As young girls, we are told that a man will complete us. But in reality, there’s an emptiness inside of us that no partner can ever fill. That space is reserved for our own self love. Some people go their whole lives searching for someone or something to fill that void. I felt that empty feeling but rather than looking outside myself, I convinced myself I was supposed to be alone; it felt like a punishment but one that I embraced for fear of losing control. On this day, September 12, 2009, all that changed.

I wish I could sit here and say the first person that I fell in love with was myself, but it wasn’t. The first person I ever loved was a man named Senah. I met him the day he arrived in Chicago with nothing but the bags on his back. He was shy at first not talking to anyone else in our group except me. We connected instantly. Over the next few months as him and I continued to get to know each other, I realized I was falling in love with him, and it made me angry.

Love was something I had avoided – getting close to people at all was something I steered clear of. I watched my friends get into relationships and their interests, their goals, and even their friends changed in the name of love. Love was a threat to my independence and even though, I longed for companionship, I wanted nothing to do with love. Senah didn’t either. We were both terrified.

Eventually, we both gave in and admitted how we felt. I remember describing that moment to my friends later as “straight out of an episode of The Hills” because it was dramatic and passionate – exactly how saying “I love you” for the first time should be. But our relationship was far from a fairytale.

We both saw each other’s worth but we didn’t see our own. He was shy and awkward in an adorable way. He was insanely intelligent. I learned so much from him. I admired that his mind worked in ways I had never seen but all he saw was how hard it made for him to relate to people. I knew he was great and he knew I was great but both of us were completely unaware of our own value. I was so scared of him leaving that I pulled him close while he was so scared I would never stay that he pushed me away. We were both afraid of abandonment due to our own feelings of inadequacy and it put a strain on our relationship.

After a year and a half, we decided to go our separate ways.  We always said if we had met five years later, things would be different. So five years later, here I am writing about what I’ve learned about love and relationships in the time since I made that declaration.

1)      You’ll always be unhappy in a relationship if you don’t love yourself first. And if you are in a relationship with someone who doesn't love him/herself, they won't have the capacity to love you in return.

2)      Look for a partner whose needs you can meet and who can meet yours in return. You don’t need to have the same needs or abilities but you do need to be able to meet them for each other. Mutuality is the best deterrent of resentment.

3)      Being single is not something to apologize for.  Being single is necessary for your own development and growth. If you don't feel like you're enough without someone, you'll never be enough with someone.

4)      It is far better to be alone than in a relationship or a situation with someone who can’t meet your needs.

5)      Trust what people do – not what people say. Consistent actions are the most important indicator of someone’s intentions. Someone who says they want to be with you but runs at the first sign of accountability is not ready to meet your needs.

6)      If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Patience reveals deception. Always feel someone out before jumping into a situation.

7)      If someone says they are not ready, believe them and walk away. Nothing you can say or do will change their mind. Be glad that they saved you from wasting your time.

8)      Don’t be a prisoner of your past. Learn from your experience but don’t hold your new partner accountable for your past partner’s mistakes.

9)      Don’t be afraid to close the door with someone. Our fear tells us to leave the door open because we are afraid that someone else might not come along, but leaving the door open for the wrong person prevents the right person from walking in.

10)   Your partner's passion and drive must meet yours. The most important thing you can have in common is the life you want to live.

11)   It’s okay to be cautious. It’s okay to have boundaries. If you don’t feel comfortable expressing yourself to that person, you are not a good match.

12)   No one should tell you how to dress, act, talk, feel or who you can or can't be friends with. An insecure partner will use control as an attempt to make you weaker while a confident partner will encourage you to be the best version of yourself.

Improving myself is exactly what I set out to do when Senah and I parted ways. These days, Senah and I are friends.  I told him I was writing this post and he gave me his blessing. He’s still the smartest person I’ve ever met. And he still knows me better than probably any other man. I still love him; I think a part of me always will.

Five years after meeting Senah, I am not afraid of love anymore. I don’t see being single as a punishment. When our relationship ended, I saw it as a failure. I had tried love and failed. But now, I see that our relationship was one of the first steps into learning to love myself and feel worthy of love in return.  When Senah and I broke up, I remember telling him that in our time apart we would work on ourselves and be better people for each other one day. And five years later, we are better people but not for each other; we are better people for ourselves. 

This post was originally published on September 12, 2014.