I’m 25 and I’ve never been in a serious relationship.
I’ve avoided writing about this for a while because it felt like too much of a reveal. I admit, part of me was worried that writing this would ward off any potential suitors from pursuing this path any further. Danger ahead! Go back!
But here’s the thing: as you reveal more, you begin to care less about reception. And Valentine’s Day feels like the perfect opportunity for me to not care about this one.
Up until very recently, I saw my lack of relationships as my one defining flaw. Killin’ it in her career, large network of friends, full plate of extracurricular activities – but perpetually single? Hmm…something’s up. But it’s hard to pin down what exactly the “flaw” is, what exactly is “up.”
As a staunch shoes-on-my-feet-I-bought-it-independent-woman, it feels pathetic to admit that it wasn’t all that long ago that I quietly but desperately longed to feel validated in the eyes of a partner.
It shouldn’t be a secret to anyone reading this that young women are fed fairy tales that attribute their worth to being saved by Prince Charming. My fairy tales were the latest Mary Kate and Ashley straight-to-VHS films: a genre I spent far too much time consuming from the susceptible ages of eight to ten. There the twins were with their inevitable, age-appropriate love interests in Passport to Paris, Our Lips are Sealed, Winning London. I watched them PG-pecking boys with names like Kyle, Michel or Lord James Browning Jr. They never failed to snag mild action at the base of the Eiffel tower, after a romantic seadoo ride or as they celebrated an unexpected win at the model United Nations. I was around their age, but where was my Michel? Why wasn’t I feeding dolphins at Sea World in a modest bikini with a shaggy-haired surfer-tween wearing a hemp necklace? What did I lack?
During the most hormone-heavy years of my youth, I attended a school that was quite “active” – if you know what I mean. Though I look back on them fondly now, I recognize how jealous I was of my classmates for having “boyfriends” they could go to third base in community centre bathrooms with. The strange thing was, when that person whose name I scribbled in my Hello Kitty diary for pages and pages apparently reciprocated feelings for me, I practically ran, screaming the other way. I was terrified of intimacy. And while I was probably just too young for any sort of relationship then, that fear didn’t go away for a very long time. I still have my days with it.
On top of this fear, I’m also aware that the person I am is not everybody’s flavour. As my friend Zach recently put it, “you’re a lot of woman and not everyone can handle that.” As a loud, tall, hyper-animated, semi-dramatic, liberated red head with a flair for experimental fashion, I’ve never been a stranger to taking up a little more space than my peers. I’ve also never been very good at faking being something I’m not, even if that means rubbing people the wrong way with my inherent too-muchness. I own it now, but it’s taken a while.
Even though I’ve always been pretty “out there” in day-to-day self-expression, I’m aware that I’m also exceptionally keen at hiding myself the second someone manages to sneak a peek below the surface. This is why intimacy scared me for so long. For most of my life I convinced myself that what I was hiding would either freak people out or even worse, bore them. And so I held back. I hid. To fill the void, I engaged in casual relationships with obvious expiry dates and perfected scripted vulnerability on a series of tinder dates. Sometimes I would reveal what I was hiding to the wrong people and just they wouldn’t get it. Doing that would just make me hide more.
I shared this with my friend Lauren once; that I was afraid that if people really got to know me, they wouldn’t like what they saw. She said she thought the opposite was true. She wasn’t the first person to say something like that, but a light went on.
So what am I hiding?
Heaviness, darkness, exhaustion. More often than not a lot of sadness and a full-blast fountain of feelings I manage to emit at a light misting. It’s frustrating that I can only explain the origins of some of these things. Such is the nature of the human brain.
Humans adapt. In response to being alone for so long I began to realize that I would have to give myself the relationship I longed for if I wasn’t getting it from anyone else. I couldn’t, after all, hide from myself. At least not for very long. And in the process of learning to be there for myself, fiercely, I’ve now realized this:
That the heaviness gives me depth. The darkness gives me balance. The exhaustion protects me from getting sick. The sadness helps me understand others and the full-blast fountain of feelings helps me help others.
So what do I have to hide now?
Actually, saying all of this here makes it feel like there’s really nothing to hide at all.
The “flaw” I mentioned at the beginning of this is the stigma associated with being single. I hope that in this day and age it goes without saying but I’ll say it anyways:
We really don’t need to be in romantic relationships in order to be “having it all.”
I could end this now by quoting the classic Pussycat Dolls girl power anthem “I don’t need a man” and leave it at that. But there’s a difference between needs and wants. In the fall of last year I had what I guess you could say was a “breakthrough” with my life coach (I think that just means you’re scream-crying while it happens…) where I admitted that I just really wanted a relationship. It was the first time I had admitted it without immediately diving into a feminist rant about how women are socialized into thinking they have to be in relationships in order to be considered worthy. Not that that wasn’t true, it just wasn’t serving me as an excuse anymore.
I think I finally know that considering the strength of my relationship with myself, I’m ready to be in a healthy relationship with someone else. Not because I need it, because I want it. I want one where there isn’t any hiding. And I’m no longer willing to settle for anything less than that.
So that’s where I’m at. Happy Valentine’s Day.
And to all of my readers who are a little bit older shouting “25!? You’re a baby! Give it time! NEVER SETTLE!” at their computer screens, thank you. I can’t wait to pass on this same wisdom.