Tuesday, May 31, 2016

On Self Love and Being Single

Hi friends! Wow. It's been a while since I've written anything on my blog. A lot changes in 15 months. I was still deeply struggling with the passing of my brother when last I posted on here, and I was forcing myself to process everything in a familiar way I thought would help: through writing. Emotionally, that wasn't what was best for me at the time; hence the hiatus. However, I feel I am doing much better now. I'm finally at a good place in my life where I can start committing to the things I love again. So here I am.

It's been an incredibly hard year. Most of you probably know that. But you may not know that besides dealing with the grief of losing Sean, I also went through a few other painful and life-altering trials in 2015. One of which being a very difficult breakup. I was devastated when this particular relationship ended. It was short-lived, but it moved really fast and we ended up falling for each other. You can imagine my heartbreak when he broke it off not too long after we said we were in love. I've dated guys before, but never officially or seriously, and never with this much emotional investment. Everything was very new to both of us, so consequently, I didn't handle anything well. It was a huge learning curve that, in the grand scheme of things, I probably needed to experience. I've grown exponentially from that relationship, and for that, I am extremely grateful.

But it took me a long time to be okay with it. Actually, it took me until about six days ago to be okay with it. Nine months after we broke up. Nine months. To get over a relationship that only lasted about a month in total. What does that say about me? Well, for one, I think it says I'm a very passionate person. I don't fall in love very easily, but when I do, I fall hard. I was head over heels very quickly. It says I don't handle separation well. At all. That's pretty common for people who are diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. But mostly, it says that I hadn't learned how to love myself outside of someone else.

Let me explain. I am a very confident individual, and I'm comfortable in my own skin. I like my body, I like my personality, and I'm okay with my flaws. I love who I am. But I never learned how to love myself in an all-encompassing way, which would include the type of love people usually want from a partner. When I was about 14, I started seeking out male validation. My desire for this attention largely stemmed from being sexually assaulted at that same age. I believed I was damaged goods no one would want. So I needed someone's love to compensate for my lack of virtue and self worth. I became bitter all through high school because no one ever showed interest. Then I go off to BYU, only to find more of the same. I went on maybe two or three dates my entire freshman year. What was wrong with me? I just wanted to feel wanted.

Fast forward a couple years and I meet this wonderful man. He's everything I want in a partner. We share the same values, the same opinions and beliefs, the same lifestyle, similar interests and life aspirations. It seems too good to be true. It's so surreal. My ideal partner actually exists! And he legitimately loves me back! And then suddenly. It was over. Incredibly bad timing too, because the rest of my world had been simultaneously crashing down around me. I'll be honest. It left me pretty numb and very lost. So perhaps now you understand better why it took me nine months to pick up all the shattered remains and try to piece myself back together.

But it was worse than simply having emotional trauma and slowly working through it. I wallowed. I not-so-secretly kept hoping he would take me back eventually. Or at least that I would meet someone else so I could move on. Anything seemed better than being alone. I tried the whole online dating thing. I probably had one too many hookups. Or ten too many. Who's counting? But I hated all of it. It didn't make it better. I just wanted to be happy being single. Because that's what all the self help books say, right? Learn to be happy as a single person, and that's when someone magically waltzes into your life.

That idea is STUPID. It doesn't help anybody! All it does is teach people that they need to "be happy being single" if they don't want to be single anymore. That doesn't even make any sense. Yet that's exactly what I was doing. I only tried to be happy because I thought that meant I would meet someone new. But that's not a guarantee. Nothing in this world is.

It's not a guarantee you'll date in college. It's not a guarantee you'll get married. It's not a guarantee your marriage will be happy if you do. It's not a guarantee you'll be able to have kids. It's not a guarantee you'll never wake up one day and find out your brother died, and then have to learn how to keep existing without him somehow.

It's just...not. No matter what you do.

Being happy doesn't magically ensure you'll find romance, and having a significant other doesn't magically make you happy. You cannot depend on someone else to give you happiness. You will always end up being disappointed, every time. I don't care how much commitment and effort you put into dating, or how badly you wish to get married/find love. It still might not happen. Because it requires someone else to give you what you want. You simply cannot bank on anything so unreliable as that. Happiness isn't real if it only exists in a space that includes others.

I choose to live with the assumption that I might never get married. Doing so leaves less room for disappointment and more room for all the unexpected surprises life can offer. But whenever I mention this to anyone--without hesitation--they quickly respond, "That's not true Keli! Don't say that; of course you're going to get married!" This is often followed by a series of compliments that I really don't need (although I am flattered others have nice things to say about me). There's basically a script people read from whenever someone says, with dejection, they're never going to get married or have a relationship. I know the intentions are good and you're just telling them what you think they want to hear. Maybe half the time you actually believe what you're saying. But should you be saying it?

What if that person really never gets married? Everyone surrounding them their entire life promised and insisted they would, so they believed it. And they ended up living the rest of their existence in a perpetual state of

Waiting.

Only to be disappointed. What a waste of a perfectly good life. They never lived in the now. Their day to day activities were only inconsequential placeholders while they waited for "true love" to come along. THEN they'd be happy. THEN their real life would begin.

But that's not how it works. If you can't be happy with who and where you are right now, then nothing you attain or accomplish will ever be enough. You'll always be wishing for whatever you don't have. I think someone once said, "you can't appreciate joy if you don't experience pain." Likewise, you can't appreciate the company of others if you don't know how to be alone. And you can't fully appreciate love and commitment if you never learn to be happy when you're single.

I've lived my whole life believing the most important thing I could do is get married and have babies. It was drilled into my head that a relationship with a potential spouse should take priority over a relationship with myself. I was made to feel like it was my job to wait. I couldn't move forward until a man gave me permission, and I couldn't truly live unless I put my non-existent marriage and imaginary family above everything else. After all, a single, childless woman has practically no value.

But now I know all of that to be pathological lies. The people who taught me those things are absolutely wrong. I can be happy and fulfilled all on my own. Families come in all shapes and sizes, and mine can be whatever I want it to be. There is no such thing as someone's "better half." You are NOT half of a person. You are whole; you are complete; and you don't need someone else in order to live your life. Yours.

So. I say all these things, and I've preached a lot of it before. But have I been living my own philosophy? Up until about this time last week, I don't think I was. I mean, the desire was there. But in my heart, I wasn't completely dedicated. So what changed? What helped me moved past this mental barrier in my life?

It was drugs.


Yeahhh, but in all seriousness, guyz. It really was drugs. Prescribed ones of course. I recently took the first steps towards treating my mental health, so I've started medication for ADHD and depression. Already, it's made a world of difference for me. If you missed my Facebook post about my experiences in the beginning stages, you can read it here.

Since the medications are designed to alleviate symptoms that have been clouding my mind for many years, there was an intense amount of clarity that came with feeling what "normal" is like for the very first time. I discovered a space in which I could see I'm really and honestly okay being alone. "Single" should not be treated as a transitory stage. It should be an adventure, full of self discovery and pushing your own limits. I want to COMMIT to being single. I want ME to be my lover right now. I want to be in an exclusive relationship with myself. I would be doing myself a great disservice if I didn't use this time in my life as an opportunity to just be Keli.

Now, none of this means I'm completely closed off to finding a romantic partner. It's just not my priority. I'm not going to seek it out or push anything. I'm not going to go on dates with people I know I'm not interested in. I'm not going to compromise self-advancing opportunities because of a relationship. I have the rest of my life to do that if I want to. This age is the time in every person's life where they aren't responsible for anyone except themselves, and they can do absolutely anything they want. That isn't always going to be the case, so why the hell would I waste such a precious window of time? Despite what the culture in Utah might lead us to believe, there is nothing wrong with being an unmarried 21 year old woman, or 25 year old man. Or being 40 and unmarried. Or even 60. At no age does being unmarried mean something is wrong with you. There isn't. You're not a menace to society. You're not too independent. You're not too [insert physical descriptor here]. You're just single. It's okay. Enjoy it.

Ironically enough, I am actually interested in someone right now. I met him right around the time I decided to commit to being single. ("Hey Keli, didn't you say earlier in this post that believing someone will waltz into your life right when you learn to love yourself is silly?" Yes, I did. Hilarious, I know.) But that hasn't changed anything. I'm still not pushing it. We've chosen not to rush into anything serious. I'm making a point of spending quality time with my girlfriends, maintaining close relationships with the other men in life, doing activities on my own, and being alone. We both have our own stuff to work on, and we have the freedom to work on them without the added stress of dating right away. If it's right, then it will work out. If it's not, then it won't. Right now, we're just enjoying one another's company without unnecessary expectations. We're still getting to know each other. And I'm perfectly content with that.

Although I still have depression and anxiety, overall I am happy and at peace with life. I'm finding fulfillment in the things I CAN control rather than pining for things I can't. And honestly, I have so many amazing things going for me right now. Opportunities I owe it to myself to focus on. I'm in school, studying what I love and preparing for grad school. I'm at a new university that is a better fit for me, and my grades are improving because of it. I have a stressful job, but I'm doing what I love and it's helping me reach my career goals. I'm on the board for a non-profit that has so much potential! I have an amazing internship lined up for the fall, volunteering with children who have suffered recent loss. I have my own apartment and my own car. I have a monthly bill for internet service now, which is the mark of a true adult. And I'm getting my associates degree in a month.

There's not a single person on this planet who can honestly tell me my life isn't fulfilling just because I'm not dating someone.  

To quote Newsies, "I'm alone, but I ain't lonely." I'm comfortable with who I am. I can do anything I want. Literally. Anything. And you know what the best part is? I know I will be able to find lasting happiness whether I stay single the rest of my life, or get married and have ten kids. Most people wouldn't be able to say that, let alone at 21. But I'm not worried about it. For the first time in my life. I'm absolutely not worried at all.

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P.S. To my ex-lover, I want to say this: You are nicest person I have ever dated. You helped me see that I am capable of being loved. You made me a better person. I wouldn't be who I am today if not for you. I grew and learned so much because of our relationship, and from it ending. I hope you did as well. This way-too-long blog post would never have been possible if I had not met you a year ago. For that, I am truly thankful. I'm glad we are still friends. I hope we continue to be for years to come.