Photo by Miré Yang featuring Paige Lorentzen for Mad Sounds Issue 20
I became painstakingly aware of the teenage dating culture long before I even started high school. I dreamed about having a boyfriend, having someone to love the way I saw in movies and books, in a way I had never experienced before. I craved affection. I wanted to be looked at the way Ross looked at Rachel (you know, before they went on a break). I couldn’t wrap my head around how someone could be sad when they had a significant other. Thinking back, that seems ridiculous. But the way I saw it, I didn’t understand sadness’ place in a situation where someone considers you their missing piece. I was convinced that every inkling of anxiety would be squelched by what Hollywood had me convinced love was.
When I actually started dating, reality hit me like a big slap in the face. The fact is, romance is over-romanticized. I came to discover that relationships are complicated, a lot of work, and require a balance between the give and take. I’m a little biased on this topic because the whole two relationships I’ve been in haven’t ended well or on mutual terms, but this is still a side of dating I can testify to.
What constitutes as a healthy relationship continues to elude me. I was happy in both relationships for a time, but I was also constantly uncomfortable. I found it difficult to allow myself to be emotionally intimate, let alone physically. For a while I thought this was because I was doing something wrong, but I’ve learned that if it’s a healthy love, you shouldn’t be uncomfortable. And a part of me knew it wasn’t.
Dating will never work out if you don’t learn how to love yourself first. This idea is so worn out, but I think that’s because it’s so crucial to your own happiness and your success with someone else. Caring about someone is not supposed to benefit yourself. If you show affection for the reward, it isn’t real. That isn’t love. When you depend on someone for your own confidence and self-esteem, it’s self-destructive. And, unfortunately, people who doubt their own self-worth are so easy to take advantage of. I found this to be my biggest issue when getting involved with someone. I would bend to their opinion of me. I would become theirs and no longer my own.
After ending my last relationship, I felt a little empty. I needed something to fill the void so the little confidence I had without someone around to build me up could still breathe. It took me a couple of long months to realize that hole needed to be filled with my own self-acceptance. God, I sound like a washed up motivational speaker.
Maybe this is the perpetuated loneliness or the nearness of Valentine’s Day talking, but being single is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, and I feel a vehement need to make that clear. I was forced to learn how to be enough for myself. My mental health is in the best place it’s ever been in my entire life. I’ve invested in friendships that I am confident I’ll have for the rest of my life. Being single, I’ve been able to focus on my writing, academics and performing. I am so proud of everything I’ve accomplished, and I don’t think I would be in this place if I were busy seeking the acceptance of someone else. It's okay to be alone. It's better than okay. You can become whoever and whatever you want without needing to accommodate for someone else in your life. Especially for me, heading to college in the fall, I need to allow for the opportunity to indulge in my passions and fall in love with myself.
Next time I get into a relationship, I will be my own person. I will love myself just as much as I love them and we will adopt a dog and make mac n’ cheese and life will be so good. But for now, I’m pretty content.