The year 12 red roses were delivered to me, from my first Valentine. In two months, he would leave for Iraq.
The year I brought markers to school and showed them how to make Valentine’s while listening to Justin Bieber from my iPod. Many of them came back to me: Madam Keneuoe, I love you.
The year when he didn’t send anything and called the next day. “Do you want to break up?” I asked. “Kind of,” he said.
The year he texted: “I wish you were here. Not because it’s Valentine’s Day but because it’s a full moon and this is the last we will have together.”
The year he gave me a Goofy Valentine with spaghetti on his head because it reminded him of me.
The year we made mozzarella, spinach and strawberry salad and then went to the “Vagina Monologues.”
The year my mom sent me flowers and I asked if they were from him. They weren’t but the ones I received a week later were.
This year, I woke up before the sun. I cried. I tried to write. I tossed in my bed. Then I got up and walked to the nearby coffee shop to treat myself to some deep writing and quiche.
At the beginning of 2014, I was in a hurry to get the things I thought a 29-year-old woman in the U.S. needed. I found a job rather quickly, bought some boots and even got a haircut that cost more than $20. But, of all these, I thought I needed a boyfriend.
Peace Corps put a big halt to my romantic relationships, along with a heart-crushing infatuation with a man who would never love me the way that I loved him. That was OK, I told myself on those lonely nights looking up into my thatched roof, I was living my dream and sometimes that is the consequence of dream chasing. When I get home, satisfied by these four years in Niger and Lesotho, a great and kind man would surely show up at my door as a well-deserved reward like a glass of ice water at the end of a hard journey.
He did not come. And did not come. And did not come.
I did not live most of 2014. A lightless figure, I moped through days in search of something I thought was external. Between moving to two different cities, starting two jobs and trying not to breakdown each second of the day because I missed Lesotho so much, I wanted a quick fix to my misery and despair and I thought that would come in the form of romantic love.
In D.C. and Chicago, I set up online dating profiles and accepted nearly every social invitation with the hope that this great and kind would be on the other side. I went on a few dates, fell for a man I could never be with, and drank bottles of wine by myself while texting my friends for some kind of validation that I was indeed datable.
My search for love became the focus of my attention and I believed that I was not whole until I found it. Every couple that passed by me was a reminder of what I lacked and every man uninterested was proof that I was unworthy. With each dead end in my search for love, my core rotted. I was too fat. My teeth were too crooked. My face poisoned with too many wrinkles. I was too white. I was uninteresting. I was used. I was a mess. I was boring. I was not confident. I was too confident. I was too plain. I was too quirky. Friends reassured me that I deserved a great love, but I did not believe them. Everything and all things told me that I simply wasn’t good enough.
This is not a new discovery. In the second grade, my mother and teacher cried when I beat myself up because I mixed up my ‘b’s and ‘d’s. After high school cross country meets, when my teammates gorged on greasy pizza and gas station sandwiches, I drank water because that is all I deserved after running a crappy race. At my Peace Corps mid-service conference, while my fellow volunteers took time to be proud of their accomplishments, a staff member had to pull me aside and say, “Heather, you are a good volunteer; please don’t be so hard on yourself.”
All of my life the person who has had the loudest voice in proclaiming my uselessness and grotesqueness was myself.
It’s true; I did need love, just a different kind.
On the first day of the year, as I sipped tea, listened to Bon Iver and read Cheryl Strayed, something struck me. I knew that I need to love myself, but it took me 30 years to realize that I have the power to do so. The answer to finding joy in this world was to love myself just as I am right now in this moment. To love myself for all of my flaws and mistakes. To love myself when it felt like I was the only one.
Loving yourself is not something you do like read a book. It’s not something you can pay for or wear. It’s a gut-wrenching practice that demands all of your time and energy. You have to be kind. You have to forgive. And, you have to keep going day after day.
I do not know how to love myself or where to begin. Sometimes loving myself means getting up to meditate and do yoga. Sometimes it means going to a movie and cooking myself a nice dinner. Sometimes it means letting go of certain people and asking help from others. Sometimes it means letting myself be crazy and emotional or dance around the house to that ridiculous song. Sometimes it means forgiving myself over and over.
I’ve dedicated this year to engaging and expanding the love I have for myself. I’ve deleted all of my profiles on online dating sites and am not throwing myself into situations hoping to find a partner. I am trying to take care of myself as I would a partner and get to know myself the way I would a new friend. I am learning what things make me happy and whole and then utilizing those things when I need them. When I am sad and feeling hopeless, instead of berating, I grab my own hand and say, “It’s OK darling.”
This blog was started as a way to share this journey and record all the ups and downs of learning to love one’s self. Sometimes I write things because I need to hear and I share them here because I think others may need it as well. Throughout this year, some posts will seem repetitive or overly emotional, but I will not hide or censor myself. This is a journey far too imperative and risky to get caught up in what others may think.
As I think about all my past loves (while trying not to retrace what I did wrong and why I am not good enough to have someone beside me on this day) I remember that right now I am in the most challenging and beautiful relationship of my life. This is the big, grand love. This is the love that I need to pour all of myself into if I have a shot at ever doing any good in this life.
This year, I will be my own Valentine and give myself all the love that I need.