My Funny Valentine (Self-Love)

Valentine’s Day was a few days ago, and a friend of mine texted me that day with a cheeky message, including a mention to how much I loved this day – with sarcasm, obviously. It’s true, though. Valentine’s Day was never a day I appreciated or enjoyed. It was often a reminder of my singledom and all the ways in which I didn’t seem to be able to escape it. However, when he sent me that message, I realised that I wasn’t feeling any resentment about the day, which was new to me.

I can now say, without shame or guilt, that up until very recently, I used to carry this desperation and need to be in a relationship. I have explored this for years and years, in therapy and spiritual practice, through the prism of daddy issues, and then from the prism of mommy issues, from the prism of low self-esteem, and on, and on, and on. There were many insights along the way, but they never seemed to translate into actual life changes, into new behaviour, or new ways to perceive and experience the world. In fact, one of the main reasons why I defend the practice of long-term therapy is this: an insight, or an “a-ha moment”, won’t actually change your life overnight. It’s like sleeping, waking up, and getting out of bed. You can wake up, but if you don’t get out of bed, you will probably fall back asleep. Life changes are like that. When we have an insight about something we need to change, it represents a waking up from a long sleep, but if we don’t pair that with some kind of action or behavioural change, we will eventually go back to where we were before the insight. It’s hard work, I’m not going to lie!

I may have mentioned this in a previous blog, but it was around this time last year that I contacted the therapist I had seen whilst training, to see if he had any availability. Two things had happened at that time: I had met someone at a best friend’s party who embodied my “perfect man” fantasy. He had a long-term boyfriend, we kissed and professed desire for each other, I freaked out about it. Mainly because I always seem to attract the guys who want some fun on the side, and rarely the ones who want something long-term with me. Also, when those tend to appear, I then avoid them like the plague. I also couldn’t quite get over the fact that he had actually found me attractive: my “perfect man” fantasy was really into me! My low self-esteem and body dysphoria couldn’t really handle such information. A week or so later, I went on a date with someone I had met only a couple weeks prior, and could feel that this guy was really interested in me. As above, probably someone who wanted something serious with me. During that date, I was pretty much in my own little chaotic world of being involved in both of these situations, at both extremes of my neuroses. I then had this powerful thought/feeling that if I kissed this guy on this date, I would be doing it only so that I could feel good about myself, and desired by someone. I realised in that moment: this is not fair on him, and ultimately, not fair on me. I wanted to kiss someone without any agendas!!

Several of my life experiences had led me to the belief that only a relationship could save me, could validate me, could make my life worth living. I’d carried this deeply ingrained message that I was damaged, incomplete, and in need of saving. In that moment, when I prepared myself to avoid any kissing or romantic gesture on the date, I felt utterly tired of my life’s conditioning. I made a few calls, and I was back in therapy two weeks later. This was going to be a different form of therapy: I was willing to relinquish my control and to really dig deep and confront all of the experiences which taught me that I wasn’t enough. Therapy is both harder this way, because there is no filter, and better, because there’s no avoidance. I just dove in. What did I have to lose, anyway?

I often tell friends who are seeing therapists and ask me if certain things are normal, to just do the same and dive in. But I know that this is not always possible. I mean, I’d been to therapy before with full avoidance mode on. A person needs to be really tired of something to be willing to relinquish control and let go of avoidance. It’s a similar feeling to a rock bottom – there is no other way but to face what’s in front of us. What therapy has taught me is that it’s not about the big insights, but about the small things you integrate in each session. I mean, I was aware that my personal therapy of the past year had been gruelling and intense, but it was only when I woke up on Valentine’s Day this year and did not feel any kind of resentment for people in relationships, that I realised I was free. I have been truly discovering myself this year, which means that I have been exploring all the narratives I had about myself, and realising that the majority of them were not even mine. They belonged to other people and their expectations of me. By releasing myself from these narratives, I have been able to focus more on myself, on what I truly want and need, and ultimately, I have been able to really start loving myself. I may even share that I could have started a relationship this year, but I felt that I wasn’t quite there yet with my relationship with myself, and if I was to start something with someone else, I would eventually go back to sleep and fall back on narratives of neediness and external validation.

I now say that I’m consciously single, because it feels that I’m making informed decisions about relationships, for the first time in my life. I’m not being driven by my unconscious drives anymore. I’m aware of my feelings and thoughts in ways that I never experienced before. I’m still working on expressing them properly to others, but I’m currently not afraid of loneliness. I’ve got me, and for the first time, this feels enough. I’m enjoying this moment, spending time with friends, going on dates and spending time with men, without feeling the need to define anything or to be with them every day. It’s a beautiful thing to feel that I can make the best decisions for myself.

In our latest session, my therapist asked me: “What would your life be like, if you could admit to yourself that you are a very special person?” Time to find out, I guess!