By Mari McNeil

First, a confession. For the first forty years of my life, I did not feel worthy to be truly loved. I projected an aura of superiority and self-confidence, but inside, I felt unlovable and undesirable. A lot of women do. We internalize slights from middle and high school and hold ourselves to impossibly high standards. We find ourselves lacking.

What cured me of self-loathing? At first, it was becoming a musician and singing out publicly—finding a passion and that audiences liked me. “They really like me,” as Sally Field once said. This flew in the face of the old story about being unattractive.

Second, it was going through a painful, unwanted divorce. To heal, I needed to fully love myself, faults and all. Early in the separation, a memorable moment occurred in front of a full-length mirror when I assessed my body and finally embraced its beauty, uniqueness, and flaws. I loved it, and me, completely.

Loving myself was an important step to being loved, but before dating, I also needed to map out what a successful relationship would look like, so I created a vision statement for my new life. It painted a verbal picture of my new home; the atmosphere, art, and music that would live there; the social life, vacations, and spirituality I’d pursue.

I also envisioned the man in my life. He would be kind, hospitable, generous, and fit. I imagined a mutually loving relationship with a good deal of sex and affection. I wanted a man who adored me, would lay it all down for me, would put me first, and would powerfully desire me. I shot not only for the stars but the whole dazzling Milky Way before even setting one foot in the dating swamp. This became the road map for my future.

A dear friend, who had been single for many years, warned about the lack of prospects in our hometown. “There are no good men. They are all taken. The only ones left are losers. Trust me, I’ve dated them.”

I envisioned better for myself.

I reckoned it was only a matter of time before Mr. Right came into my life. The key was to not be entangled with Mr. Wrong when he finally appeared. The more I loved myself, the easier it was to lose the Mr. Wrongs. And while setting the bar high might result in singlehood, alone and happy was better than coupled and miserable. The bar stayed high.

The bar didn’t drop with that first man I dated, who noted I was “loving and feminine onstage but vulgar and boorish offstage.” He was shown the door.

It remained high with the wealthy man who was not smart enough to recognize my power and intellect. He was stopped at the second date.

Most importantly, the bar didn’t come down when dating the well-off, fit, and sexy plumber who had anger and jealousy problems. It was sad, but I ended it, and I was alone again.

Dave was not an obvious choice.

He was a recent widower of a dear family friend. He was an artist like I was and quiet, probing, funny, and smart. We started out as supportive friends with no thought of dating while I kept looking for Mr. Right.

To our surprise, over time, our friendship became romantic. We were remarkably compatible, sharing interests in art, theater, and music. We both loved to read, travel, and entertain and wanted to create a house filled with love, respect, and generosity.

Most importantly, Dave wanted me and was willing to do anything to get me. Nothing came before me. The more he loved me, the lower my defenses became, and the more I loved him back.

Newly single, I had despaired that oft-quoted “statistic” that a middle-aged woman had as much chance of remarrying as getting struck by lightning. That was a mindset of scarcity and desperation. Instead, I determined there would be abundance and love in my new life, if not specifically a new man.

It turned out that accepting myself fully, envisioning my ideal life, and keeping high standards became the magic path to the love of my life.

How about you? What’s the single life like for you? If you’re partnered, what was your dating experience prior? Do you find yourself settling because you’re afraid to be alone, or do you keep the bar high and know that the right one will come?

Mari McNeil is a jazz singer living in Buffalo, NY. She is also a new media graphic designer and writer. To learn more about Mari, visit her popular blog Glitter & Jazz, check out her music website, and follow her on Facebook.

*Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography.