What Does My Authentic Self Look Like?

San Francisco has always been my litmus test for change. While the city stayed relatively the same throughout my life, my identity drastically evolved over the years. The child that spent Christmas holidays in the Sunset District could never have foreseen coming back at the age of 30, newly divorced and openly non-monogamous.

It felt surreal to visit friends and take classes at my old pole studio. I was traveling with my partner but texted another boyfriend in the Bay Area to tell him how strange it was to be back and feel authentically me for the first time. In the 1.5 years since leaving San Francisco, I’ve done so much work on myself and finally started to accept who I really am.

What do I have to offer?

There’s a ton of things I think are unhealthy (read: fucked-up) about me. I tend to revolve my identity around others, especially partners. I fix. I fixate. I catastrophize. I caretake. I people-please. I have a deathly fear of uncertainty and discomfort and thus avoid growth at all costs because I’m a control freak and type-A perfectionist.

Consequently, one of the first topics my current therapist broached was my selling points, especially as I started dating again. How can I shift my obsessive focus away from pleasing others and instead value what I bring to the table? This exercise, along with constant reminders, has helped rebuild my self-confidence in the wake of divorce.

  • Authenticity – I show up as myself in every situation, whether work or dating. I believe in making my soul visible instead of relying on façades to protect me. I can build rapport quickly with strangers by relating to and empathizing with them.
  • Insightful – I’m incredibly smart, even if it manifests as catastrophizing and going down some deep, dark, “creative” rabbit holes. Overall I have fairly good intuition when it comes to people and an even stronger sense of self-awareness.
  • Catalytic – I can make shit happen quickly. I’m responsible. I follow through and always strive to build the most efficient process for anything. This can come across as competitive or intimidating, but I’ve learned to reframe both of those as positive traits.

Owning these qualities on my San Francisco trip completely changed interactions with old friends. I felt more assured in my ability to uphold personal boundaries and protect my energy. Unlike before, I wasn’t trying to be like anyone else, and I became less of a pushover. I was uprooting years of a fixed mindset and learned that I could actually experience meaningful personal growth.

How has dating changed for me?

I knew I wasn’t monogamous when I started dating in high school. I always had strong feelings for multiple people at once, as well as all the shame and confusion that came along with being “abnormal.” As society would have it, I didn’t have a framework for thinking otherwise, so I tried my best to fit in and feign conformity through serial monogamy.

For 11 years, I was convinced something was wrong with me, that maybe I just needed to try harder in my relationships. Coupled with my workaholic tendencies, I experienced constant emotional burnout and found myself in codependent situations. My brain became a mystery I couldn’t solve, and I had the desire to keep dating until I figured it out and got it right.

After my divorce, I experienced catharsis and cried over reading Ethical Slut, More Than Two, and Polysecure. I found Instagram accounts to follow on non-monogamy, empaths, and sapiosexuals, each of which explained a little of who I really felt I was. I was rebuilding an entire infrastructure for pursuing joy, something more open and honest than I’d ever known before.

For the first time, I felt like I could be seen (and loved) for the truest version of myself, and I could attract others as authentically as possible.

Who do I strive to be?

Transitioning to non-monogamy entails endless efforts to reform habits, redefine relationships, and reset boundaries. My list of deeply-buried shadow work terrifies me, but I know this is all helping me down a path of healing and growth. As I’ve processed my intentions over the past year, these are some promises I try to keep to myself every day:

  1. Advocate for your wants and needs. Take up space for yourself, and stop being a people pleaser.
  2. Appreciate the way your brain thinks. Listen to your instincts, and stop gaslighting yourself.
  3. Make decisions out of hope and optimism instead of fear.
  4. Communicate directly, honestly, and authentically with others.
  5. Appreciate the humanness of situations. Accept mistakes and chaos.
  6. Patiently do the work to heal from past traumas and build healthier habits.
  7. Be intentional and proactive with my time and choices.
  8. Find balance between self-care and being a superwoman. Take space when needed.
  9. Improve self-soothing techniques. Be more kind to myself.
  10. Strive for comfort with uncertainty. Let go, and stop trying to control everything.

It’s easy to beat myself up and give into my madwoman for missing the mark on any of these, but I know it’ll take a lifetime to master any ONE, let alone ALL of them. What matters the most is finally feeling like there’s no need to feign happiness behind the pretense of monogamy and to accept the discomfort that comes with growth.

My partner changed my life when I met him. He asked about my values and needs–things I’m ashamed to admit I never thought about before. There was liberation in being able to identify those and use them as filters for my life choices. In just a few months, I developed an unprecedented sense of self, and for the first time, I could look into the mirror and recognize who I saw.

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