For the past few summers, I've been helping to lead the senior Kairos retreat at my school and in my talks, one of the focuses always seems to be theme of learning to love myself. This past year, I had a student come up to me after my talk and ask me "how do you love yourself?" I didn't know what to tell her, started crying and gave her a big hug, because this is something that I have had to continually work on throughout my life. Since graduating from college, this is a lesson and a job that I've realized in the last three years is the single-best thing I could have done for myself, my friends, my family and my future husband and children.
After graduation a lot of my closest friends moved away, and I spent a lot of time with people who were part of my bigger social group because we were the ones left. I enjoyed getting to know these people better and making memories with them, but after a few years, I began to realize that those relationships were not enriching or life-giving and I began to pull away. We didn't have the same values or life-trajectories and I began to get down on myself because I didn't want to go out and drink all the time, I had other things I wanted to do with my time and energy. So, on more than a few cold, lonely winter nights, I sat in my favorite arm chair, eating my favorite pasta, grading papers, drinking a bottle of wine (sometimes the whole thing), and feeling proud of myself for being strong enough to say no and to risk being lonely to be happy. There was a solace in sadness; at least I was doing what I wanted and being true to me.
Pulling away from these friends coincided with a 4-month long relationship that was never right from the start. We didn't have a connection, we didn't love each other and he was wise enough to see that. I was crushed. I had put so much of my hope and my happiness into the fact that I had a boyfriend-- it could have been anyone. It took me a very long time to get over the hurt and despair that I found myself in. Here I was, 27 years old, with my younger brother getting married and a knee I had put-out while trying to get my ex to fall in love with me. I spent a lot of time crying that winter, of wishing my life were so different. I also spent a lot of time at yoga, which helped me in profound ways. It gave me time away to focus on strengthening my body, which wound up strengthening my heart and my soul. It helped me deal with my emotions in a healthy way and gave me hope. It taught me that I am strong, valuable and capable and for that, I will be forever grateful.
As I waded back into the dating pool I made myself some promises: that I wouldn't settle and that at the end of the day, WHO I was, WHAT I was and what I DID had to be enough. I had to be enough for me when I laid down to sleep at night and when I got up in the morning. I also promised myself that I would speak up for myself, I would tell him when he hurt my feelings or when something wasn't right. I had worked so hard to be safe and confident in myself that I couldn't let someone take that from me. And so, when I entered my most recent relationship, I told him that off the bat, one of our very first deep conversations. But eventually, I forgot. I couldn't love him the way he wanted me to, and so not only did I question my standards and beliefs, I began to question everything: my role in my family, my teaching, the friendship I was offering to other. I couldn't make simple decisions about what to wear in the morning, or what color underwear without getting stressed out, I stopped trusting my instincts because they had created this huge issue in our relationship that was all my fault. At the end of the day, I wasn't enough. At the end of lots of days, I wasn't enough. After three solid weeks of crying every single day, and an afternoon when I sat on his couch SOBBING that I didn't know how to make him happy, I came to realize that I had broken my promise to myself. I realized just how unhappy I was and that our relationship, for a variety of reasons, was not enriching or life-giving to me and that I simply did not want to marry him. After the shortest break-up of a 10-month relationship on record, I came home and cried for about 30 minutes, while I put everything that had accumulated at his house over the course of our relationship away, got a bit indignant that he didn't try to convince me to stay and then ate dinner and haven't cried since.
That love that I have for myself, so far down inside that has been supported and nurtured by the true friends that I have now, by my family and by God bubbled up inside and gave me the strength to end a relationship that I truly cherished and that I learned a lot about myself and life from. The year-long road of self-discovery and self-love that I found myself on after that first breakup has served me well; I know who I am, I know what I want and I am confident that I will find it one of these days. In the meantime, I'm going to spend time with the people I love, doing the things I love, being me! This week, this means going to a happy hour where I knew not a soul and staying home with the dog on Valentine's Day so that I can get up to run on the snowy roads tomorrow morning with a bunch of other people just as crazy as me! I'm not going to stress out over not having plans, I need to live life at my pace and sometimes that means I need to sit at home and chill or hole up and grade papers for hours on end, or soak up the Olympics from the couch.