Natalye Childress is not your average relationship expert. The author of The Aftermath of Forever: How I Loved And Lost And Found Myself: the mixtape diaries, chronicled her journey through multiple heartbreaks, and how she ultimately learned to know and love herself. In her book, each chapter’s beginning is marked with the name of each boyfriend in a string of sometimes casual and bawdy, and sometimes heart-wrenching, harrowing relationships. Now happily re-married (though it should be noted that she found and healed herself long before she even met her husband), Childress, a self-described feminist, chatted with us about love and the journey to finding it in your own life, starting with yourself. Her take on love is refreshing and empowering—she’s more interested in the journey than the “perfect” outcome, and she values self-love as much as any other kind of love. So we decided to pick her brain for some relationship advice we hadn’t heard before. Here’s what she had to say:
1. Become an expert on yourself
And part of that process involves a healthy dose of self-love, self-dates, and the like. Childress said, “People read these novels and they think, oh, she found happiness in her partner.” But “especially as a feminist, no, I didn’t find my happiness in a partner. If I found my happiness in being with him, then it wouldn’t be a good relationship. That was a problem with my first marriage. I tied up so much of my identity in him and our relationship, and when you do that, and it ends, who are you without it?”
2. Keep a journal
Writing doesn’t come easily for everyone, but it truly is a great way of figuring out your thoughts and feelings. You’ve got to bring things to the surface and name them before you can deal with them. Childress said, “I am 100% a believer that writing is therapy.” Her own process of healing and learning about herself began with the first draft of her book—six months off the dating wagon and putting everything on the page. “It’s difficult to document those things, but it’s like writing a letter and throwing it away when you’re angry at someone. You feel better,” she said. But of course, everyone has their own way of dealing with things, and Childress reminds us that as long as you do something that requires some self-reflection, working through issues with a partner will be a bit easier to manage.
3. Communication is everything
Everyone knows good communication is fundamental to a happy relationship, but without elaboration, that concept is trite at best. Childress expanded on what good communication looks like to her. She said, “If you see a potential future with a person, then be absolutely honest, even if it’s scary. This video went viral last year, of a couple’s breakup song they wrote together because one of them wanted kids, and the other didn’t. It made me really sad, because it’s hard to have something so good with someone, but there’s a major decision you disagree on like that. I think that’s really important to discuss early on. My husband and I talked about kids on our first date.”
Of course, Childress admits that proclaiming your progenitive desires on the first date isn’t for everyone, but she knew what she wanted and didn’t want to waste her time or feelings. “If you’re not looking for something super long-term, I don’t think those things are as important to discuss, but I also think discussing what you want sexually is important, even if it’s only a sexual relationship you’re having. You should be able to tell your partner what you want and don’t want, and find out the same from them.”
4. The best friend seal of approval
“With some of these relationships I wrote about, I was hesitant to tell some of my closest friends about them, and I think that was a red flag. If you can’t talk about it without expecting judgment from someone who knows you very well, you’re probably not doing something good for yourself,” she said. Yup. Healthy relationships tend to not be rooted in secrecy. If you’re avoiding bringing your special friend around the people who know and love you best because you suspect they’ll disapprove, that’s not a good sign.
5. “The one” doesn’t exist
It’s probably the most annoying thing to hear that there are plenty of fish in the sea, especially at times when your heart is feeling squashed and pummeled by an unrequited love, but the idea of “the one” is a myth, according to Childress. She said, “There are so many people out there. There is not only one person for you. And maybe this person you’re hung up on will come around a year later or five years later, or maybe never, and you’ll find someone else.” All of these options are totally okay, and none should be viewed as a loss, as she said, “Maybe there’s something better out there.”