I had my first boyfriend when I was 16. We dated for a year and a half, and then he went off to college on the East Coast. We were the lucky ones. We had a beautiful first love story. We both really got along, we were close with each other’s families and friends, and we had a lot in common. Drama was next to non-existent, and he made me supremely and gushingly happy. In the end, we broke up very naturally. He was a year older, and he was off to his next big adventure while I was finishing up my senior year of high school. It hurt like hell (as does anybody’s first heartbreak), but it was understandable and mutual. Over time, I healed, moved on, and dated other people. So did he. ‘Tis life.
Four years later and many things have changed. Since then, I’ve started college, moved out of my parent’s house, and had two other boyfriends. I’ve experienced the dating scene on totally different levels and completely expanded my understanding of Love, while also learning so much about myself through my relationships. I’ve laughed, loved, yelled, smiled, and cried through two substantial broken hearts. I guess you could say I’ve truly experienced “young love” and its many ups and downs.
I’m turning 21 in a few months, and I am single single single. My last committed relationship ended at the tail end of winter, and it was the cherry on top of a cold and rainy season of my life. But it was my decision, and it was the right one. Over the past few months, I’ve been reflecting on my love life and some of the decisions I’ve made. I’ve been questioning my identity as a woman, friend and feminist, while also dissecting and looking at my own relationship with the men in my life. Although I’m still confused 99% of my time, I do think I’ve discovered some valuable characteristics and habits that I have, and I know I’m not alone on this one. I hope this effort at self-reflective writing may help you look into yourself, too, and perhaps reveal to you some truths about your own story.
The past few months I’ve been trying to recollect myself. Somewhere along the line, I completely lost sight of who I was. I had always rooted my identity in my relationships, and when I no longer had one to keep me grounded, I began to struggle to keep afloat. I didn’t realize that then. I had been struggling so deeply with anxiety and depression for months that I just assumed that my state of confusion and sadness was due to my recent battle with mental health. Although that was undoubtedly partly responsible, I refused to believe what was really going on. I refused to see that the reason I was so depressed was because I had been finding myself in all the wrong places – in other people.
Don’t get me wrong. Relationships are an essential part of the human experience, and there’s nothing in the world like falling in love. But what I’ve realized now more than ever is the importance of falling in love with myself first and foremost. Being in my early twenties, it’s understandable that I have a contorted and confusing sense of identity and purpose, but that cannot be healed and improved upon by the mere presence of others. Friendship may play a large part in assisting that process, but it cannot be my sole center of gravity. I know this now. I see it so clearly. And I’m so grateful that I’m realizing this now rather than later.
I find comfort in knowing that I am undoubtedly not alone in this. I see this same exact habit in so many of my friends and peers, both men and women alike. The constant ebb and flow of lust and dating and mingling in those quintessential college years is common, but I find it to be incredibly problematic when it’s only done for the sake of having someone around. For so many people it doesn’t exactly matter who’s around, as long as it’s someone. How are we ever expected to find Love in that kind of mentality? How are we ever expected to naturally connect and stumble across authentic chemistry with that mindset? Quiet and subconscious desperation is still so much louder than true self confidence, and it takes a lot of growing, experiencing, and learning to make peace with who you are.
I haven’t gotten it all figured out, but I’m shocked that I’m even able to write a blog post about this right now. After years of denial, to actually admit out loud that I have some serious self-love and self-care issues is monumental. Don’t get me wrong… I’ve been plenty selfish before. Depression will do that to you. But I don’t think I’ve ever learned how to truly love myself because I’ve always been so consumed with receiving love from others. To come to terms with this has been incredibly freeing. Incredibly scary… But nonetheless, incredibly freeing.
What I’m now working on is uprooting and identifying why I’ve struggled with this habit. I have a lot of ideas and thoughts surrounding its origin, but that’s a whole other story. And that story is complex and long and a lot to unpack for right now, because it started right as I took my first breath. Perhaps in time I’ll write a post about that, too, but for now, this is the food for thought I have to share. This is the part of my story I’m choosing to write about today.
Who knows, maybe I’ll meet or connect with someone in the months to come and it’ll feel right and authentic. I’m not opposed to dating at all, and I do definitely think this is the time in my life to refrain from being too hard on myself and to enjoy my life. But I’ve recognized now that even that can come at a price. After countless mistakes, I see now how true it is that I will never love someone else in a healthy way until I learn to love myself. I know that is a lifelong process… but at least I’ve decided to begin today.
Today, I challenge you to think about your practices of self love and self care. Do you gravitate towards gaining recognition and love from others? If so, do you do it so much that you no longer know how to truly love yourself? Now is the time to reflect on who you are, and who you want to be. Being alone doesn’t have to feel lonely, if you only take the time to realize the infinite beauty you hold within.
“Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.” – Pedro Arrupe, S.J.