Some television characters inspire hordes of adoring fans, like Olivia Pope from Scandal, Rachel Greene from Friends, or Midge Maisel from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. My all-time favorite is Leslie Knope from Parks & Recreation. She’s the creator of Galentine’s Day for her BFFs, and is a community volunteer extraordinaire — an earnest, adorkable county government administrator who constantly knocked herself out to make others happy. Every time we’d watch that show, my husband Justin would smirk and say, only half-joking, “She’s you.”
I’d laugh and pretend to protest, but I also knew he was kind of right. An important part of my identity was tied to being a good friend. If someone I liked was getting married or having a baby, of course I’d be delighted to host a shower. A friend was having a hard time? I would be happy to support them, even when I was sick or overwhelmed myself. I worked extra hours so my employees wouldn’t have to, even if it meant missing events that were important to me. My heart was in the right place. But by always choosing the needs of others, I was neglecting my own. It took meeting the love of my life for me to gain that insight.
After getting divorced in 1999, I wasn’t in a hurry to settle down again. I worked on myself, dated lots of guys, and spent time with friends. An online dating site brought Justin and me together in April 2009. A British expat, he was relocated by work to Atlanta, Georgia just three months previously. Funny, smart and handsome in a Jason Statham-way, I knew right away that Justin was special. His goofy sense of humor, loyalty, and unconditional support made me soon realize that he was the one. Nurturing this healthy, thriving relationship became a top priority for me.
In making time for him, I started to slip in my attempts to be there for everyone else. The people I felt closest to were just fine with that. But it was other people at the periphery of my life, friendships I had outgrown but still held onto out of habit or guilt, that caused me angst.
The turning point took place when a friend asked me to host her party for a milestone birthday. We weren’t that close anymore, but I felt obliged. Ever heard of a “bridezilla?” Well, she went full “birthdayzilla,” if that’s a thing. She made her husband organize a cake tasting to pick out the perfect flavor. She berated him loudly when the invitations weren’t designed to her expectations. She had bunches of expensive flowers and catered foods delivered to our place (on their dime), for an event of less than 20 people. Between the planning sessions, cleaning our house, hosting, and dealing with the drama, it was exhausting.
Afterwards, Justin initiated a hard conversation. He asked why I was knocking myself out so much for this woman, who I no longer felt close to, and why I was doing the same thing for any number of other of my peripheral relationships. Justin pointed out how tired and resentful I felt about it. His motivation wasn’t selfish; my husband was clear about his advice to step back and make sure I made enough time for myself.
I took that to heart. I stopped becoming the default hostess of events. I reordered my priorities, making sure my husband and closest friends got the attention they deserved. Most important, I learned how to place myself at the top of my priority list.
Having a healthy marriage has helped me realize that the most important relationship I have is with myself. Like the flight attendants who advise you to put the oxygen mask on yourself first, that is how I start now. I start by taking care of me first, so then I’ll have plenty to give to others who matter the most.
In the words of another beloved television icon, Carrie Bradshaw, in the closing scene from the last episode of Sex and the City, “The most exciting, challenging, and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you find someone to love the you that you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”
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