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How I Learned to Trust Again After 2 Divorces

My journey to deconstruct my complicated attachment to the male species.

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Woman putting wedding ring on herself
Alexander Glandien
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I’m 55. I survived a physically abusive marriage in my 20s, followed quickly by two decades of a stable but emotionally empty marriage, where my happiness came from the joy of being a mother to three delightful, irrepressible kids.

Both divorces were excruciating. Unfortunately, my first relationship following my second divorce — hang with me here — was a reunion with a high school boyfriend. This lovely man I’d known for 30 years lied, cheated and nearly destroyed me. I hit pause on romance. Except for my friends and my kids, relationships were bad news to me. “Wife” was a four-letter word.

I wanted and needed men in my life. But I couldn’t learn to trust men again on a diet of yoga, kale smoothies, and b*tching to my girlfriends in Starbucks.

So, I set out on a journey to intentionally deconstruct my complicated attachment to the male species.

I developed a corny but sincere romance mantra (“I respect and cherish myself … I deserve only good in my life”). I made lists of what I needed in a partner. I tried love hypnotherapy. I crafted vision boards to conjure healthier future relationships. I was willing to go to any lengths to fix what was broken in myself when it came to my loving dangerous men.

Along the way, I had uncommitted affairs with fascinating, wildly inappropriate, younger partners who rebuilt my self-esteem. Then I wrote a memoir about it. It may sound unconventional, but those men paradoxically healed what other men had destroyed, getting me to reassess my value as a woman. Those uncomplicated alliances were the first time I approached men with the confidence to look at relationships as a buffet, essentially saying “I want that, I want this, I want him.” The experiment proved how warped and anti-female society’s traditional “let-men-choose-first” dating protocol is for women.

The passive approach we are pressured to follow starting as young girls rarely leads to lasting fulfillment in romance, or indeed, in any aspect of living. What if I applied the lesson from those erotic encounters to life overall?

For a year, I said “yes” to every enticing invitation that came my way. An astrologer friend asked, “Can you meet me at Rancho La Puerta on Monday?” Check. Two-hour sunrise hikes in the Mexican hills instilled hope in me again. The United States Embassy in Madrid invited me to Spain for a women’s conference, where I spent five sunny days wandering that gorgeous city, joyfully alone.

A colleague had to cancel a cruise ship appearance, and two days later I was on deck — and spent the voyage to the North Cape interviewing long-married couples about what made relationships endure.

A month later, I hopped on a plane to a ranch in Utah for a wild mustang retreat. I bonded with a beautiful, untamable stallion who led me to realize that broken men, starting with my troubled father, were magnets for me, simultaneously seductive and destructive.

Then on a business trip to San Francisco, I met a coaching expert who specialized in sex, love and leadership. I hired her on the spot, and we worked intensively for six months as the pandemic unfolded around us all. My odyssey to figure out love finally paid off. I’m now in an emotionally healthy relationship. Our first date took place three months into the COVID pandemic, the day after I completed a new vision board peppered with love, trust and hearth icons. I’d known this man for 15 years, but never seen him as a potential life partner. He’s 59, a successful businessman, drop-dead gorgeous, lives close by, and has three kids (just like me). More importantly, he’s loving, fun and transparent, and wants a committed long-term relationship with me.

After we’d been dating for a few weeks, I formally asked him to be my boyfriend. He recently bought his first horse so we can ride together (my passion). We’ve been a couple for 11 months now. We’re taking it slow, and it all feels right. I’ve learned to trust butterflies, not fireworks.

Near the desk where I’m writing these words, a copper mermaid statue looks over me. She has a kind face, long tangled hair and curvy hips. The high school boyfriend who broke my heart tried to take her when he left me. I drove to his cabin in the woods to get her back, because I knew, despite my tears, that I was fighting to bring her home to someone who deserved her — me.

That’s the indispensable message I found along the path from heartbreak to hope in midlife. I didn’t need to learn to trust men again. I needed to trust myself, for the first time. Forget about finding your soul mate. It’s never too late to discover the best friend inside yourself.

Leslie Morgan Steiner is the author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, Crazy Love. Her latest memoir (The Naked Truth, Simon & Schuster) explores femininity, aging and sexuality after 50. Visit her via her website, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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