Relationships have been both my worst heartaches and greatest blessings. Life is what happens while you're making other plans...
I've always loved helping people. As a kid I wanted to be a doctor — until I met a model, moved to New York City, studied acting (human behavior), moved to Los Angeles, back to New York, all the while putting my career first and breaking men's hearts. Until I had my heart broken and became obsessed with how to fix my relationships. Did a reality show about being single, hosted a talk show about relationships (dubbed "The Dating Expert"), went to NYU, became a certified Life, Relationship, & Breakup Coach, write columns, make advice videos, wrote a book, and now I'm very good at helping others have better relationships — this is what I was meant to do.
As a teenage model whose only income came from what she looked like, I was obsessed with working out and trying to eat right. It was a constant battle between enjoying what I ate or enjoying how I looked. At the same time, I was struggling with my relationships. I had no idea what boundaries were, and looking back, I definitely had a few “What was I thinking?” relationships. If I had thought then to put a food value on men, I would have known exactly whom to indulge in and whom to throw away. That’s how the idea for Giving Up Junk-Food Relationships was born. Like attracts like; therefore, you are who you meet, just as you are what you eat.
Growing up just outside Philadelphia, the “City of Brotherly Love”, romance novels and my mom's old movies helped me become a hopeless romantic…I was utterly fascinated with dating and relationships. At age eighteen, my modeling agency got me an apartment in New York City. I was thrilled to be in the heart of America’s biggest singles scene! In the dressing rooms of my modeling and acting bookings, I saw and heard a lot of dating tales and disasters. Personally, I was a serial monogamist (always had a boyfriend); I didn’t want to be alone. But I never managed to make the right choices. My friends and family were frequently concerned. When you’re in love (or think you are), you don’t want to listen to anything negative. You certainly can’t hear it. I made it through my twenties thinking I was doing okay. Then I turned thirty and had my heart broken for the first time. I was blindsided, actually, and I was having a hard time catching my breath. I was left wondering why he didn’t want me anymore, and for the first time, I started to think, What’s wrong with me?
A lot was wrong with me. Not just to suit any guy; negative behavior was affecting my life. It just took a guy to make me see that. I then had an epiphany: If I was ever going to have a healthy relationship, I needed to learn exactly what one was. A girlfriend turned me on to self-help books, and I discovered knowledge was the only thing that made me feel better. I became a knowledge junkie. I enlisted the help of a great therapist and serendipitously began a new career.
After years of dating without becoming someone’s exclusive girlfriend, pining over a man I couldn’t have (at least not full-time), starring in a reality show, co-hosting a talk show, and writing a magazine column, New York City started to call me “the real-life Carrie Bradshaw.” I finally learned how to enjoy being alone; and then I met a wonderful man. In 2006, I enrolled at New York University to officially become a life coach. Clients frequently tell me I give them a unique perspective — a combination of practical hindsight, intelligence, and academic knowledge. It’s incredibly validating when they call to simply say, “You were right!” I can’t help but think, “It’s about time I got it right.” Three decades later, I feel I have earned the title of dating and relationship expert. My favorite part is helping people make better choices than I did.
Donna Barnes has been a frequent relationship contributor for Good Morning America and Nightline. She spent three seasons with the popular "What Would You Do?" hosted by Emmy winner John Quinones. Donna has also appeared on Fox & Friends, CNN, NBC's Today, CBS's Early Show, Fox News, Fuse, and she had fun teaching the girls how to "Rock at Love" on VH-1's” Rock of Love Charm School" hosted by Sharon Osbourne.