This statement might evoke pity, solidarity, or eye rolls from people, but all I feel is a quiet contentment.
For a large majority of my life, my identity has been wrapped up in my relationship status, or who I liked and who liked me.
For the first time, in the past year, I have learned to seek my identity within myself, and within God, not within a man or how a man views me.
This may sound strange, but when you really think about it, our society teaches us that our identity is equivalent to how others perceive us. I know the idea that perceptions are often false is nothing new (Judd Nelson, this is your cue to raise your fist in the air triumphantly), but it’s been something new for me about myself.
And in my quest to stop seeking affirmation and identity from a relationship, I’ve learned something kind of thrilling.
I’ve learned how to date. Myself.
You see, I’ve been in a relationship since I was seventeen. One right after another, with maybe a few months in between. And during that time when you’re supposed to be figuring out how all the parts of yourself fit into the world, I spent a heck of a lot of time figuring out how I could fit into the pieces of another persons’ life. I think that’s fairly common, because those years are also the dating years, when you discover that hearts which are separated by ribcages and skin fit together in terrifyingly beautiful ways. And this new knowledge is so all-consuming that you forget to keep some of your heart for yourself, and you lose it all to someone who hasn’t learned how to take care of it just yet. And that makes you learn.
Every relationship I’ve had thus far has taught me something pivotal. About life, and loss, and the weight of love. But in my singleness, I began to realize that I didn’t know as much about myself as I knew about the people I’d loved. I knew their favorite foods and films and bands and tshirts and memories and restaurants and parking spaces; all their quirks and tendencies and familial eccentricities, and I curved myself around all of those lists of things and I didn’t ever write one for myself.
But in this past year, I have. Of course, I had all of these things I’d been so diligent to memorize in other people, but I’d never taken the time to notice them in myself. I’d never taken the time to really know myself. And as silly as that sounds, it’s a really joyful thing to know yourself. I highly recommend it.
I think too often, we get so caught up in the things we do and the people around us that we forget we’re human too; magic and God-breathed, wrapped and folded into a body. We forget to spend time with ourselves.
I know it’s so hard. It’s hard for me, a single girl with no kids, to make time to know myself when I have essays to grade and lesson plans to make and dishes to wash. So I’m not shooting for the stars here. Dating yourself doesn’t look like candlelight falling softly on a table set for one. The incredible parts of dating have always been the little things, when he pours you coffee in your favorite cup just because, when he heats up your food for you because he knows you like it extra hot, when he sends you a sweet text at lunchtime.
That’s what I’m shooting for. Small moments with yourself, on the cereal aisle at Walmart where you pick a box of a cereal you used to love along with the only one your kid will eat, when you paint your nails red after everyone else is in bed (not caring that the color will be chipping off by tomorrow after dishwater and laundry), walking down the driveway slowly to get the mail, going into the coffee shop instead of zipping through the drive through. These small things are what life is made of. And if you don’t take time to stop and give yourself something you love, to even ask yourself what it is that you love, you’ll stop noticing yourself. You’ll stop dating yourself, and when you stop dating someone (even after you “have” them), you stop pursuing the truest parts of them.
It’s a good thing to love the people around you fiercely.
But I’m beginning to believe that it’s also a good thing to learn to love yourself that way too.