Signs of a Healthy Relationship

Niki Marinis

Yes, love is a choice. But love is also a feeling.

Photo Art by Katie Dutch

This may be the first healthy relationship I’ve ever been in, so I don’t know how to do this right. I have no experience here. So it all feels weird and uncomfortable, but in an intriguing and enlightening way. I know the exhilarated, fluttery way I’ve felt in the past was based in low self-worth, escapism, excitement and fantasy.

None of it was based in reality, because those kinds of feelings don’t last. They’re superficial and fleeting and you can’t go basing a real relationship on them. You can’t base a relationship on feelings, but I want there to be feelings involved.

This sounds so stupid.

Of course there are feelings involved, but this time the feelings have matured and I’m not used to them and they don’t feel familiar and right yet. I’m only used to the fleeting excitement of new love, and the anxiety of feeling good enough to keep it around.

And maybe my heart has been hesitant because of my last relationship. And that’s the problem right there: according to him, we were never dating, only “hanging out” 4–5 nights a week for five months. Taking me out, bringing me gifts, paying for dinner, watching movies, wandering around town, being silly and weird and laughing, all to find out we weren't even dating.

He never called me his girlfriend and I never asked. If you have to ask, the answer is no.

I never asked if we were dating, I assumed we were because his actions said we were. If you have to ask where you stand, the answer is you’re single. A man who wants to date you will make it known through actions AND words. You need both.

“Don’t you just assume you’re boyfriend and girlfriend?” NO, you don’t, asshole. Not unless you want to get your heart broken. Which I did.

Always assume you’re single and dating other people until he asks you to be his girlfriend. Yes, he has to ask you. Aren’t you worth that? You’re worth being asked, you’re worth being pursued, you’re worth the guy putting in the fucking effort and work to win you over.

I've been single most of my life because I felt I had to “help him out” when it came to dating me.

Handing myself over on a silver platter by telling guys flat out I was interested in them, pursuing them, calling, texting, asking them on dates, under the guise of being “bold” and “modern”, has never once worked out for me. Ever.

Yeah, guys will take anything you hand them for free. All while they are pursuing the women they actually want to date.

I’m getting off track here.

My point is that my current boyfriend DID win me over. He DID show he was worth my time and energy and attention. He DID make it very clear he wanted to date me, and only me, by ASKING ME TO BE HIS GIRLFRIEND.

He takes me out and pays, he drives, he picks me up, he brings me presents, he cooks for me, he texts and calls, we have fantastic conversations and he listens to me, he’s supportive and encouraging, he says sweet, wonderful things, he’s caring and considerate and thoughtful.

So why wasn’t I feeling that old familiar warmth in my heart, and elation and fulfillment? Well, because those old familiar feelings are based on dysfunction, and this relationship is not dysfunctional.

I think I used to feel love when I felt like the guy approved of me, so I finally had worth. Because you’re not complete until you find someone who wants you, right? Your “missing puzzle piece” bullshit?

Well, I wasn’t looking for anyone to complete me or validate me anymore when we found each other. I wasn’t looking for someone to make me feel better about myself, give me direction, tell me how to fix my life and make everything all better.

So what does this new love feel like? Detached. Clear. Vibrant. And yet, there has been a small longing in my heart, a void waiting to be filled. A void waiting for permission to be happy, to believe, to accept that he and this are real and he’s not going to just up and change his mind tomorrow. My worth and value as a person is no longer tied to whether or not a man wants to be with me.

If he were to leave me I would be fine on my own because I am enough on my own. And everyone should feel that way. I never have, and most people don’t, hence so very many relationship issues. And it’s because I finally feel full and whole and enough on my own that I was able to attract such a wonderful man and such a healthy relationship. Counterintuitive, isn’t it.

I love and appreciate that we are two separate people who are choosing to be together because we want to be, not because either of us is bored or just killing time until we find something better.

I love and appreciate that we are complimentary individuals, like salt and pepper shakers, and not matching wine glasses. We do not become one blob of amalgamated parts.

For once in my life I am maintaining my own identity and worth and value, and because of that, I don’t know how to feel love. The love I have always felt has been from a place of desperate acceptance.

“Please tell me I’m a good person! If you love me then I’ll know I’m a good person!”

So I don’t know how to feel healthy love. And it’s taken me almost nine months to get there. But here I am now.

Because what IS love? It’s more than doing nice things for someone and telling them wonderful things about how great they are. I think I needed to feel WORTH something, as counter as that is to everything I’ve written up to this point. To feel that I as a person, truly and deeply as a person, was genuinely valued and cared for.

Anyone can take you to dinner, buy you presents, have sex with you, take you to the movies, and want to see you every night, and STILL have you mean nothing to them.

That last guy did all those things for me and he didn’t love me. He didn’t care about who I was as a person. He didn't even want to say we were dating. So even though my boyfriend has made it abundantly clear that we ARE dating, that I AM his girlfriend, that he LOVES me… I think I’ve still been waiting for it all to go away.

My dad has never been there for me emotionally. He doesn’t know how. So silence and head nods and “oh wells” are all I’ve ever been given. No advice, no hugs, no asking me how I am, no genuine concern for my heart or my feelings.

He. Doesn’t. Know. How.

And unfortunately, I feel punished for it. That if I had been a good enough person he would have given me that love and care and consideration. He didn’t, so I must not be a good person. And here I am living in that shame.

And this is why I haven’t been able to feel the love I want to feel. Until now.

We had a pregnancy scare. And I was scared, as I have an IUD, which should make that damn near impossible. It’s in that hard situation my boyfriend showed me how much I matter to him. When I was truly in a place of anguish, shock and fear he didn’t say, “Well, good luck with that. Let me know the next time you want to come over. Bye.”, and leave me to deal with it.

He showed me how important my feelings and emotional well-being were to him, how much he supported me, and was there for me to talk through this. I didn’t have to go looking for him and beg, or even ask. I didn’t have to prove I was worth his time or effort. I felt empathy, compassion, care, concern, genuine love beyond obligation, supported and surrounded and not alone in a time of real crisis.

He doesn’t love me because it’s his job. He loves me and cares for me because he WANTS to, and he chooses to keep doing it. I feel loved and appreciated for who I am, not merely as “the girlfriend”, or a placeholder or thing, or the entertainment.

And it’s for all of these reasons that I feel settled and safe and special and accepted in a way that goes beyond loving myself. And it’s this feeling that I have been waiting for. And I am thrilled to finally be here.

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I'm an original. A Warhol. You're just a print. I like thrift store owls, true crime, and breaking hearts.

Ventura, CA

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