Dear Sara: I have been divorced three times, and my last “husband” passed away in 2014. (We exchanged our vows, had joint bank account, vehicles together, were each other’s emergency contacts, etc. However, we never filed any paperwork with the government, as he didn’t feel that I should be responsible for any of his past obligations.)
I have always been better friends with men than women, and I have had a few wives say that I am a Godsend, as they never have to worry about their husbands/boyfriends when they are with me, which I take as a great compliment. However, it feels that even the single men that I know and meet feel the same way. I can watch and discuss sports, cars, guns, whatever with them without missing a beat. I don’t get grossed out and not much really scares me. So what am I doing wrong about finding a man to want me as a partner not just a buddy?
[My partner was an alcoholic, who served time for a DUI. He had cirrhosis of the liver. He also was bipolar and depressed, as he blamed himself for his sister’s death.] He lived a very hard life, and when we got together he had a true home for the first time in over thirty years. He loved deep.
We lost six very close friends/family in less than four months. [On the night before my uncle’s funeral, I came home and he was drunk and asleep.] When he woke up he was argumentative and kept wanting to talk about things other than what I needed to talk about, so I got upset, told him to stop being so selfish, just let me get through my uncle’s funeral … and to go to bed and go to sleep for a while. I proceeded to sit down and watch TV when I heard a pop. Well, he decided to go to sleep permanently. …
Everyone in town showed up at my house to help me, and now even though it has been two years, the single men in town all remember what happened and don’t want to chance going out with me. I feel that I have a stigma, and we are such a small town that there are not many date-able people in town. How am I supposed to overcome and get people to see me for me, not me still coupled with him?
There is a man I like, but he isn’t ready for a girlfriend. He doesn’t mind hanging and making out, but doesn’t want a girlfriend. Am I as messed up as I think I am? — W
Dear W: I have edited your letter for space, but it seems to me that the essential issue here is that, in addition to your grief, you’re dealing with the stigma of being the partner of a troubled man who took his own life. The fact that you two argued that night makes it even harder.
So first, forgive yourself. You clearly loved your late partner very much, and he clearly had many problems that began long before he met you. You were annoyed with him that night because he was being selfish and inconsiderate of your needs. It was perfectly reasonable of you to tell him to go to bed so you could discuss the matter in the morning. So give yourself that gift: Forgive yourself. It wasn’t your fault.
As for dealing with others, here is my suggestion: You can’t control what other people think of you, but you can take control of how you see yourself. It is a slow process, but it can work. A lot of people talk about self-esteem, but I’ve never found that very helpful. How are you supposed to think highly of yourself when you feel like crap? So rather than working on your self-esteem I suggest working on your self-respect. The formula for gaining self-respect is a lot simpler: Behave in a way that you respect.
Think about the people you respect. How do they behave? What makes you think highly of them? Is it that they always treat others with kindness and courtesy? Is it that they don’t take the bait when someone else is mean to them or tries to drag them down? Do they defend others who are having a hard time or who have less power than they do? Do you feel confident that even when no one is looking they behave in a way that is honorable? Is this someone who would return a bag of money to the police?
Then ask yourself. Am I that person? Could I be that person? Can I set an intention to always behave in an honorable manner, regardless of how others act?
Making this commitment won’t magically change the way others see you. But it can lessen the power they have over you. When you have self-respect, you find that a funny thing happens when other people try to make you feel bad about yourself: It doesn’t work. When you have self-respect, you also develop good taste in people. You notice which people treat others well, and those people will see it in you. It’s a little bit like having a superpower.
Superpowers aren’t acquired overnight. So along with self-respect comes self-compassion. If you see yourself slip—say, by bad-mouthing someone or denigrating yourself—don’t turn this into something to beat yourself up about. “Darn, I didn’t behave with the utmost honesty and compassion. I suck!” Just remind yourself that it’s okay, change comes slowly. And vow to do better next time.
Sara Eckel is a personal coach and the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her questions here.