Marissa Joy Clark, 30, Oakland, CA

By age 25, Unstuck reader Marissa Joy Clark had been through a series of “tumultuous and emotionally gutting long-term relationships,” including a marriage that ended in divorce.

“I sought validation through my relationships, so I began to feel like an utter failure in love,” she says. “My self-esteem hit rock bottom.”

She realized she could not continue that spiral. “I decided to improve myself from the inside out. I went back to school for marketing, starting taking dance classes, started singing again, meditated.” And she began volunteering her time and talents to friends and community organizations, such as a local hospice. “Before, I was “stuck” at home in relationships that sucked the life energy out of me… There wasn’t anything left of me to give.”

She also took small steps toward restoring her faith in men and relationships with some dating online, choosing to meet guys she might have previously rejected as not her type.

“It was at this juncture, when I felt good about me, I felt good about men, and I was positively contributing to my community when I met my current boyfriend,” she says.

For six months, they took it slowly: “We were both very gun-shy. We didn’t crowd each other with suffocating infatuation. No constant texting, phone calls, or emails.”

She believes this is what set the tone for their healthy relationship.

“Because of our drawn-out courtship, we continue to see each other as independent people. It was my insistence on improving myself and seeing myself as a valuable and autonomous person that led to finding someone who holds those same values,” she says. “It really is true: You need to be the person you want to be with before you can be with that person.”