Photos C/O: Ashlyn Kudranksy
Jackie Viramontez is a relationship coach and author of I Can’t Believe I Dated Him, a guide to transforming relationship issues into opportunities. An advocate for women’s rights, she founded The Upgraded Woman where she teaches mindfulness curriculums that heal the side effects of relationship trauma and sexual abuse. She currently lives in Los Angeles with her filmmaker husband, Jake.
Ever since pre-school (when my class was overrun with boys), I’ve gravitated toward male friends. The trend lasted until I met my husband. By the time we got married, my friendships had transitioned to female-only.
The change was painful. I wanted my guy time back. My husband repeatedly said, “You do have guy friends. My friends are here all the time.” That was true, but his friends treated me more like Jake’s wife than a real buddy.
I missed a large chunk of my community. For the first two years of marriage I ignored this low-grade grief. I reminded myself I’d always wanted more girl friends. Unfortunately, no amount of lady time filled the void.
And then, a new guy appeared. He was my husband’s friend, but he treated me like my own person. He asked questions, and cared about the answers. I savored it.
It wasn’t long before our friendship teetered over healthy boundaries. When he visited, I enjoyed his attention a bit too much. If we attended the same party, I spent extra time on my makeup. When he told me I looked nice, I clung to the compliment. It was embarrassing.
My husband noticed and asked me tough questions: Why did I prefer male company? More importantly, why did I crave his friend’s company?
My initial answers were shallow: Men are less competitive. Men are more easy-going. Men are more adventurous. These mildly sexist explanations didn’t feel like the truth.
I dug deeper.
When the real truth came, it was frightening to admit: He is complimentary. He is flirtatious. His attention makes me feel good. He makes me feel wanted.
I felt confused. My husband is very loving and affectionate. What was wrong with me? Why did I feel a void? And why was I filling it with inappropriate attention from his friend?
A less mature part of me wanted to blame Jake for not affirming me. But that would mean my wholeness was dependent on his ability to fill the void — a void that existed long before we met.
My need for affirmation seemed more like an addiction. Once I built a tolerance for my husband’s affection, I had to find it somewhere else. In time that new source of affirmation would run dry, and I would seek out more destructive forms of validation. Like any addict, my cycle of addiction wouldn’t end until I cut my cravings off at the core.
That required some serious soul searching. The inner conversation wasn’t easy, and the change wasn’t fast. I started reclaiming my worth from all the things I’d handed it to: job titles, income brackets, family expectations and male attention.
I’m not designed to depend on external validation, even from my husband. Otherwise I would feel insecure anytime Jake is too tired to give me attention. I can feel loved, and know I am worthy of love, even when he doesn’t have the energy to affirm it.
Instead of feeling confident because of this revelation, I feel vulnerable. For the first time in my life, I have to admit I have needs. I’m learning that neither of us wins until I’m vulnerable enough to say my needs aloud.
When I feel the craving for validation, I don’t beat myself up — I unapologetically own it and ask for what I want. To my surprise, Jake doesn’t feel burdened by my requests. He feels respected.
Eventually, I will believe the truth about my worth enough to not need Jake’s validation. Until then, I am savoring a new chapter in our marriage: allowing Jake to see my flawed, imperfect sides, and to let him love me despite them. I am learning to love him more than the ego stroke of another’s attention. Every time we see each other on this level, the less tempted we feel to look elsewhere for a love that would only pale in comparison.
If you’re single and in the habit of seeking validation from men, ask yourself: How does the thought of marriage affirm me? What stops me from owning that affirmation now?
If you’re married and feel like your partner isn’t giving you the affirmation you want, ask yourself: When will I finally feel affirmed by my partner? What changes am I waiting to see in him or myself? What will it take to live in that affirmation before change happens?