My Relationship with Sex

Growing up, we didn’t talk about sex in my family. We didn’t see my parents kiss or show affection. When there are sex scenes on movies, we awkwardly cover our eyes or make gawking noises to show our disapproval. One time my dad jokingly grabbed my mom’s butt and breast. It scarred me for life.

My parents never had a sex talk with me. All I remember is that my dad told me not to go visit any boys because they only want one thing—he didn’t say it out loud, but I know he meant sex. I don’t think my parents had the birds and the bees talk with my brother either, so I actually had the conversation with him when he was in high school about having safe sex and consent. I wanted to make sure he knew it is okay and normal but also that he needed to be safe. I wanted to normalize sex for him even though it was something I struggled with into my early 30s.

The way we avoided talking about sex is what gave me a stigma against sex. I always felt that sex was dirty, rachet, and animalistic. Being raised Christian, growing up in a church, and also growing up as a rule follower, having sex was completely out of the question for me. When I met guys in high school and college, I was always explicit that sex is not gonna happen. I would say, “I don’t do sex.” Later on, even as I became less religious, I still insisted on not having sex and wore my virginity as a badge of honor. I was a virgin until I was 24.

My married ex and I met when I was 20 and we dated for four years before we got married. We kissed and went a few bases, but never had sex until we got married. It was important to me to wait and I appreciated his patience. But little did I know that I carried a stigma that sex is bad and dirty. It was something I carried into our marriage. I felt dirty and gross when we had sex. I didn’t want to be like a wild animal doing animalistic things. I didn’t understand it. I was ashamed by the act. It felt demeaning even though it is supposed to be an act of passion.

When we separated, I decided that I wanted to explore my sexuality. This was a drastic change for me. I went from sex avoiding to focusing mainly on sex. I went from holding onto my virginity for my dear life, to being scared of sex, to exploring it like I have never seen sex before. This is what led me into the bad relationships between 2017–2018, where sex was at the center of those flings.

After I broke away from those bad relationships, in 2019 I went on dating apps for the first time to meet people. It was new and exciting to meet people outside of my usual circles, but sexual compatibility was still on the top of my mind. I would sleep with the guys by the second date if there was some chemistry. My thought process was that I didn’t want to waste time dating to find out that we didn’t work in the bedroom. I needed to make sure we were sexually compatible to even consider moving forward. But that strategy didn’t work. I still picked a guy who wouldn’t commit, and the same story of me being with a guy who didn’t want a girlfriend repeated itself.

I went on a break from dating for about half a year and then went on dating apps again at the end of 2019, going into 2020. This time around, I was more intentional. I had a sense of the qualities I was looking for in a guy and slept with no one until I met the one guy I thought had potential. I also waited four dates before we tried to have sex. Even though the sex didn’t work, we still decided to date after talking for 6 months. I decided that we can work on the bedroom pieces through patience and conversations. No longer did I use sexual compatibility as a main benchmark. What I looked for instead was someone who knows who he is, who has a steady career, who has passions and hobbies, and a support group of his own. Someone who is self-motivated and would push me to become a better version of myself. I explored what I needed and observed and communicated. The relationship didn’t work out in the end, but I learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned how to be true to myself and my needs.

I’m sharing this because I’ve learned over the years how important it is for each of us to have a healthy relationship with sex. This is also a topic that we all think about but are embarrassed to discuss or timid in exploring, which is also part of where the stigma comes from. Opening up that door for myself to explore what it means to have sex, what sex means to me, has been an important part of my development and personal growth.

Below I share some of the things I’ve learned about how we should view and handle sex to promote a healthy relationship with it. As always, I am not a professional. These are my thoughts based on my experiences.

Own Your Sexuality. There was a girl I knew who was in sales and she took pride in the fact that her sexuality, gender, and looks, got her many of her deals. I had been in sales before working mainly with manufacturing clients, which is a middle-aged male dominated industry. I refused to use my sexuality to get deals. I wanted to be respected by what I know and I wanted to close deals because the customer has a need in the services we offer, not because of how I look. Although our views differ in that, I applaud her confidence in using what she has to her advantage. It is an empowering move to know that about yourself.

When it comes to bedroom talks, owning your sexuality is important as well. It’ll allow you to get the pleasure you need and make it a lot more fun. To know your body and your sexuality is power.

Don’t Let Sex Fog Your Decisions. We all have our physical needs and our need for connection. It’s easy to compromise other aspects of a relationship if sex is on the top of your list. Explore your own body and learn to take care of your own physical needs as well so you have the power and control over it, not some random guy.

Masterbation is normal. I learned from my girlfriends, too, hat having toys is not shameful. In fact, it is empowering.

We Should Have More Conversations about Sex. When my girlfriends and I started to open up about our sexual histories, it can be cringey to hear or share because of our predisposed biases on how a lady should behave, but it is also empowering to see that we are all in the process of learning and exploring our sexualities. Having more conversations about sex in general will also help us normalize it.

Don’t Judge. Don’t judge your own or other people’s sexual experiences. We each have our own process of self-exploration and have different levels of needs at different times. Recently I thought about just having casual sex and had conversations about exploring it, but I recognized that I would eventually want more than just a sexual relationship, so I forfeited that conversation. It’s okay to explore your options. Just make sure you are 100% on board with your decision. It’s also okay to back out last minute. You can change your mind.

The other piece to judging is that there unfortunately is slut shaming in our culture. When men sleep with several women, they get high fives. When a woman admits that she’s had casual sex or multiple sex partners, she gets looks telling her she should be ashamed of herself. I hate that double standard and disagree with it. I didn’t judge myself for exploring the option of casual sex. I recognized that I have needs and explored the options I had. Even if I had decided to have a pure-sexual relationship, it is nothing to feel ashamed about because it would have been what I wanted and have consented to.

Set Boundaries. Know what you need and set boundaries for yourself. Figure out what you’re okay and not okay with before getting into a sexual situation to make sure you’re being true and authentic to yourself. If you are okay with a booty call, go for it (but be safe). If you need dinner and a movie before that, set the expectation. You need commitment before having sex? Set that expectation. It’s okay to ask for what you want sexually. The key is to be true to yourself and don’t do anything that you don’t feel 100% into doing.

I’m still in the process of learning and understanding myself more in this area, such is thinking through what I need and want and also setting and sticking to boundaries. Ultimately, we all want to make sure we are being safe and that we are approaching sex in a healthy way.

How Feeling Unworthy Kept Me in Bad Relationships

After my last post on my upbringing without my mom, I connected with my mom. I expressed my resentment toward her absence when we were growing up, but also shared that I have an inkling that she may have been going through struggles and conflicts that made it difficult for her to show up as a mother. My mom decided she was ready to share her story with me, and it was heartbreaking. I demanded the truth, and got it. I wish my assumptions were inaccurate, that I was romanticizing the whole thing, but my mom is filled with hurt.

Whatever the reason was that she decided to get married, my mom has been miserable since the beginning. She’s living a lifestyle that is a downgrade to her upbringing, and she seems to regret that. It also seems that each of my parents look down on the other for specific reasons. My mom looks down on my dad because of his height and because he is from a poor family. My dad looks down on my mom because she did not complete a formal college education. My mom came from a rich family and grew up with maids and a driver. My dad is a professor with a ph.D and values internal growth rather than external materials. Even on the wedding day, and days leading up to the wedding, my mom did not feel that she was loved or considered. She also expressed that she had kids to distract her from her marriage.

As I listened to her share, my heart ached for her. I had a feeling that she wasn’t living her as her true authentic self, but I didn’t realize how much pain she’s been in. She put us down, because she was put down by my dad. She wasn’t there for us, because her mother wasn’t around for her. She wasn’t home and didn’t attend our events because she wasn’t happy. Overtime, she’s hidden the parts of herself that I love about her––her big personality, her straight forwardness, her liveliness––with the hopes that if she changes, she can receive love from my dad.

I recognize many parallels from the people I’ve had in my dating life with what my mom’s experienced with just one person, and I realize that all of it has to do with my lack of self-worth when being with those people. My mom hasn’t seen her worth, but she is slowly recognizing that she is worthy of love and and that she deserves much more than what my dad is offering her. I’ll share some of the examples that showed a lack of self-worth that came to mind.

  • When I let them take parts of me but not all of me––My dad has a girlfriend of 18 years and he is still with my mom. From the outside, everything looks fine and dandy. My parents run a hiking group together, they teach English together, they also host cooking classes together. There are pictures shared each week on the adventures they go on. But my dad has a girlfriend and my mom is still with him. The pictures look happy and harmonious, but they are not authentic. My mom let my dad behave in ways that make her feel little. She lets him walk all over her because she hopes that her acceptance of his behavior would make him love her.

    I’ve also been in manipulative relationships where the guy is still connected to his ex-girlfriend, where I’m kept a secret, where everything, including when and where we see each other was on his terms. My emotions went up and down because of this guy. When things are good, I’m happy. When I feel ignored, I feel down. And all the times in between, I’m wondering if he’s thinking of me, if I even matter. I realize now, that I’m the one who put myself through all of this. I lacked self-respect and self-worth. The reason I say this is, these guys have told me exactly what they wanted. From the get go, they told me straight up that they wanted to be with me but stay single. They didn’t want other people to think they are taken. They want to keep their options open. And I’m the one who lived in a dream land where I thought things would change. I lived in a fantasy where I thought that if I gave myself more and more, if I did what they wanted, gave them the freedom they seek, then they will be mine eventually. So I kept giving and giving, and I kept asking for a relationship, but all I got was nothing back.

    It takes me a while––it always does–––for me to finalize recognize that I was demeaning myself when I let guys treat me as a side chick, someone who is easily replaceable, someone who has no value or self-esteem.
  • When he silenced me for being me and for speaking my truth––My mom has been someone who spoke her mind. That was something I remember growing up. If she was there and had to stand up for us, she had no fear in doing so. My mom shared that she feels that she can no longer speak her mind. If she wants to stand up for something, my dad silences her because he feels embarrassed by her causing conflict or tension. She now chooses not to speak up as much because she doesn’t want to get reprimanded for it.

    In relationships as well, I feel that I’m always the one to start conversations when things are not going the way I want them to go. In those bad relationships though, I also notice that the guy gets annoyed when I want to have a serious talk, when I am asking for something that I deserve. They make me feel like i’m nagging, that I’m an inconvenience, that I shouldn’t want what I am asking for. When we like someone a lot and want to please, it’s easy for us to change our behavior and who we are so we can stay with the person. But when a person doesn’t respect you, even if you speak your truth and ask for what you want, you will not be heard.
  • When I accept disrespectful behaviors and make excuses for them–My mom described some things my dad has done that tells me that he does not respect my mom as a person. I’ve been in situations as well, where the guy I liked would always show up late, sometimes even 2–3 hours late because he had other more important things to tend to. I let them be late. I don’t show I’m angry. I still act as if I’m so grateful for them to even show up, as if he was an angel sent from heaven and I should bow to him. I tolerated the behavior. I thought this makes me someone who is understanding, who is not emotional and who would not bicker about tiny things, but this is a behavior that shows that he has no respect for my time. And my accepting this behavior showed that I didn’t respect my own time and worth.
  • When he verbally and emotionally abuses me by putting me down and making me doubt myself – If my mom shows that she is more dominant in a situation, my dad puts her down. He denies that she has strengths in organization, in leadership, and talks down to her when she tries to showcase those skills. Now she tries not to speak up or stand up for what she feels is right so not to upset my dad. My mom has silenced herself, made herself little so my dad can shine, accepted the emotional and verbal abuse that denies her of her worth over and over again.

    When the person you are with cannot celebrate your wins and share your strengths, it is an insecurity in themselves that they are showing. When you don’t realize your value, you will try to accommodate the other person’s insecurity by dumbing yourself down, and overtime, you will just believe it.
  • When he uses sex to keep me with him, or withholds sex as a power play—The first guy I was involved with after my separation was someone who used sex as his weapon. He would talk about it as if it was his biggest pride. He used it to persuade me that I was making a big mistake when I tried to end it with him––it took me a few times before I finally cut off the relationship. He told me that I will be sorry because I will never have amazing sex like that again.

    If I hadn’t recognized my worth finally, it would have kept me because in that time in my life, sexual compatibility was a key thing that I was looking for. When I realized that I deserved so much better than he was able to offer me and that he treated me like trash, even if it were the best sex in the world, I wouldn’t want it. He can keep it.

In all of these examples, I frame it in terms of “I let him to this to me,” “I let him behave a certain way,” because I believe that we have choices and have control over who we choose to be with. These choices may not be easy, because there are considerations and fears that keep us from leaving a bad relationship––maybe we worry about not being able to financially support ourselves, or we are scared to be alone, or that we love this person so much that we still are hoping that he will change one day. Or, in many cases, we also fear the unknown. There are many reasons for us to stay in a bad relationship, but I’ve come to realize, from my experience, that the biggest reasons for us to stay is that we don’t think we are worthy of something better.

For most of my life, I felt unworthy. I always felt stupid, and ugly, and little. A big part of it has to do with my upbringing, because I was told that I’m stupid and ugly. And so when it came to dating, I always felt bad for the guys who were with me, for having to tolerate with all my flaws and shortcomings. After my ex, I’ve been through guys who mistreated me. Like many other women, I thought that if I talked about what I’m looking for, what I wanted, if I just let them know, they will eventually change. I wanted commitment, but they wanted parts of me but not all of me. They wanted a companion when is convenient for them. They were selfishly used my time as if it were infinite, and I just gave them my time, as if it wasn’t worth anything.

We talk down to ourselves and say that this is as good as it gets. We don’t see that we deserve so much better. We don’t love ourselves enough for fight for a better situation. Brené Brown puts it well, “If we want to fully experience love and belonging, we must believe that we are worthy of love and belonging.

The truth is, we are worthy and deserve to be accepted and loved for who we are, flaws and all. We should be loved for who we are without having to hide parts of ourselves. When we don’t feel loved and fight tirelessly for that love, it impacts how we see ourselves, because we feel that we have to constantly make changes to who we are to get the love that we seek.

Here are some things I’ve learned from my bad relationships on how to exercise your self-worth Of course, I am not a professional. These are some things that I’ve picked up through my experiences and through hearing shared experiences with my girlfriends.

1. You Are Worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. You are worthy. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. You don’t need to change who you are to be worthy of love and comfort. Worthiness, in Brene Brown’s words, does not have any prerequisites. In this moment, just as you are, you are worthy. When we let people treat us in a way that we don’t deserve, it tells them that we are okay with it and that we don’t think we can do any better. A person who doesn’t value you will walk all over this and take advantage of it.

2. Dig a Little to Figure Out Why You’re Still in it. I think it’s important to reflect on what is important to you in a relationship and why you’re with a specific person. My big queue is when I notice that I am not acting in accordance to what I truly want. When I am not being authentic to what I want and who I am, all sorts of tensions and conflict rise up within me, and even the joys I feel with the person are just temporary. As a whole, the bad relationships were a big hit to my ego, my self-respect, and my self-worth. As I said earlier, there can be many, many reasons to keep us in a bad relationship, but we only need to find our self-worth to realize it’s time to go.

3. Stop Being Too Nice. I used to think that I would be nice and smiley to everyone, even if they have hurt me. I used to be so “empathetic” that I worry about hurting someone if I don’t do what they want. Stop thinking about how your decision to make a better choice for yourself will impact the other person. Be nicer to yourself. And after you end it, also don’t be so nice to want to keep it civil with that person.

As I’ve found my worth, I also started to question: why do they think they deserve to still have access to me? When I ended it with the manipulator, I would still acknowledge him in social settings. We met through salsa dancing, and I still danced with him. But every time, I felt icky afterward because I was doing it to be civil, to be nice, even though it was not what I wanted. Why should I still stroke his ego when he mistreated me?

I think this is part of recognizing my worth and having self-respect. I don’t harbor hatred toward him, but I do not respect him as a human being, and I don’t want anything to do with him. He is invisible to me and that is on him.

4. Be Proud of Who You Are. Stop hiding yourself and making yourself little. It takes courage but also vulnerability to step out of your little bubble so you can start to shine. I’ve been in plenty of situations where I felt less than and unworthy, and my response to that has been to shrink inside myself and defer to others. I will share more on this in another post.

5. Own Your Worth. One final reminder that you are Worthy, without any conditions or pre-requisites. In Brene Brown’s words, you are worthy,

“[w]orthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love and belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

Once you recognize this, you will stand up for yourself. You will break away from what puts you down.

My Upbringing with(out) My Mom

I grew up without a mom. I have a mom, but she was absent. If she wasn’t sleeping, she would leave home for a week or a month at a time. Don’t ask me where she went. I have no idea. When we lived in Taiwan, we relied on Mcdonald’s and favors from extended family for meals. That’s why I couldn’t describe much about what Taiwanese food was like when I moved back to the US in 2002. I grew up on McDonald’s.

By nature, my mom is a free spirit. She is goofy and lively. She loves attention and is always the life of the party. She loves meeting new people and loves large gatherings. She can strike up conversations with strangers and become best buddies with them. My mom was the envy of other moms because of her lively personality. She always wore fashionable clothes and got fashionable haircuts–she was never afraid to express herself through experiment with her looks. She’s artistic in her fashion style, she lives through music and dance, and she is also creative in the kitchen, where she can cook up everything amazing. I’ve always thought that she is the most beautiful and in her element when she is creating new dishes. But as fun as she is as a person, she wasn’t a good mom. We didn’t get to see her a lot until we moved back to the US in 2002 when she had no choice but to stay home. Before that, she was more fiction than real. When we were in Taiwan, my sibling who wasn’t even six yet at the time, would turn on the entryway light before going to bed just in case mom came home that night.

Before I had the mom who would not come home at night, I had a mom who was always sleeping. In 1992, my dad quit his job at IBM to pursue something different in Taiwan, leaving my mom alone in the US with three kids (ages 1, 4, and 7). One of my female cousins stayed with us during this time to attend our local high school and was able to help out, but looking back, she was only 14 and was already changing my brother’s diapers. I don’t remember anything about my mom during this time, except for the fact that she was always in bed. When she wasn’t in bed, it felt off seeing her roam around in the house. Looking back, she was probably depressed. Being in a foreign land, raising three young children by herself is no small feat.

My mom was physically around, but not emotionally. My underwhelming lunches were a symbol of my mom’s disassociation with motherhood. I had an old-school, pink barbie doll lunch box. The rectangle kind that had a metal latch. There were days when my entire lunch box would consist of a boney drumstick wrapped in foil, or a lonely egg wrapped in foil. It was a sight to see the egg roll around in the empty box. I was embarrassed when I compared my lunch with my classmates’ lunches that included sandwiches and fruits and snacks, or even chicken noodle soup. I had a good rapport with the janitor at the school. Some days when looked sad and hungry, he would ask the lunch lady to give me a free lunch. One time, I was hungry and didn’t have food, so I stayed back in the classroom after everyone had left to the cafeteria to go through my classmates’ backpacks to steal change to buy lunch.

My mom didn’t show us that she loved us. There were days in elementary school in the US when I missed the school bus and had to walk to school by myself. It was little over a mile but it felt like a long way for a young child. In fourth grade in Taiwan, we sang a song about mothers in music class for mother’s day. The lyrics compared a mother’s love to the moon that watches over us with warmth and guidance. I cried for a mother that didn’t match the description. I cried for the sadness I felt when seeing daughters holding hands with their mothers. That night, I told my mom about the song and how it made me feel. Her response we defensive, “that’s because you feel sorry for not being a good daughter to me.” I felt that I was not understood.

My mom never showed us physical affection nor complimented us. We never hugged, but one day, a family friend brought over her little daughter who was probably three years old. My mom squatted down to meet the child’s height and hugged her while complimenting about how cute she was. I didn’t even know how to react to that scene because that was a side of our mother that I’d never seen nor experienced.

My mom wasn’t there when my body started to change. When puberty started and I grew breasts, my paternal aunt was the one who took me to get my first training bra. When I got my period, my mom found out but did nothing about it. I didn’t have pads. I cut out plastic bags to tape onto my underwear and rolled up toilet paper as the padding.

Because she was rarely there when we were growing up, I never connected with her on a deeper level. We did try in 2010 though when I was in Chicago and my sibling had gone off to college in NYC. At this point, my mom was living alone with my brother who is the youngest amongst the three of us. I called my mom every day on my drive home from work. The thirty minutes we shared on those days were ones that I looked forward to each day. We kept this up for at least 8 months before she moved back to Taiwan, but once she moved, our communication completely ended. The next time I could reach her was at least 6 months later. I felt abandoned all over again, also betrayed because the last eight months felt like a lie. I felt she only talked to me because she had nothing else to do.

I was resentful of my mom for a long time because of her absence in our lives, because of the negative mindset she passed onto us, because we continue to have challenges communicating. I cope with this by keeping our interactions to a minimum so that I don’t get angry at her or her at me. Right now, in this moment though, I don’t feel the resentment I had held onto for so long. This is a recent change, and it didn’t dissipate until I put myself into her shoes, imagining what life must have been like for her. She had all three of us by the time she was 35. I am 35 now and I feel that I have just begun to have a clearer picture of who I am, and I feel that I still have so much to learn and grow and experience in life for myself.

I see that she must have been struggling internally and dealing with emotions and conflicts that made it hard for her to be present as a mother. Perhaps she was struggling with her marriage–my parents fought a lot. Perhaps having children for her wasn’t something she really wanted but was expected of her. Perhaps she didn’t have the support she needed to raise her children. Perhaps, because she was raised in a wealthy family by maids and help, she didn’t have strong role models to emulate when she became a parent. Perhaps she mourned for a life she could have had and still wanted to continue to live that life even if it was frowned upon, even if it meant being an absent wife and mother. I have all these questions now, but I won’t know the real story until she is ready to share.

Even though she wasn’t around a lot, there still are some fond and appreciated memories. My mom took me to all my lessons––piano, violin, ballet. The drives to violin class were at least 45 minutes long each way and we always drove at night. After class, my mom would drive us through Mcdonald’s and buy me a Big Mac. I loved the moments when I would kneel on the floor of the last row of our Toyota minivan, using the seat as my table, and devour the burger. When I performed at concerts for violin, my mom and I would arrive early and she would have vocabulary and grammar workbooks with her for me to practice during the downtime. I still remember the characters in the workbooks, such as Al the Alligator. Although homework isn’t fun, those were rare moments when we spent time together. When I received a Pizza Hut reward for a free single-person pizza through school, my mom always would drive me to claim my prize. Those moments made me happy.

When we moved to Taiwan, my mom also would commute an hour with me on the Mass Rapid Transit system to get lessons from a renowned piano teacher. The journey was long, but she made the time and invested the money in me to do so. When we stayed at hotel rooms while on vacation, my mom somehow figured out how to wake up early, and would wake us up by wiping a warm washcloth over our faces. Those are happy moments of when we seemed like a perfect family. Another moment from Taiwan was from when we first moved there. I was born and raised in the US until 1994. When we moved back, even though I was able to have basic conversations in Chinese, I didn’t read that well. I had to repeat third grade instead of moving onto fourth grade because of it. My mom would spend nights reading with me as I followed along the texts. Her reading with me helped me pick up the characters much faster and I was able to catch up to my grade level within a month.

I tried to think about learnings from these memories, but all I can think of are actions that I can take to improve my relationship with my mom. To be honest, the feelings of anger come and go depending on how I’m feeling in a particular moment. Perhaps you have some ideas for me instead. Please share in the comments if you do!

  • Forgive My Mom. My mom has her shortcomings but she never aspired to be an absent mom. Parenting is not an easy task and we’ve turned out okay. My mom shows love in her own way. One of the ways is through food, and we see that whenever we are able to get together. Holding onto the past with resentment is not going to help improve our relationship. I’m sure she tried her best with the emotional capacity she had.
  • Be Compassionate. I don’t know what was truly going on in her life. I suspect that as a free spirit who got married and had children because it was the expectation of her family and society, she had trouble reconciling with who she is and what she had. My mom is human after all. Whatever it is, I should approach it with empathy and compassion.
  • Be Courageous and Open with Vulnerability. As I was thinking about this post, I messaged my mom who lives in Taiwan, “I used to feel resentment toward you because you weren’t home when we were growing up. But lately I’ve been thinking that maybe you were going through struggles internally that made it hard for you to be there. Would you share what raising us was like? What struggles did you have to go through? I appreciate you a lot and want to understand your story.”

    I have never asked something so personal and open to my mom and her response was a positive surprise to me. She thanked me for raising this specific topic and that she will be more than happy to share with me when the timing is right. Being courageous also means that I need to be willing to share how it was for me and my siblings growing up without her and how it had affected us. How it’s made us not want to have children because they may suffer, or how our self-esteems have been affected because she had nothing positive to say about us.

What we see is often just how someone else’s behavior impacts or have impacted us, but we forget that there probably is a story behind each of our actions. I hope one day soon, I can hear these stories from my mom. She called me the other day sharing with me other stories from her childhood. I intend to keep the conversation going so I can eventually get to how raising the three of us was for her.

Thank you for reading.

My Marriage and Divorce

People see marriage as a once-in-a-liftetime event. Some see it as a milestone, an item to check off from one’s list of things to do to be successful. Girls dream about becoming a bride. They plan out their wedding even before having a boyfriend. They know what style dress they want and what color scheme to choose before even getting a proposal.

May 2010, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, IL

I never had that dream, but I got married when I was 24. Part of it, was because I was following the path that was expected of me. You date a guy that you’re compatible with and care about a lot for about 4 years, next is marriage, so you can build a life together.

I had a good partner. He was supportive of my dreams and aspirations. He accepted all of my quirks and shortcomings. He listened and understood me. He spoke highly of me. He encouraged me when I doubted myself. Pushed me when I couldn’t push myself. When we met in college, my essay-writing skills were so bad that I was referred to the writing center; but he helped me edit every single paper starting from my sophomore year. Even when we started looking for jobs, and when I switched employers, he reviewed my resumes and cover letters. Even when I was applying to an MBA program after we got a divorce, he still offered his feedback on my essay. I wouldn’t be who I am or where I am without him. He’s always watched out for me, cheered for me, supported me.

Within the marriage, his family accepted me. His grandparents and uncles let me call them grandma and grandpa and uncle, which made me feel a part of the family. But our marriage didn’t feel right. There were years of internal struggles from my side that I share in my podcast, and I eventually recognized that I couldn’t stay married. The life I could have with him would look amazing from the outside––we’d have a condo in downtown Chicago, we’d have a dog, we’d travel around the world, eat at nice restaurants and fancy bars, we’d attend fancy galas with his fancy job or maybe mine, we would retire in the Grand Tetons of Wyoming––of course, these are still things that I can have, but when it came to the marriage, I knew that all the external achievements still wouldn’t make me feel full inside. If these things that made my life feel stable and secure were what kept me, it wouldn’t have been right for me to stay.

It’s easy to fall onto a path that seems definite, but certainty can also be suffocating when it isn’t the right path for you. My mom does not understand this. She doesn’t understand why I cannot stay married and live as roommates. She asks why I can’t just settle simply to have a companion to go home to. Although I see where she is coming from, the life that she can tolerate is not for me.

I care a lot for my ex, so I ignored the signs and oppressed what I was feeling for a long time. I tried to change my mindset to accept a life that didn’t feel right, to accept a future that didn’t feel fully me. But it eventually came to a point where I just couldn’t do it anymore.

One of the biggest mistakes we made was that we didn’t truly communicate. We talked daily––I shared everything that was going on with me with him. But we were not vulnerable about our feelings about our marriage nor what we wanted or needed out of it. I tried to talk about it but we always ended up changing topics and never got to them, or we just assumed that the issues brought up were ones that would eventually disappear. They didn’t.

When we separated, it was very sudden. We had the conversation on a Thursday night, and he moved out on Friday. It was hard and it was very hard for at least two years. I still get emotional about it but we both know it was the right decision.

The right decisions can often be the hardest decisions. Getting a divorce feels like grieving the death of a loved one. When we separated, the intense emotions I felt were the same ones I felt when my paternal grandpa passed away. It hurt. The loss and the pain I felt made my chest tighten, my face heat up, and my tears well up. When I’ve spent 12 years with a person every single day, talking to him, seeing him, and all of a sudden that is gone, it’s a loss. When little moments that only he understands or would appreciate happen and I can’t really text him the same way I used to, I felt lost.

I’ve had a few moments one and two years into it when I doubted my decision to get a divorce. It’s funny because I had so much conviction when I decided to separate. I spoke with absolute certainty of my decision to move forward. I had no doubt in my mind. But still, there were two big moments when I thought I had made the wrong move.

One time I was at a bachata congress in Spain and was wide awake at 4 a.m. because I had roommates who snored. I typed out a long, heart-wrenching email to him while sitting and crying in the hotel bathroom floor (there was nowhere else to sit), questioning my decision. I even proposed that we try to get to know each other again and date again––maybe this time it’ll be different. That e-mail, when I read it again, was actually full of fear. Fear that I will never find the same connection that I had with him, fear that I had made the wrong choice. It was not actually of a longing of wanting to go back to the past.

Another time was when I watched a movie that reminded me of our experience and made me question if I tried hard enough at the marriage, if I was supportive enough of him. This time, my messaging to my ex was full of guilt.

Each time I question myself, he reminded me that I made the right decision for the two of us. Him telling me that I made the right choice helped validate my feelings and reduce some of the guilt that I have been holding onto. I’m fortunate that even after our divorce, he has been the one who has helped me sift through these feelings and also who continues to be the objective supporter of my decisions and my champion. I’m really am lucky to have met him.

All this is to say, neither marriage or a divorce is easy. The decision to get married is one of the highest commitments you can give to a person, but sometimes even when you give your best, it can still not work out. Getting a divorce means parting with that past, but it also is an opportunity to go at life in a different way. I had to find myself again. Learn to really be on my own. Learn to reach out to my friends when I need emotional support. Learn to be kind to myself when I feel sad. Learn to be strong because I chose this.

I wanted to share this because I feel that people who have not experienced marriage or divorce see it as something that’s black and white. They say that marriage is sacred, that you should stay in it no matter what, even if you are not happy, even if you are abused, even if it takes your identity away. Divorce is bad. You are a failure if you can’t even keep a marriage. You are damaged goods if you’ve been through a divorce. But that’s not how it is. This one is my experience, but others likely have entirely different experiences and emotions.

Some things I’ve learned from this experience:

  • Getting a divorce isn’t the end of the world. When we separated, the first thought that came to our minds were, “What I am going to do, being 30 and divorced?” We were each other’s first long-term, and real relationship so we had never dated before each other. A different life was unimaginable. I’ve thought about a different life before, but it didn’t look that glamorous. It’s scary to jump into the unknown, into a space we’d never explored nor had been exposed to, but we each learned that it really isn’t the end of the world. We’ve both adapted and are doing well.
  • Getting a divorce isn’t a failure. You are not a failure if your marriage doesn’t last forever. My mom may think differently. She’s in a marriage not because she’s happy in it but because she feels that she doesn’t have a choice and she is fine with her situation. But I am not my mom. To me, I would have failed myself if I had stayed in a situation I didn’t want to be in, if I had settled. This is a lesson I’m learning each day as I’m dealing with people and situations now–learning to say no to things that aren’t right for me.

    There definitely is a stigma against divorces though. My ex’s name was on my grandpa’s obituary as my husband when my grandpa passed away, which was after our separation. My parents didn’t want the family and friends to know. They also didn’t want my late grandpa to find out even after his death.
  • Divorce is sad, but it’s not a bad thing. There is a reason why people end up separating––it tends to be a better situation for both people, even if they may not know it at the time. It is sad but it’s also not sad. Did you know that people throw divorce parties now? It’s something that can be celebrated!
  • You can and will start over. It’s scary but also exciting to start over and find yourself again and build a new self. I am living by myself for the first time in my entire life. (I went from living at home to having roommates to living with a husband so I had never lived on my own.) I love it. I love that I can decorate the place the way I want it and feel comfortable in the home I built for myself.

    I’m learning as well that being on your own doesn’t mean that you are alone. I have so much support from my friends and family that I have never felt that I had no one to turn to.
  • Most people don’t care. When it comes to dating again, one of the concerns is that there’s a stigma against divorced people, but I haven’t felt that to be an issue. Most people that I’ve encountered have not cared that I used to be married. In fact, having the experience being married is a testament that you are able to be in a long-term, committed relationship. Not everyone can say they’ve had that.
  • Tough decisions can set you free. Sometimes it’s impossible for us to think of a different outcome for ourselves when we are in specific situations. Sometimes it’s hard to let go of what we are comfortable with in order to pursue a life that is truly authentic. But when you do, you open new doors for yourself. You set yourself free to new possibilities.
  • Make peace with it. As I have been thinking about this topic and also as I’ve seen the marriages around me–even though they are filled with challenges and some complaints as well, the couples are still in it together–it makes me wonder and wander about whether or not I made the right choice. I guess it means that although I act like I’m tough, parts of me is still processing this whole ordeal. I know I need to move on. I’m working on it. It’s going to take time.

My marriage, my divorce, and my time with my ex will always be a chapter in my life’s story. I am happy to be where I am today. I am a more independent and self-aware individual who is chasing after a life that is truly her’s. One thing that occurred to me when I was recording the podcast is that, perhaps my journey of striving for authenticity didn’t just start this past year. Perhaps it started the moment I took the courage to end the marriage so I can live my life in the way that feels right for me. That’s empowering.

What is one of the biggest, and most difficult decision you’ve had to make in a relationship? Share with me!

Let Their Opinions Be Theirs

I am 35 years old. I graduated from a good college. I have a decent job. I’m pursuing my MBA. I have a full life of hobbies, activities, and friends to create memories with. I present myself well. I believe that I’ve been a good daughter who followed rules and didn’t cause trouble. Yet today, my mom told me that I am the source of her deepest worries.

She is worried about me because I am single. She is worried because I got a divorce three years ago and have not found someone else. She thinks I am too picky. She believes that I should settle just so I have someone to go home to, just to have companionship. But that simply is not me.

  • People who care about you want the best for you, but what they think is the best may not truly be the best for you.
  • When people share their opinions, it’s often a projection of their own situation and not a true reflection of your situation.

The two points above are important for me to remember. I also want to always be grateful, even for the unsolicited advice, because it means that I have people who care and want the best for me. At the same time of being appreciative, however, I need to understand when I should let the opinions impact me. The message from my mom was a projection of what she values most in a relationship–security and companionship–, which are not the most important things I’m seeking.

I am a whole person and am not incomplete without someone else. Whoever comes around will need to elevate and complement my life–I am not looking for someone to complete me. I do not need to settle just to have someone around me.

When it comes to relationships.

  • If I see potential in a person for a long-term relationship where we can grow and build a future together, I will go after it.
  • I will communicate when I feel that my needs are not met, when I do not feel understood, or when I need to understand.
  • I will do my best to be a good partner, to listen, to share, and expect the same back.
  • When we’ve exhausted the conversations and find that no more can be done to move forward, it would have been part of an ongoing conversation and it will not be a surprise that we stop dating.

I will no longer

  • Put myself in a position where I feel that I am not being treated right.
  • Stay with a person who mistreats me, disrespects me, and disregards me, just because I think that things will eventually change.
  • Communicate without being heard.
  • Say yes when I mean no.

Our family and friends care about us but they may not always understand us. People will always have their opinions and it’s important to be able to distinguish between what is advice to take in and what is noise to brush off. When it comes to relationships, I’ve learned a lot over the years, and I’ve gotten greater clarity in what I need and what I’m looking for. I know it isn’t easy and that it will always require work, but also know that I do not need to settle.

What do you look for in a relationship? Do you feel that you often have to settle? (Keep in mind that compromising isn’t always the same as settling.)

We deserve to be treated right! Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve.