Photo Credit: Relevante Design, Unsplash.com

Written by Tory Donato
March 27, 2020

I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I gasped for air, convinced that I was having a panic attack, or maybe that I was dying. The emotional distress and the physical pain I was experiencing was unlike any other feeling I’d ever experienced.

It was early 2012. I’d just been played by my on-again-off-again girlfriend. I was in complete and utter shock. “How could she do this to me, after all we’d been through?” I’d worked hard to get back in her good graces; I took her to Disneyland, I helped her pay her sorority dues, I even bought her a dog. And yet, here I was, on the floor of my apartment living room, surprised and furious all at the same time.

At that moment, it didn’t occur to me that who I was–rather, who I’d become–had finally come full circle. For the previous five years up to that point, I’d exercised very little care and consideration for the people I developed relationships with, particularly when it came to my dating life. In my mind, I was just catching up on lost time. I was a shy, introverted young man in high school, so I desperately wanted to change that narrative once I arrived on the college campus. And that’s exactly what I did.

I used my nervous energy as my secret weapon, striking up conversations with any person standing within two feet of me. To keep myself from having to talk, I made it all about the other person–where they were from, what they were majoring in, where the fun parties were taking place. My confidence began to grow as my reputation went from “goody-goody” in high school to “that guy is cool” in college. 

Life was great! I was having the most fun I’d ever had in my life; I dated, dumped, and dated some more. I felt like I was really coming into my own. What I didn’t realize is how my behavior in relationships was affecting the other person, namely, the young women I was spending time with.

Some of those effects started to surface in the last year of college. My behavior in relationships had become so deceitful and destructive that I had to have my girlfriend arrested after a domestic violence incident. Rather than taking a step back at that point and evaluating how the relationship had found its way to this end, I chalked it up to the girl being “crazy” and absolved myself of any fault. As a result, I was able to jump into the next relationship soon after without regard for my mental/emotional state and how that would affect my significant other.

So there I was, a few years later, lying on the floor questioning why this was happening to me, after all the good I’d done. It was here, tears streaming down my face, that I finally stopped excusing my actions and started to hold myself accountable.

“You lied, multiple times.”

“You cheated.”

“You asked them to open up, but you wouldn’t do the same.”

“You made them feel guilty for wanting you to commit.”

The list grew like the smile on the Cheshire Cat’s face.

I hadn’t become the man I always thought I would be. I’d become the man I never wanted to be. I realized that the way that I showed up in these past relationships would negatively affect these women’s perception of not only men, but of healthy relationships for years to come. I resolved to work intentionally on becoming the man that I wanted to be and promised myself that I wouldn’t enter into any relationship unless I was willing and prepared to be the best version of myself.

One of the first things I did was stop drinking. When I drank, my confidence was sky-high, but the most manipulative and deceitful parts of who I’d become were also at the forefront of my personality. I had no inhibitions and no control. The only way to get back who I was and pivot to who I wanted to be was to give it up for good. 

Next, I needed somebody that I could speak openly and honestly with; somebody who wouldn’t judge and would help me to see that I could still be a good guy, but wouldn’t sugarcoat the things I needed to work on. Hiring a coach would have been the perfect move, but I didn’t know about coaching at that point, so I went to a Chaplain (the equivalent of a military pastor). The Chaplain helped me understand, and more importantly, believe that who I was currently didn’t have to be who I remained going forward.

Third, I needed to surround myself with people who encouraged me in my journey to who I wanted to become. My group of single-ready-to-mingle friends started to shrink, and I became a “third wheel” to all my friends that were in relationships. I needed to see what a good relationship looked like and how a good guy acted in a healthy relationship.

These changes made all the difference. Working on myself was humbling–but necessary–work. My friends, coworkers, and even my family took notice of the change in my behavior. I felt great about the changes that I’d made and confident that I could really bring my all to a relationship.

Some lonely years went by. I began to question if all the hurt that I’d caused would end up in me never finding real love. Then one day, when I wasn’t looking for love at all, I found my wife. Due to the fact that I now knew who I was as a man and how I wanted to show up in a relationship, I was able to fully commit and show her the love, respect, and support that she was looking for in a partner.

I used what I learned as a “third wheel” as my metric of accountability to make sure that I remained in alignment with the healthy relationship habits I wanted to demonstrate. Now I make sure that every day we are together I take her breath away, in the best way possible.

Photo Credit: Relevante Design, Unsplash.com