It begins like this: Once upon a time... And what happens next is up to you. ESSENCE Lifestyle & Relationships Editor Charreah K. Jackson shares why it’s critical to love on the right terms, no matter your relationship status.
As the in-house love guru for ESSENCE, it’s an honor to serve you in one of the most crucial decisions you make: who lives in your heart and sleeps in your bed. The people we share our time, bodies and spirit with impact everything else in life. After interviewing hundreds of couples and singles, the biggest epiphany I’ve had is that it’s important to write your own love story. Here’s how to take the starring role in a romance!
EMBRACE YOUR BEGINNING
In order to have the life you dream of, you have to be honest about where you’ve come from. This past year, I worked on myself like never before through personal development training with Momentum Education. I uncovered pain I had hidden, including the hurt I suffered when my parents separated. I cried for the first time for the baby that was left when her daddy moved away when she was only 1. It wasn’t until I acknowledged the ways my parents’ divorce and my father’s leaving affected me that I could truly start to heal the scars of abandonment and distrust I didn’t even realize had been coloring every relationship I entered. When I sat in the pain I had been running from all my life, I could see how it had been keeping me from letting others get close. I realized I wouldn’t be the woman I am today if my path were any different, and I released the anger. What old pain will you address to heal?
DECLARE WHAT’S NEXT
After assessing your journey, it’s time to plot your future! What do you crave? Want to date more or be married in the next five years? Wish you and your partner had more sex? Get detailed on what you see for your romantic outcome, write it down and say it out loud. Stand firm in the vision, whether it’s “I will be married to an awesome partner by 2017” or “I will give my best to my current sweetheart.” Then decide two qualities of the type of person you must become to reach your goal. A loving relationship requires you to be vulnerable and trusting of another person—and share the things you usually like to keep hidden. With a clear view of the person you want to be, determine three actions that get you closer to your vision. While completing her residency, New York City–based psychologist Paulette D. Murphy, Psy.D., saw that all that mattered to people who were sick was their partner and family. It made her think. “I was working so much and felt I would never find a guy,” she says. “I decided to do one thing a day to widen my circle, whether it was finding events or asking friends for referrals. One day a friend replied that he knew a great guy. That guy is now my husband.” If you find yourself feeling uncertain, channel that energy into planning. Surround yourself with evidence it’s going to happen through a vision board, or pen a letter to your future spouse.
REWRITE YOUR PATTERNS
Our past can echo in our present day. Taking your life off autopilot and looking at your habits can help you better see blind spots and dead ends. Are you the woman who cuts a guy off if he gets too close or do you need to have the last word in an argument, no matter what? In paying attention to how I show up in the world, I realized it was all or nothing with me. When even the smallest problem arose, in my relationships or professional life, I was ready to pull the plug on the whole thing rather than work through the particular issue. “You gotta sift” is what blackbridalbliss.com founder Bridgette Bartlett Royall was taught by her grandmother when it came to baking biscuits—and working through challenges with a partner. Sifting removes impurities and makes the flour lighter while preserving what’s good. The same holds true for relationships.
DEFINE YOUR JOY
Think about all the things that had to go right for you to be sitting and reading this magazine. When we check into how magical our lives are, we are less concerned with what it looks like to others. Earlier this year my boyfriend and I celebrated our sixth anniversary as a couple. But for a few months after, when asked by loved ones, I was still saying we had been together five years. I didn’t like the questions about why we hadn’t tied the knot yet. By shortchanging that blessing, and the 2,000 days I spent with my soul mate, I was only robbing myself. After growing up and realizing marriage was about adding value to the world through our union and not just a social status, I’m so grateful that we didn’t rush things in order to meet society’s expectations and that we honored our perfect timing.
We can feel such pressure as women to have the fairy-tale romance. But the best endings are grounded in truth and love, not just pretty packaging. A friend who has the big house, gorgeous family, banging body and designer wardrobe recently opened up about how before she and her husband married, he had a one-night stand that resulted in a set of twins around her son’s age. What could have broken many couples became the ground on which they rebuilt their relationship. She had to reject what nosy friends, concerned relatives and the Internet would have said, and focus on what made sense for her. “Had I listened to what others advised, I would have left,” she says. “I’m so glad I stayed. We haven’t looked back.”
In this life, sometimes we get to choose our own adventure. When it comes to relationships, it is especially important that we pick up the pen and craft our own romance. What will your story be?
This feature was originally published in January 2016 issue of ESSENCE.