and our wedding was all booked, planned, paid for....except the relationship was actually a terrible one and had been for years.
And so, a few weeks before the wedding day, it was called off....and I was free.
And for the first time since I was 16, I was kind of single!
I say kind of...I suppose that's not entirely true as I had already met Jon by this point and although our relationship was complicated to say the least, we had certainly already started something...but I lived alone for the first time in my life.
I dreaded the day coming when I would move into that apartment by myself, but once it actually happened I felt such an enormous sense of freedom.
There is something truly liberating about living alone and I really believe it's something that everybody should experience once in their lives - I never would have known how strong and independent I can be if I hadn't had that experience, I would never have thought I'd be able to manage living alone so far away from my family...but I did, and I adored it.
It only lasted a few months before Jon moved in, and since then we've never looked back.
But when I think back through the experiences I've had in relationships, as many bad memories as there are....I have to admit that those relationships taught me some valuable lessons in love.
1) People change....ourselves included
The person I was at 16 dating my first boyfriend is a world away from the person I am today, sitting here and writing this.
My hopes and dreams are different, my personality is different, my outlook on life is different - even my core beliefs are different.
Perhaps that's because of the journey I've been on and perhaps these changes don't occur in all people, but over the course of time that I was in relationships with people I saw them change too.
I don't believe that anybody stays the same forever, and it's all about growing together and in the same direction as the person that you choose to spend your life with.
I don't believe this is something that can be forced - sometimes people grow apart and I believe that happens for a reason. Some people are part of our lives fleetingly to teach us things we need to know...to take that knowledge with us on our journeys and to help us become the people we need to be.
I do believe that having the same morals and coming from similar backgrounds can be a huge help in growing together - I came from very different backgrounds and had very different lifestyles from the previous boyfriends I had, Jon is certainly the one person of all the boyfriends I've had whose background is most similar to mine and whose core morals and motivations in life are the most similar.
2) Successful relationships are not measured in time
I used to keep tally of how long a relationship I was in had lasted.
When I was with C, I knew exactly how many years, weeks and days we had been together....A close friend had met her partner at the same sort of time and we would constantly talk about how long we'd been with them for now.
I thought the fact that we had been together for several years made it a successful relationship - I thought that the length of time we had devoted to each other meant that we were somehow more suited to each other than others with shorter relationships, that it somehow made us superior and more "real".
I was completely wrong.
You can be with the wrong person for 30 years....You can be married for an entire lifetime....but if you're not with someone with whom you can truly be yourself, without having to pretend, without having to hold back anything - then it's irrelevant.
You can be with the right person for just a matter of weeks or months, and know that your experience in that short amount of time is worth more and has meant more than years spent with the wrong person.
Until I was writing this article, I truly had no idea how long Jon & I had been together.
I don't keep tally anymore.
I asked him while I was writing this, and it turned out it's been a lot longer than I actually thought...it feels like we've only been together for a couple of years at most, it turns out we've been together for over 4 years.
Not as short a time as I thought or as it feels, but considerably less than the time I was in relationships with my fiance or with C.
If I was still measuring relationships in time like I once did - I'd consider this to be a less successful relationship. How ridiculous considering that this is the one relationship I've had where I feel I am truly myself...where I hold back nothing...where I fear nothing....I can say anything and not fear judgement.
Time spent is irrelevant....quality, compatibility, honesty and communication are what count.
3) Nothing in life is black & white and nothing is guaranteed
No matter what, the one thing in life that you can be certain of is the fact that nothing is certain.
Nothing is set in stone and life can throw curveballs at any time.
There are things that have happened to me in relationships and decisions I have made that I never thought I would...things I'm not proud of and things I never thought I would do but I came to realise that in matters of the heart nothing is black and white. There is a grey area....a huge one.
Relationships are messy and people get hurt. Life is messy.
The "Perfect" that you end up with may look a little different to the "Perfect" you imagined - did I ever think I'd end up with someone who had been married before? Not at all! Is it my dream scenario? Not at all! But just like I had to have my journey, my partner had to have his too....and without that journey, we wouldn't have met.
4) People are not possessions
I used to be someone who felt that my partner somehow belonged to me and that I belonged to them....I now consider this to be a very unhealthy attitude.
As important as relationships are and as all-consuming as love can be, I believe it is so important to remain your own person.
A person who is part of a team, sure....but your OWN person.
I used to love movie lines like "You complete me"...now they make me cringe.
In fact a few days ago I heard a One Direction song on the radio, and one of the lines made me gasp in horror..."I don't exist if I don't have you"....possibly one of the most unhealthy lines in a song I have EVER heard...and this is what we're teaching a generation of young girls?!
Of course you exist without a person.
No matter how much you love someone, no matter how committed your relationship, no matter how unable you are to picture your life without them....deep down you need to KNOW who YOU are...nobody completes you, you complete yourself.
The person you choose to be with complements the person you are....they do not become the person you are and you do not become them.
5) Love is not about perfection.
It's all too easy to pretend that love is about life being perfect - that it's all smiles and romance and that life is always peachy - but I call bullshit.
In my eyes, love is about acceptance - it is about being real and true to yourself...being who you are with no fear of judgement and no holds barred - and someone loving you flaws and all.
There will be arguments, there will be disagreements...Jon & I argue often!...and I like it that way, because neither of us is afraid to make our points heard...there's always a resolution or compromise reached, and that is what I think is important.
I hear these old aged couples say they've been married for 70 years and never had a fight and it doesn't fill me with warm fuzzies at the romance of it all like it once would have....it makes me fear that they haven't really been true to themselves. How can you live a passionate and true life without ever encountering a single argument?
I don't believe that you can.
Of course all of these are just my thoughts and opinions, and I'm certainly no expert on the matter....all I know is that these are things I have learned from past relationships and how grateful I am to have learned them....these little lessons and the experiences I've had with Mr Wrongs have helped me to recognise and appreciate the difference when you end up with the RIGHT person.
It's a cheesy line but its true....when you finally meet THE ONE, you just know!
My Mr Right was not Ronan Keating....he did not woo with me a gigantic pink diamond and whisk me off to get married under the Eiffel Tower....
He was a grey haired man who started working where I did, whom I barely noticed for weeks, who started to make me laugh a bit with his bizzare sense of humour...who's Geordie accent I liked and who eventually won me over by dropping McDonalds breakfasts off outside my apartment door and leaving magazines on my desk to read during my lunch breaks....
And that's MY kind of perfect.
Our first photo together!
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