How I Said ‘No’ to Expectations and Made Time for Romance


By Liz Riden

I’ve been a rule follower for most of my life. In fact, those closest to me would describe me as a recovering people pleaser. There was always a list of self-imposed rules in my mind of who I am, who I was supposed to be, and how I fit into the world around me. I spent most of my life subscribing to those concepts for myself. 

We are all conditioned to want to be part of what is comfortable. After all, there is reassurance in familiarity, in never rocking the boat, and in following what is laid out for you. Up until recently, I rejected the concept of romanticizing my life. What role does romance, especially the romance of self, play in the life of a busy woman? But by letting go of the societal expectations I felt were placed on me, I found a beautiful new commitment to myself. A season so beautiful, it overflows with joy and abundance.

I did all of the things I thought I was meant to. I married a man I deeply loved—at a very young age. I wrapped up my identity, my belonging, all of who I was into the marriage. I didn’t yet know there was a fire burning inside of me to be a bigger and more authentic version of myself. My marriage came to a halt, and while it was beautiful in its season, the version I’ve come to find on the other side is who I want to share with you.

There’s much more to romance than we imagine. Romance isn’t just the fairy tale idealism we see on TV, but a way of being. I struggled after my marriage, unsure if I’d ever grasp romance again. After all, I was single for the first time in a decade. Alone, and unsure how to begin this new life.

Where I chose to begin was in the inner longings of my heart. After a decade of belonging to someone—constantly taking them into consideration in all facets of my life—I had to reexamine what I actually needed. What would set my heart on fire? I began listening to gut feelings and the gentle nudges, like subtle pings, telling me where to go and what to do.

I tried new things. I listened to new music and took up dance; I tried new food. I began to romanticize the way I lived. I walked to work instead of driving, taking the beautiful scenic route and appreciating my own neighborhood. In a world where we are told to fit in, I began dressing for myself. I stopped worrying whether anyone would think I was “too much.” I watched myself slowly peel back the layers on all the pieces of conditioning I didn’t realize had such a heavy hand on me.

My transformation into a life of romance didn’t happen overnight, and for me, it didn’t happen by quickly rebounding with a new partner. I slowly watched myself become the woman I've always known to be inside. I became someone I truly love first. I was so afraid to leave my marriage. I was afraid of what everyone would say, what rumors would be spread behind my back. I put everyone around me in the driver’s seat of my life, barely able to listen to my own mind. The transformation into romance truly began when I gave myself authority over my own life, permission to take the wheel once again and find out what the truest form of my being really needed.

These days, my life feels like it is flourishing with love. There is more than I could have imagined. I found romance in the way I take care of myself—in the way I love me. I found romance in the way I’m able to look at myself in the mirror and know the outside reflects what’s inside. I found romance in the rebellion of listening to my inner voice and banishing the notions other people have placed. I am still gleaning all the beauty that is to come from this season, and I hope, no matter what stage you’re in, you choose to romanticize your life and connect with yourself as well.

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