With the big 3-0 now less than three months away, I’ve been taking a close look at my life so far, and where I wanted to go. In all the lists and goals I’ve made this year, I never once mentioned things I wanted to accomplish in my personal life—relationships with my family and friends, and, most difficult of all for me, my love life.
My love life is a romantic comedy come to life, only without much romance, and super heavy on the comedy bits. Dark comedy. Earlier this year, I hid behind a tree to avoid having to speak to a cute guy I regularly see at work and who regularly speaks to me. Late last year, I went on a date with a man who, after having me pay the bill, slid a pair of nipple clamps across the table at me and gestured towards the bathroom. Last summer, I attached myself to someone who wanted no attachments at all, and I hovered around for months, hoping for scraps of affection that would never arrive.
Despite all of those pitfalls (and that is the abridged, highly edited version of my dating life), I soldiered on, recently picking up a pseudo relationship with someone who was unavailable in every conceivable way possible. My feelings were very real, but this past weekend, a new complication in an already difficult situation made me re-evaluate just what I was allowing myself to accept. The self-love that has pushed me to achieving fitness and health goals, that drives me to succeed at work, and to nurture my friendships, simply doesn’t extend to my relationships with men. I have settled so many times, and I always, always end up broken-hearted, listening to Amy Winehouse on repeat, and wondering why these broken men always seem to choose me.
After graduating from college, my classmates and I moved to the big city. Or, the big city for Washington state, Seattle. Some took a brief break from academia and then went off to graduate school; others joined the military, but by and large, most people quickly settled into office jobs, and then, as if Noah himself had summoned them forth, everyone paired off and got married.
I’ve known since I was a little girl that I wanted a life of adventure. I wanted to live in a big city, preferably above a pizza shop, and near a movie theater, and write books. I wanted to travel the world and see all the things I’d read about. But love and marriage and children were never things I thought of, and were never priorities for me. Watching everyone around me fall into lockstep made me feel like the choices I made for myself were incorrect—like I was doing something wrong and just didn’t realize it, and that I was obviously unworthy of being loved if everyone else was finding it and I wasn’t. I never allowed myself to revel in the glory of being single, to truly enjoy a DVR filled with Real Housewives of Orange County/NYC/Atlanta/New Jersey, to relish Saturday mornings spent in holey t-shirts, and to take my twenties to truly know and understand and love myself before getting into a real, lasting relationship.
So, I threw myself into half-baked relationships that satisfied a baseline understanding of being coupled up, but were never real in any substantial way. I wasn’t secure enough in the choices I made about my life to understand that the things I’ve been doing for the past seven years were by no means perfect, but they allowed me to grow in the ways that I needed to grow. I let so many things have power over me, and never valued myself or my choices enough to respect that I am where I need to be right this instant, and my journey is no one else’s journey.
I was never a big Sex and the City fan—but a love of Pinterest has taught me that the show was full of invaluable bon mots, a treasure trove of quotes to pin and repin, and many of which are applicable to my life. But one I stumbled across recently was one that fits the most with my current state of mind:
“Later that day I got to thinking about relationships. There are those that open you up to something new and exotic, those that are old and familiar, those that bring up lots of questions, those that bring you somewhere unexpected, those that bring you far from where you started, and those that bring you back. But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you you love, well, that’s just fabulous”
Until very recently, it never occurred to me that my friends might all be getting married not just because they wanted to, but also because they were mentally prepared for all the challenges that being legally and emotionally bound to someone entails. And how could I honestly expect someone to value, respect, and love me in any real way if I didn’t also feel that same way about myself? The men I attracted and have been attracted to are all indicators of my mental state—human, male barometers of perilously low self-worth.
On Sunday morning, I woke up early, took a long walk with Nigel Barker, and evaluated where I am, and where I want to be. I have an amazing job, a great apartment, a passport filled with stamps from the places I dreamed of going as a child. There are things I can improve upon, of course, but by and large, I have so much to be proud of. And if I am truly happy where I am, as a single woman in the city, who lives four blocks from both a movie theater and a pizzeria, I should love myself enough to not settle for just anyone who deigns to send me a flirty message on Facebook.
I sat in front of my computer, turned on “Dancing On My Own,” and wrote an incredibly long-winded email explaining my feelings, and hesitation about continuing the relationship, and asking to take a break from contacting each other. And while the break won’t make up for the years I’ve spent not valuing myself enough, it’s the first time I’ve ever pulled back from a relationship and truly evaluated it for what it is.
The toughest part about growing older isn’t the act itself—it’s when you stop and take a painful look back at all the mistakes you’ve made and the opportunities you missed without even knowing it. But the bittersweet beauty of growing older lies in the moments of reflection and clarity, looking at the journey so far, and taking the opportunity to use that hard earned wisdom to make a better future.
The relationships I’ve had thus far have mostly served as fodder for stories to make my friends and family doubt my sanity, but that doesn’t mean they have lacked value–I’ve learned what I will and won’t accept, and, as corny as it sounds, I need to love myself before I can expect anyone else to really and truly love me. So, while I’ll keep dancing on my own for the foreseeable future, I’ll be learning to love myself. Starting with a date with a bottle of wine and a one woman dance party, with Nigel Barker as a back up dancer.