When I was 15, I fell in love for the first time. And not the typical adolescent puppy love, but an intense can’t-live-without-you love. I was blind and codependent. I felt so void of love in my home life that any semblance of personalized attention or affection pacified me. It was a love of desperation, a love of attachment.
When I was 18, I couldn’t afford college or take out student loans, so I chose to hop in my ’93 Toyota Camry and drive 26 hours across the country with my boyfriend at the time to live in Arizona. The adventure didn’t last long. I moved back home less than a year later, and I broke through the chains of shacking up. I evaded a level of commitment I was not ready to partake in. I deserted a guy who thought because he invested so much in me that he owned me. For him, it was love of entitlement and possession. For me, it was a love of convenience and stability.
During my early 20s, I masqueraded around as Little Miss Give No Fucks. Finally free from the draining relationships of my teen years, I was committed to doing what and who I wanted, when I wanted. I knew absolutely nothing about who I was at this time though I was great at convincing myself I did. I was immersed in a love of freedom, a love of minimal responsibilities and a love of fun.
During my mid-20s, I struggled with the conflicting emotions of wanting more, but feeling like more would strip my freedom and expose me as someone who was not strong enough to be alone. I found myself going through a revolving door of guys who revealed themselves to be jackasses before things had a chance to really take off. I’m sorry I didn’t give you the treatment you deserved, they said. I didn’t tell you about my girlfriend because I just got caught up and was afraid to lose you, they said. Please give me another chance, I’ve learned a lot from you and want to do better, they said. Though it felt intense at the time, this was nothing more than an almost kind of but not really love.
And now we have arrived here in my late 20s, where dating and love really have no significance to my life the way it once did. Not in a sad way, but in a sort of transitionary way. I feel that a chapter of my life is coming to a close. The flames of my past are now ashes that I reflect and meditate on. I’ve learned and grown so much since then, and that is because I made a conscious effort to learn from every human interaction and exchange in energy. There are moments where I wonder why I even care to reflect on something that is now so far removed from my life. Clearly, these experiences have served their purpose in fortifying me. Remembering those experiences has allowed me to reach a level of contentment with my solitude that I did not know then. Finally, I have arrived at a love of self.
Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where I crave intimacy and companionship. Every once in a while, I may meet someone who holds my interest and find myself frustrated when things fizzle out because there is a part of me that really wants to experience making something work for once. The difference now is that instead of wallowing or pacifying my loneliness and disappointment, I am able to nurture, embrace and let go. This has been key in giving me the strength to gracefully let people and situations that are not meant for go as well.
Looking back on where I was at age 15, 18, 21 and 25 versus where I am now, I cannot help but feel proud. I honor my feelings so there is no space for someone who will not consider them. I treat myself well so I don’t have to depend on someone else to. I fully accept myself so there is no need to agonize when someone else does not. I must say that of all the versions of love I have experienced, this by far is the best kind of love.
This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to email@example.com.
Elle is a Brooklyn-based writer, musician, intersectional feminist and self-love advocate. Her work has been featured on ForHarriet.com and WordisBond.com. For more of her writing: visit https://medium.com/whois
Sara Boccaccini Meadows is a textile designer and illustrator, originally from the north of England and currently living in Brooklyn, NYC. She takes inspiration from the tiny details in her everyday surroundings to create unique and quirky print illustrations. She works with a variety of medias including watercolor, gouache, markers and fine line pens and starts her design process by making small studies in her sketchbook or journal. Sara juggles her time between the textile & illustration world as well as raising her 2-year-old girl. For more of her work, go to boccaccinimeadows.com and be sure to follow her on Instagram @boccaccinimeadows.
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