I was in a long-term relationship once. It was a good one. Eight years. I took my time and waited until I was 28 to fall in love. I was ready to try give relationships a chance. We traveled and had many great moments. We got comfortable. It was perfect, but something was missing.

Being my first attempt, I couldn’t have begun to appreciate how good it was. I hadn’t solidified in my mind and heart what I wanted out of a relationship. It was unplanned. I rushed into it but I was lucky. She was smart, grounded, loving, patient, beautiful. To everyone else, we seemed happy.

Beneath it all, I had this fear of not having lived or having experienced being in love in all it’s forms or even what each looked like. Over time, that fear got the best of me. I was scared to commit. It wasn’t her. It was me, but I never discussed my doubts.

So when I got behind in life, wrapped up in work and side projects, stressed out and stopped taking care of myself, those uncertainties took hold and the relationship failed, albeit after a few years of her patiently trying to fix things. I grew unhappy. She left. The loss of self worth set me back, but I knew I had to keep moving forward.

So it seems, I got sidetracked by the million things I could do, and lost sight of the special someone that was beside me. So consumed by the work I buried myself in, I gave in to and died.

A few months after, I felt great on the outside. I started meeting people again. There’s no doubt, women are amazing creatures. Each I’ve befriended has taught me volumes about their mind and spirit, and have been open about my own personal strengths and weaknesses.

I’ve observed countless other men and women in their pursuits, and how difficult it can be in small towns and places like Alaska, or even harder with large cities and societal pressures. I’ve realized it’s only daunting if you think of it in a modern societal dating perspective with rules and such. SO I’ve abandoned all that.

It seems that starting comfortable in your own skin, to bring no expectations, no fears, no masks and let each relationship unfold naturally, it becomes a much more manageable and exhilarating experience, especially if you throw caution and rules to the wind. Some relationships get complicated, so I’ve had to set boundaries, but they’re so variable. I’d hardly call them rules, just measures to make sure people don’t get unnecessarily hurt.

By some standards I’m old now, but  through my interactions, I’m finding I have so much to offer. Young at heart, physically fit,  smart and funny, an attentive listener. I’m a great catch (and I’m always working on it), but one of the most valuable gifts I have is that I have not been damaged by my relational failures to a point that I let it dictate how I act and treat people.  I don’t carry baggage. I’m like a naive kid on the playground, just having fun. I prefer to love like I’ve never been hurt. Then again, I have no reason to be hurt. The women I’ve confided in have offered nurturing, with great capability of love. Each has been a true friend above all else.

So I consider myself lucky. I’ve become capable of great support while receiving compassion whether I’m doing great or becoming sad after realizing I may not be the one for them, and vice versa. Further, I’ve somehow been able to take the least enjoyable aspects of failure in my relationships, turn them into gems of wisdom, and become so grateful for each.

So why am I even writing? Surely I have nothing to complain about. I have suffered in one way. My relationship with myself. Having tried to jump back in too soon just prolonged the time it’s going to take to feel like getting into another. So While I could continue pursuing that intense joyous love, I’m constantly questioning what I need to do to really feel like I should even be in a serious situation again.

I’ve come to the realization I need more time to appreciate myself, without the turbidity of emotion. I’ve enjoyed to some degree the hard knocks of the roller coaster, but I have goals and responsibilities, I need to be at the wheel. And though the comforts of a relationship is ultimately the answer to many challenges of being solo, neither can be rushed into, with anyone.

My time and energy are limited. Life is short. A lot of things have to be in place first, namely happiness, my sense of self, what I want, what I need and what I deserve. And I’m not sure I’ve got that quite figured out. I do know that love, support and close relationships are beneficial, as long as I’m taking care of myself. I know now that letting go is best done quickly, that forgiveness of others and self is equally important and that I have limits on what I can give  of myself.

If done expeditiously, or if I let myself become the martyr, the short-term bliss of falling in love can become a dangerous addiction, a way to avoid the reality of previous loss or rejection. I am growing older though wiser. I’ve realized that focusing on maintaining my own sense of worth is a great way to overcome loss, and that any threat to my sense of worth is a sign I need to take seriously. That sense of worth can only be achieved and maintained from within.

I am also growing physically weaker with age, but stronger in my ability to control my mind and body – my hormones no longer play as large a role in my behavior. This has had increased my ability to stay level headed, patient and loving through difficult situations. I am human. I obviously have a range of moods, but acting out on those moods it definitely more controlled. I rarely feel like I’m not in control, so my desire to love and be loved is becoming overpowered by the focus on what I want to be and achieve.

I’ve noticed at times, people like me can get into this “love loop.” For whatever reason, we might feel like we can’t get enough. Or we may feel afraid of being alone. At that point, we’re vulnerable to settling for something that’s temporary or not quite reaching its full potential because we didn’t enter it completely happy with who we were. So we get into this situation that’s somehow satisfying but lacking in other areas. That area for me is usually that I forget myself and start putting someone else’s needs above my own. Recently that’s changed. I know now how important the balance is. It can sway back and forth equally, but should always come back to center at some point.

Those of us who have fallen deeply into an unbalanced loop may feel great on the outside,  but our worth then becomes our ability to nurture our partner. Though we feel strong, we are also vulnerable on the inside, and if our partner isn’t available for equal give and take, we start losing our sense of worth.

But how can I take care of someone if I can’t take care of myself? The void increases. I can lose sight of reality, and what both my partner and I need.  We can fill that void through complicated love theories, intimacies, gravitational bodies spiraling out of our control, or engage in behaviors ultimately wanting for justification. True to us, those justifications are most often everything and anything but truth as they apply to the mastery of our own recovery and relationships.

The answer is so much simpler. But some of us aren’t ready to latch on, let alone seek it out. It is self love. You can have nothing, but if both partners in a relationship have self love, then they aren’t afraid to lose eachother. They aren’t afraid of being alone. They act out of that love, and can take care of eachother. It’s a beautiful thing.

Self love in a divine and unconditional, not carnal or material way. If our body is vessel for this sacred universe,  the we must treat it as such. It means taking the time every day to prioritize the things you need in order to be happy, from simple to complex – a few moments to relax, eat well, sleep, recover, enjoy and interact confidently. Too many times, I’ve put the mission over self. Too many times I’ve failed and blamed myself.

And there are those I surround myself with. Let’s hope they understand and are contributing to my ability to take care of myself. Love, intimacy and support are of a great benefit, but they demand  a careful approach based on trusting and open communication.

Otherwise it gets complicated. Without being okay with who we are, we start to make shit up, excuses and stories. We weave elaborate narratives about who we are and why. To the world it seems quite mystical, magical. It makes for intense encounters. I’ve found lately that even when I’m staring the girl of my dreams in the face, I’m better off just by being myself, and not someone I think she wants me to be. Any mask we wear will eventually fall and shatter.

Again self love leads to limitless courage to be who you want to be, to speak truths in the face of intimidation tactics people throw my way…it’s my secret to the profound confidence, and ability to continuously surround myself with the most amazing woman I can dream about.

Having chosen the other path from time to time, namely when I’ve tried dating before being ready, I’ve seen the outcome. The consequences have luckily not been so dire because I’m good at recognizing when/where improvement is needed.  When I approach a relationship out of need, whether for external grounding, healing, being approved of and justified, has pulled on  the vulnerabilities of those that tried to get close. The dependency of my identity on them tested their sense of self worth to the point that they either break, pull away or risk falling into a woven reality, possiblyinto codependency. If both parties fall into it, it’s a volatile, heart-breaking situation in the long run. And it’s not easy to correct over any amount of time.

My goal in life is to make sure I don’t fall into this loop. Sure, I have ruts, but I’m learning my limits and striving more and more to be selfish, strong, selective and have the courage to wait for what I want and what I deserve in a relationship.

Should I face someone struggling as I have, I will give them this advice. If it’s a serious problem, they should confide in friends and professionals, not just lovers.  If it’s just tendency as in my case, just beware of your moods, emotionally intelligent, and watch for those that are preying on you when you’re down. When you’re feeling weak focus your energy on yourself, surround yourself with good people and reassess what you want vs. need over and over again until it becomes clear, and take time to let the cinders settle on lost flames. Find the strength and courage to demand what you deserve. It takes even more courage to let go than it does to open up, be vulnerable and fall in love.

If a relationship doesn’t make you happy, then back off. The short term pain and fear you experience by doing this is actually a good thing, and will put you light years ahead when it comes to rebounding, finding your self love, sense of worth and identity.

All this is easier said and done, but as I said, make it a goal and just be aware of the second nature of love, the one we direct toward ourself. Keeping it strong may be a daily struggle thats burdoned by countless challenges and temptation to jump into in a relationship, or fall in love.

Sometime I ask “why?” Along the way. “Why should I?” This is a question that obviously differs for each of us. For me, I don’t want the pursuit of love to be a career. If I engage in love again, I want to get it done right and be back on my way to focusing on making the world a  better place.

Exacting the replica of the world I want to live in relies on my ability to know my truth is in line with universe as it exists.

More and more it seems that exacting that replica has to start with me.