When I was fresh out of college, I was working at a place where lots of young people my age worked. It was a lot of fun, because we all liked to laugh and hang out together. Every day at work was like spending time with a big group of friends. Those are always the best workplaces, at least when you're young.
One of my fellow coworkers - let's call her S - was something of a workplace stereotype: she was young, very beautiful, had recently been through a breakup, and had thus started to sleep around a lot, and consequently a lot of the young men in the workplace had started to pay a lot of extra attention to her. She enjoyed the attention, and they enjoyed giving it to her, and the rest, as they say, is history.
At the time, I didn't fully understand this dynamic. It wasn't until a few years later, after I had worked for a few different employers and observed the same phenomenon again and again that I finally wrapped my head around it. I remember working in a big office in Ottawa, and there was one very attractive and newly hired young woman there. Let's call her L. L spent half her time joking innocently with the men in the office and the other half of the time talking about her boyfriend. But she was 22 years old and fresh out of college, and all the creepy old men in the office knew she was going to soon break up with her boyfriend and inevitably start sleeping around. They were hanging on for their chance, when it inevitably happened. And it did.
I don't fault anyone for "shooting their shot," but it bothered me a lot that many of the guys surrounding L all the time were twenty years older than she was, and married. They were creeps. L couldn't see it, because she was young, naive, and convinced that all these creeps were just fun guys to hang out with at work. It was a path to being used.
That was years after I met S, but S was in a similar situation. S had a lot of other issues going on with her, as well: she had unresolved parental baggage, had experienced a certain amount of abuse, was possibly bisexual in an extremely conservative community, and so on. But she was also a very nice young lady with a terrific sense of humor, and she made great conversation. So she and I became fast friends.
One time, S and I were talking. She mentioned that she gets lonely, and that was one of the reasons she got attached to so many guys. I suggested that she try hanging out with friends instead. I told her that she had lots of friends, and she should spend her time with them if she felt lonely.
When she heard this, she laughed, and said, "And what if I feel like having sex? Should I call up my friend Breanne and say, 'Hey, can you help me out with this?'"
I laughed, too. But I didn't reply.
* * *
Although S and I were good friends and very compatible at the time, we never got together. I ended up in a relationship with a very different kind of woman. Let's call that woman M. M was funny, smart, and one of the most terrific friends I ever had.
M was also depressed, a fact I didn't initially notice or understand about her. Being with M gradually slid into a very difficult relationship. Prozac Nation is one of the most accurate portrayals of depression I have ever seen on film; being in a relationship with M often times felt a lot like being a character in Prozac Nation. Perhaps a better man could have persevered in a relationship like that. As for me, I didn't have the right stuff. M and I went our separate ways.
Building a life together with someone involves creating a trajectory for yourself. Your mutual aspirations fuse together into a coherent plan forward, and everything you do becomes a march toward your aspirational goal. Or, one of you is crushingly depressed and neither of you can see beyond the fog descending all around you. A bad relationship - even between good people - will rob you of your sense of self and steal from you any kind of trajectory you once had. You become a very different person than you are used to being, a very different person than the one you always wanted to be. Your life becomes a game of perpetuating the relationship, of always trying to save it from the inevitable.
Truly, you can live your whole life that way. What happened to me, however, was that I made a sort of rational realization one day: If I fight this hard in a relationship this bad, imagine what I might be able to achieve if I fought that hard for a relationship that was even just a little bit better. I knew what kind of effort I was capable of; I had been putting in that effort for years. What if there was someone out there who was capable of putting in even a fraction of that effort... for me?
* * *
Like many people who go through break-ups, I had spent months breaking up with M and not even realizing it. I got out of a dead-end public service job and into a really exciting consulting job. I stopped shaving my head. I started training hard as a runner again. I wrote a dozen really good songs. I even changed what soap I was using. It was a metamorphosis I simply didn't recognize until M and I called things off, and I moved out. Moving out even entailed getting a new apartment, and buying a new car. And of course that new job required a new wardrobe. An outside observer might have said that I had become a completely different person, but the truth is that I had become more of myself.
That in itself is a whole story that needs telling, but what matters here is that I had stripped myself of the pieces of my identity that weren't actually mine to begin with. Those pieces belonged to the relationship I was in, and the identity that went along with it. The new pieces were the ones I put there by choice, deliberately, based on my own beliefs about who I really am.
This was my crossroads. At this point, I could go the way of S or L. I was young, gainfully employed, fit, attractive, and surrounded by beautiful people who also didn't mind being surrounded by me.
* * *
I had already undergone a significant metamorphosis. It occurred to me that I might take it further. What if, instead of just becoming a better person, I decided to shoot for the moon? What if, instead of living a better life, I aimed to live an ideal life?
I thought about what an ideal life might actually be like. If I could be doing anything with myself, what would that be? What is the kind of thing I've always dreamed of, but which I've never dared to attempt?
Well, people have all kinds of dreams. Some dream of being rich and famous, others dream of being captains of industry or CEOs; some want to become artists and undertake the Bohemian life, others have wanderlust and set out to see the world. Some have simple dreams, like being parents or living in an old farmhouse; others hatch complex schemes of achieving a list of accomplishments at specified points in their lives.
When I thought about the kind of life I dreamed of living, I thought about a peaceful little beach I saw in Central America. I thought about the humble but beautiful coffee estates in the mountains of El Salvador. I imagined a life in which I could live in one of those nice, small little open-air villas, drinking coffee, picking up groceries on a motorcycle, and spending my days strumming my guitar on the beach. It's not for everyone, but it's what I wanted. Maybe, while I was there, I would meet a local woman who wanted to spend her time similarly.
With this thought in mind, I started taking small steps toward my dream. What would it take to accomplish something like that? I knew I needed a lot more money, and so I started working on my professional development. I started practicing my Spanish daily, and listening to Spanish language music and radio programs. I got rid of my TV and spent that time reading books and bettering myself.
For a while, that became my life. I worked hard all day, put in overtime, went home and worked out, ate dinner, and then read and studied. In a way, it was lonely, but it was also extremely productive. I felt optimistic for the future, and each small thing I did in a day seemed like a tiny step I was taking in the direction of my dreams.
That was when I discovered the secret.
* * *
I had a vision of the future and a small amount of momentum taking me toward it. What I soon discovered is that people gravitate toward these kinds of vectors. In the dating market and the market for friendship, people are attracted to those who know where they're going, even if that destination is different from what they themselves prefer.
You could think of it like this: millions of other 28-year-old men in the world had good jobs and a reasonably sunny disposition; only a few knew what they wanted out of life.
Of course, here I must pause to point out that many 28-year-old men know what they want out of life, and what they want is lots of casual sex and some good times. That's not a vision for a lifetime, that's a vision for next Saturday night. People aren't attracted to a great vision of next Saturday night - at least, not the kind of people you want to spend your life with. People are attracted to a great vision for a lifetime.
I met many women during this period of my life, and more to the point, many women met me. That is, I suddenly found myself the center of a great deal of positive attention. That was great. Although I met many women, I did not date many women. This is where my path diverged from that of S and L.
I had another friend we'll call A. A lived thousands of miles away, and was in a similar situation as I was. We both had our own chosen visions of the future and wanted to achieve them. We were both interested in finding a person to share it with. But, while I was searching for the kind of woman I definitely knew wouldn't hurt me like M did, A was not being as deliberate in her search.
Then, one day, we were IM-ing about our respective dating lives. While I was working my way closer and closer toward the kind of women I felt really good about dating, A had been on a string of dates and was casually having sex with a number of men, with no serious prospects on the horizon.
I started telling A about my philosophy, about how I had devised a vision of the future that I wanted, and about how the women I wanted to date were all people who respected that vision and wanted to be a part of it, people who could nurture me as a person as I nurtured them, people I could fall in love with. And the more I held that in mind as my ideal, the closer I seemed to get.
Then my friend A said, "I have physical needs, and I need to get those met." She sounded just like S. And just like S, A was taking herself further and further away from positive, nurturing relationships, positioning herself to be used by opportunistic partners who were not interested in her long-term vision.
And the kicker is: A was willing to give it all up to get her physical needs met. I've been horny, too, but Jesus Christ.
* * *
Flash forward some thirteen years.
I am married to a wonderful woman I met during that phase of my life. We moved somewhere warm and pleasant, and possibly temporary. We still share that vision of the future that I developed long ago, but we also recognize that if we achieve the same headspace in a different location, that will be okay, too. But we are still taking steps toward it. Meanwhile, we have two beautiful children, a comfortable living situation, all of our basic needs are met, and we have a wonderful, loving relationship.
A is doing okay. She could be doing better. Her ambition is a shadow of what it once was, and she went through a long period of very mentally difficult years.
S is also doing okay, but she never went anywhere in life. She's a single mother. She's still beautiful, but she lives a hard life.
I didn't keep up with L.
I also didn't keep up with M, but by all accounts, she is doing okay, too, and I'm happy about that.
It's easy to compare myself to people who are doing a lot worse than I am, and of course that isn't really the point. At the same time, I also can't deny that my life is going really well, and my choices and philosophies have played a direct role in achieving that result. I'm still on a positive trajectory, and I'm the one who put myself on that trajectory. Life is good for me in large part because I chose a good path.
And I met and married the love of my life. I achieved this by arriving at a vision of what kind of person I wanted to be in an ideal state, and taking consistent steps toward that goal. In doing so, I instantly became a more attractive person to the people around me. People are hungry for positive directions, they want to be a part of a good thing. Even if they don't want to be a part of it, they want to spectate.
So, developing a dream of what kind of good person you want to be, and attempting to become that good person, is how you meet the love of your life.