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I’ve been reading some hilarious blogs recently. Ever since I started writing more myself, I’ve started reading people’s internet work more often… sometimes for inspiration, sometimes out of curiosity, and mostly for shits and giggles during my lunch breaks. I really like the blogger Jessie Rosen, who writes for her own website called 20-nothings.com. She’s incredibly talented, and she’s the type of writer that just gets it. In fact, she just gets a whole lot more than I do. I’m always laughing and learning when I read her work, and that’s why I keep going back. She’s witty, honest, and smart as a whip. The more I read her blog, the more I’m (not-so-) secretly hoping she’ll rub off on me. Is it working?

The post I particularly chuckled at was this one: The Strong (And Highly Recommended Case) For Acting Like You Don’t Want A Boyfriend. I clicked on it because it caught my eye. I clicked on it because I, myself, am in a position where I don’t really want a boyfriend. Or a commitment. Or too much emotional baggage. I’m happy I clicked on it, though, because it explored some incredibly fruitful advice that I think every. single. person. should think about when entering the dating scene, or a new relationship. This is what I’ll think back to when I decide to give dating the old college try once again.

Beginning with date number one: Stop pretending like you’re the person you’re fairly sure your date wants you to be. Chances are that you don’t really know said person, and you’re purely guessing after doing some fairly thorough Facebook stalking. So you put on your favorite flattering outfit (ok, understandable), but worst of all, you put on a personality that strokes their ego. NO. STOP. You are not that person, and you wouldn’t want them to be anybody except themselves. Who wants to find out 5 dates in that they’ve been dating somebody entirely different than who they previously thought? Nobody. Nobody wants to be blind sighted, and nobody wants to waste their time. Time is, after all, our most valuable asset. So before that first date, or that second or third or fourth, look yourself in the mirror and become centered into your own personality. You owe your date nothing but authenticity. And if you two don’t jive well, then don’t you want to find that out at the beginning? Don’t you want to realize that before those (sometimes nonsensical) feelings get involved and demand to be felt?

I’m not saying not to put your best foot forward. I mean, I think it’s obvious that you don’t want to arrive with a bunch of baggage when you’re getting to know someone. But you’re a person! A human fully capable of experiencing experiences and feeling feelings. And those experiences and feelings have shaped you into you. So embrace that you. Express that you. Especially when looking for a partner.

As I write this out, I keep asking myself… Well, why is this such a big problem in the first place? It’s seems strange and counterproductive to pretend to be someone other than yourself at any point, but especially when testing the relationship waters with another individual. But I think I just answered the question that I asked: because of the ego. It’s always all about the ego, and we are all prone to protecting said ego. Nobody wants to get rejected, so subconsciously, we all try to fit the mold that we think the other person desires. But chances are, your date doesn’t entirely know what they want. And loving a real person is so much different than deciding in your head the type of person you want to love. Often times, the best relationships show us the things we didn’t even know we were looking for.

So stop worrying about rejection. It’s going to happen. And it’s going to sting. But I don’t know about you…. I sure as hell would rather nurse that bee sting back to health rather than fix a broken heart that’s realized the person you’ve spent all your time with doesn’t actually love the real you. Trust me.. I’ve been there. And that wounds lasts a whole lot longer.

Dating doesn’t have to be a pretender’s game. It shouldn’t be. Dating can real and authentic and serendipitous. When it is all those things (and much, much more), it’s a lot more likely to lead to the relationship you never realized you needed. The one that sweeps you off your feet, but also keeps you grounded. The one that loves you unconditionally, but also leaves room for you to love yourself. The one that makes you feel more alive, more you, more human. Those relationships exist, and I think Jessie was right: they happen when you stop looking for them, and instead start looking for yourself (*hint *hint… start your search right underneath your own skin).

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There’s a kind of peace that can never be matched once experienced. It’s the kind of feeling that you get when you’re sitting alone with yourself and your thoughts, and you realize whole-heartedly that you are enough. In fact, you are more than enough. You are full of spirit and life and flaws and beauty. Your soul is pure divinity, a slice of heaven. And your body is just the expression of the human experience you are having. You sit there, and although you know it’s just you, alone in that room or on that path or in that coffee shop, it hits you that you are never really alone. In between the moments of silence, your breath steadies you and you think “My God, I am alive!”

You think of all the moments that brought you here. The tears, the laughter, the confusion, the heartache. You think of the people that you’ve shared your time with.. Whether it was for a brief moment, or for the entirety of your life. Even if they brought you deep sadness, you think of them fondly because you know that you gave a piece of yourself to them, and they did the same for you. And there’s something incredibly beautiful in that, even if it was brief. Even if it was heartbreaking. You know that you wouldn’t be here.. In this moment.. Realizing your worth if you had not experienced that pain. Because every moment, good or bad, has brought you here. Without them, you would be somewhere else doing something entirely different. And this moment is nothing short of experiencing a slice of true authenticity. A true connection with who you are and all that you have witnessed in this life.

You think of all the moments that you aspire to have. And although they haven’t arrived, you trust they are coming. You know they are coming. You can feel it in each breath, in each bone, in each thought. And even though they’re on their way… You refuse to wait for them. They will catch up to you. Because they will occur when it’s right, and you know that this moment is the most precious asset you have.

You are Enough. Not because you’ve accomplished something commendable. Not because you’re beautiful, or well liked, or admired. You are Enough because you exist. You’ve entered this world whole, you are whole now, and you will always be whole. Even when you feel broken, even when the burdens seem too much to bear… You are exactly as you ought to be. And the person that you are now is the very companion you need to guide you along the path that is solely yours and yours alone.

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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.

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What a year it has been. The lack of an exclamation point hints at a lack of enthusiasm… and 2015 is only halfway over. Part of me is incredibly frightened by that thought; the optimistic side of myself says “it can only go up from here”! It really just depends on the day, I suppose.

In the year 2015, God has thrown me into the toughest situations I have ever faced. Those situations have come from almost every angle: family, school, friends, relationships, work. My world has been completely flipped upside down on more than one occasion in the past six months, and that has forced me to reevaluate myself more than anything else.

The toughest moments have given me no choice but to grow and to change. And let me tell you, change may be natural and inevitable… but it sure can be painful.

I’m still learning. As long as I’m living, I will always keep learning. But here’s some food for thought on something I’ve learned in particular that I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. I’m still wrapping my mind around it, and I’m still integrating this ideal into my life, but I find it to be incredibly valuable (especially in the face of turmoil). And I hope you do, too.

I’ve decided that I’m not so hung up on living a happy life anymore. That sounds a little crazy, right? Who doesn’t want to be happy? Trust me, I’d love to be happy, but I am trying not to seek happiness as if it’s some sort of destination. As if the ever-present Now is going to lead up to some great insurmountable cheerfulness. As if these moments mean nothing if they’re not leading me towards that.

To some people, that may seem like I’m accepting defeat. It may seem like I’m slipping back into depression. It may seem like a red flag. Especially in a culture that perpetuates this need for constant noise and busy-ness. Especially in a society that says happiness is the ultimate goal, and that goal can be achieved through money, partying, sex, and the endless hoarding of plastic shit… all the things that, in excess, suck the joy right out of the human spirit.

But it’s actually quite beautiful and freeing realizing that happiness isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s one emotion in a range of dozens that can be felt by humanity, and it’s powerful.. but definitely not the be all end all.

That being said, my goal has shifted from living a happy life, to living a meaningful life. I didn’t quite know the difference for a long time, but I see it now more than ever. Life isn’t about experiencing just joy – life is about experiencing it all. Life is about feeling the wonderful range of emotions that come along with humanity: the good, the bad, the ugly, the confusing. Meaning rarely comes from a simple happy moment. Meaning comes from pain and heartbreak. Meaning comes from experiencing the depths of sadness and turmoil, and coming out the other end of it a fuller, better version of yourself. Meaning comes from struggle.

I look back at the happiest moments of my life, and it seems like the perfect embodiment of the quote “ignorance is bliss”. I used to be so happy go lucky. I rarely let things tear me down, and I felt that I couldn’t stay sad or upset for more than a few hours. It just wasn’t in my nature. There’s a sliver of me that wishes I could go back to those moments. Sometimes I wish more than anything that I could be that person again – that girl with the constant rose-tinted glasses and fat smile on her face. But I cannot be the jubilant 18-year-old Ali because to put it simply: too much has happened. I’ve grown out of that person. I’ve grown because I’ve experienced more life-changing moments in the past 2 years than I did in the first 18 years of my life. I thought as I entered adulthood, life would give me a big fat hug. Turns out, it’s left me bruised and broken and beaten down. Life hugged me a little too tight, and it’s probably cracked a few ribs. But I’m alive! And I’m learning and growing and laughing along the way. And there’s something damn wonderful in realizing that.

This blog post is sporadic and stream-of-consciousness. It’s probably filled with errors and things I may look back on and question, but it’s where I’m at right now. And I’m embracing it. If one person reads this and their day that was so weighed down with sadness becomes just the tiniest bit lighter, then I’ve accomplished something worth celebrating. We’re all just blips on the radar. We’re all just nanoseconds in the grand scheme of this universe as we know it. We’re all coming and going so quickly, and this human life will be over before I know it. But there’s priceless meaning in that…

Whether you’re happy, sad, confused, or a mixture of many different things… you’re here. Right now. Breathing. Living. Reading this. And I’d like to promise that this will all makes sense one day, that any pain or frustration or heartache that you endure will be leading and guiding you home, but I don’t know if it will. I trust that it will, but life is fragile and I’m not sure what’s in store for any of us… so if the only meaning you find in your sadness is that you are alive, able to feel this way, able to feel this deeply… then isn’t that meaning enough?

I challenge you to live each day asking yourself: what will you do with your Now? Because pretty soon all your nows will become thens… and as you take your last breath, will you look back on a life that was spent searching for something that was right in front of you?