Updated: Jan 16, 2021
For my beautiful friend Anna, who describes true love as knowing deep down, that you can live without the person you’re in a relationship with, happily.
I’ve watched love grow around me, filling the hearts of the people I love. I’ve witnessed those same people grow together, providing one another with shelter and hope. It’s beautiful, but at times it fills my body with intense gravity. Like my entire core is overwhelmed with a downward pull of sadness.
I'm a hopeless romantic, for decades I’ve dreamt about my happy ending. When will it happen? Who will be the one? What will it feel like?
And more recently, will it ever happen?
Taking chances with our heart is a painful business. We expose ourselves and our vulnerabilities, often for the sake of having our expectations crushed, and our hearts broken.
With every heartbreak does my heart get less whole?
I took a very conscious and extended break from seeking love. Choosing instead to understand what loving yourself really means.
By the way, contrary to popular ‘self-care Sunday’ Instagram posts, I don’t believe having a glass of red, and listening to Little Mix in the bath on a Sunday is self-love. I think they’re distractions.
None of us like to admit we play a role in causing our own pain - it’s easier to place that blame onto someone else. But that’s another distraction.
At what point do we take responsibility and admit to ourselves we’re actively participating in our own misery? Is it fair to say we’re the ones unconsciously causing all this pain because deep down we don’t really like ourselves?
These are questions I’ve pondered and dismissed too many times - simply because my ego wasn’t ready for them. But a handful of situations these past few months have led me to a place of true self-love.
The Man on Instagram
Earlier this year I developed an irrational crush on a guy on Instagram. It started with me sending an incredibly dorky message asking if he’d be interested, when it was appropriate, in meeting for a drink. His response was the sweetest - letting me know he had a girlfriend, but also that I seemed like an awesome person so he was flattered.
It should have stopped there.
We remained Instagram friends and frequently exchanged likes and emojis. His posts and stories all just seemed to strike a chord with me though, and it was frustrating - we did the same things, had similar interests, similar values and intentions, and of course, it felt good when he liked my selfies.
I’d never even met this guy, but based upon the demi-world of social media, I built him into a fictional character that became somewhat of a fantasy. Isn’t mental that social media can make you believe that you know or want someone without ever having met them in real life?
After months of innocent flirting, I got drunk and took the conversation too far. Being drunk isn’t an excuse for trying to lure away someone else’s boyfriend. Waking up the next day I read the messages over and over and felt compelled to send an apology. But I resisted the temptation because the right thing to do was to just leave it!
It was foolish of me to believe that months of liking photos and exchanging messages was innocent - on my part anyway.
I admitted to myself that every action we take has two reasons; the rational and the real. I’d rationalise my actions by thinking they were harmless. But the real reason, I was attracted to him and wanted to explore that - to force it even.
In the past, I’ve forced every relationship, either through manipulation or self-sacrifice.
I felt so much shame in the real reason because it was entirely contradictory to every value I’d been trying to cultivate. It wasn’t kind, it wasn’t honest, it was selfish. The outcome of this situation was never going to result in anything good. Trying to force someone else to behave in a way that challenges who they are, is not cool.
Less than a week after the drunk messages I decided to take a break from social media and reflect on how it had warped my judgment. Social media absolutely has a place in sharing and discovering, but it is not a replacement for reality, nor is it justification for acting inappropriately.
We don’t need to create exciting versions of ourselves to prove we’re happy, and we don’t need to share every facet of our lives to prove our existence.
It’s worth reflecting on your reasoning; what's the driver behind the actions you've taken or the choices you've made? I don't mean the naive reasons that are really only justifications to make you feel better, but your intentions, the hard stuff - what is it you're trying to get out of it?
I guess I should unfriend the Man on Instagram now.
I felt ready to date again after the summer and reinstalled Bumble - it’s the best of a bad bunch, but still only 2 dimensional - a handful of pictures and quippy one-liners. Essentially a virtual meat market, where your judgment on compatibility is based upon how a person looks.
I did meet a guy though, my usual type (bearded, tattooed, and troubled). Unlike others before him, he was way more forthcoming with his issues and seemed to be actually working on them. The self-awareness was refreshing and attractive.
His tales of mental health are his to tell, but in the honesty and vulnerability, I saw a glimpse of hope that this chap might actually have potential.
We spent several weeks talking, exchanging messages, and getting to know each another. He was really vocal about wanting to see me, but after a couple of dates, and a couple of canceled ones, it became clear he was shrouded in drama. Trying to spend time with him felt like moving mountains, there was always something going on - getting to know someone shouldn’t feel difficult, it should be magical and exciting, not like you’re giving out chances.
The excuses became wilder, and at the last minute he gave another that whiffed of total bullshit, but I didn’t feel anger or pain. I really didn’t care, at this point, I wasn’t bothered if I saw him again.
In the past, I’ve ignored these red flags and carried on accepting them for the sake of having someone around. But not this time.
I decided to put an end to the situation - simply because it was an energy drain, and a distraction. I sent an honest voice note explaining how it had been nice to spend time together, but the circumstances didn’t feel right, so would prefer not to see him again.
I’ve never done that before, taken myself off the table I mean. I’ve always allowed others to discard me first, setting my own boundaries is empowering.
Words are easy to say, but they can be manipulated and exaggerated to create promises and fairytales. Words don’t mean much without action - it’s what you do that defines your intentions.
Whether his vulnerability was tomfuckery to get me into bed, or not, it almost led me down a familiar path of trying to save someone in the hope of finding love. We were never destined to, and I knew it within 30 minutes of meeting him in real life.
Recognising your worth and having the strength to walk away from situations that make you feel any less, is powerful. It doesn’t matter how much you want someone to feel right for you, what’s meant for you won’t feel hard, and certainly will not pass you by.
Which leads to my final story.
The High School Crush
Everyone has a high school crush. Someone they remember from time to time and wonder about. Where do they live? What are they doing now? What did they become? Are they married?
My crush had ocean blue eyes - which I’m reminded of every time I hear the Billy Eilish song Ocean Eyes. He was (and still is) incredibly handsome, and had the most intense energy (he still does). As an adult, I get why I was so attracted to him then.
Some people are just comfortable being different, and that’s always been alluring to me. None of us are meant to be the same as anyone else, and by trying to be, by trying to fit in, we’re making ourselves miserable. It’s important to recognise we are magical just by being who we really are.
In high school, I really struggled with this and seemed to be always fighting or arguing with people. I was unkind, aggressive, and selfish - but really I was projecting my inner conflict of just trying to be me. I don’t keep in touch with many people from school, and for the longest time, it’s felt like there must be something wrong with me.
My crush recently got in contact, and we’ve spent hours talking. Reflecting back on our time in high school, and every significant moment since - he remembers me much differently to how I remember myself.
He recalled a confident young woman, someone destined for greatness, and how this might have made people feel uncomfortable. He was also honest, telling me I could be too much at times, making it easy for people to push me away or be cruel.
His perspective made me realise two things:
I’ve polarised my past behaviour so much, I’ve convinced myself I'm not capable of being a good person today because I had been such a terrible human.
The only way I’m going to become the person I’m meant to is by forgiving my past. Every second of it.
Most of us are self-conscious and over analyse every aspect of ourselves in social situations. In reality, things are never as bad as what we believe them to be. There isn’t a person on earth who hasn’t made a mistake, said something they regret, or done something they’re not proud of. It’s easy to become obsessed with the past because we think it defines us, but I’ve grown comfortable with the fact everything I’ve done or experienced has been a lesson intended to help me grow.
Now we’re in our mid 30’s, we’ve both lived and loved hard, we’ve traveled and adventured, but find ourselves looking for something more. The deep attraction hasn’t gone away, it’s evolved. Although he’s 1000 miles away, and there’s a lot of circumstance in-between, I feel excited about the possibilities - but without wild expectations.
What's meant for you doesn't pass you by, right?
When we think about love our heart presumes we need a partner to do the loving for us - someone to complete us making us whole. We listen to Ed Sheeran sing love songs and dream about someone feeling that same way about us. We watch romantic movies, in the hope we’ll find the ‘He’s just not that into you’ version of Ben Affleck.
Real self-love is painful work. Uncovering demons, reflecting on past trauma (both romantic and otherwise), and acknowledging the patterns of our behaviour that lead us to the same painful situations time and time again. The most difficult part is change - choosing to do something different from what you usually would.
The first step towards true self-love is acknowledging that every single thing we have ever experienced has brought us to where (and who) we are today - every up and every down. We are who we are because of the life we've lived and most importantly, the choices we've made.
Accepting these facts allows us to forgive our indiscretions, and to learn from our mistakes - with the intention of moving forwards by making choices that make us happy.
I always thought I’d have an incredible tale to tell about how I met the man I end up with. Something love song or silver screen worthy. But what if the story is something simple like, we went to high school together?
You can choose in life; to wallow in its misery, or to parade in its beauty. Now the latter wins for me every time. Free of false realties, complications, and expectations, I am hopeful of finding true love - because I’m living happily now, loving myself, without that person.