I haven’t been the luckiest in love and my sensitive nature would always will me to take it personally. While living through difficult periods of my life where I felt trapped and isolated, I craved love as if it was a cure-all. I treated it like a drug, and when it entered my system, I entered a heightened state of reality. I became the woman of my dreams and everything else stopped hurting. And yet, all of my moments in love were fleeting, not lasting more than a couple of dosages, leaving me wanting it all the more. Sometimes I’d even get high on some weak love; sometimes the love was laced with other things I didn’t know I was getting.
Either way, I was a fool for it.
I entered my freshman year of college–the year I was asked out for the first time, changed my major three times, got my first job, lost my grandmother and smoked weed for the first time. For the first time in my life I got to experience those coming-of-age things that I felt like I missed out on in high school, where instead I spent most of my time alone and writing or occasionally hanging out at a friend’s house playing video games.
I made friends with a girl on my dorm room floor whose high school life sounded like a Panic! at the Disco song. She dated girls and boys, entered college in an open relationship and slept with a different guy every week it seemed, which, let me be perfectly clear, I am not shaming. I admired her confidence and power and often helped her get ready for her liaisons: “Which bra should I wear?” she’d ask me, holding out these gorgeous little lace things from Victoria’s Secret. “The red one,” I said. I always liked the red one because it had these extra straps that draped around her waist and a matching thong to go along with it.
My friend convinced me to get a Tinder account after hearing of my inexperience.
Tinder never amounted to much though: I met up with one older guy to watch a movie in the public area below my apartment building. “Why can’t we go up to your dorm?” he asked. I rolled my eyes and said “my roommates are sleeping and they don’t like strange guys in the apartment.” But even more importantly, I don’t want to have sex with you, I thought, and you said you were cool with just watching a movie.
“I’ll get us a motel,” he leaned in. I told him I wasn’t going to do that. “Can I kiss you?” he asked impatiently. “Maybe later,” I said disinterestedly. “Well, I didn’t come here to just watch a movie,” he said defeated. “Then we should leave,” I said. And we did, shortly after and I didn’t think about him again.
Meeting guys in real life went a similar way and I couldn’t shake this urgency to knock a relationship off the bucket list of “things most people achieve in high school without much effort.” When my friends entered relationships, they wanted me to date so I wouldn’t be a fifth wheel on our excursions. I got introduced to so many guys my life started to feel like an episode of “The Bachelorette” if all the contestants were high skater dudes that disintegrated at commitment like vampires to sunlight. No matter what, I always felt like I was incomplete on my own, like I constantly needed to be playing with love to be powerful like my friend was powerful.
Regardless of what you might think up until this point, three years later, I managed to grow into my power in an entirely different way and it took dating only a fistful of less-than-ideal guys to get there. The words I lived by during these times came from my wise-beyond-his-years friend, Jovanni, “Goodbye and block me back!” I don’t think there’s one way to be a powerful woman, but my way was to never let a man take anything of mine that he didn’t earn, as well as ceasing all contact upon being disrespected without apology. This didn’t come without dramatic telenovela-esque tears, let me assure you. But if you tell me a crying woman in hair in makeup while running from bad love isn’t powerful, I won’t believe you.
More importantly than getting rid of your stash of bad love, is bossing up and bossing up for you and no one else.
Sophomore year, I poured my heart and time into someone who abused it. I was crazy on that laced stuff; my brain was loopy on mixed signals. One week I was laughing, other times I was crying. We had conversations about it that left me with more questions.
Spoiler alert: nothing changed. Finally, I decided to end it. I collected all my time back and poured it into myself. I had applied to transfer to a better school, University of Florida, and I got in under the condition that I complete my associate’s degree by the end of the summer. So, every day for a whole summer, I woke up at 7 A.M. and put on my pinstriped blazer and Anne Klein working woman heels, attended a pre-calculus and trigonometry class for four hours, then booked it to my job as an English tutor and repeat. Between math labs and difficult children, I discovered a power in me that I had never given myself the chance to discover before. I passed my class with flying colors and got to transfer to the school of my dreams. I also used the money I earned at my summer job to help pay for my new car.
Let me tell you, nobody else’s love could compare the love I felt for myself that summer.
The love I gave myself was stronger than any dosage I’d ever received in the past. I felt like Elsa discovering herself at the end of “Frozen 2,” like Elle Woods when she got into Harvard and like goddamn Andy Sachs throwing her phone into the fountain at the end of “The Devil Wears Prada” and transitioning into her career in journalism! But loving yourself isn’t always easy, it’s just as hard as it is to stay in love with someone else and it doesn’t have to look like my story either. Ask yourself what you’re missing and start there. And remember that loving yourself is not a linear journey either. Sometimes you hate yourself, sometimes you want to break up with yourself, sometimes you make yourself cry and want to try loving somebody else to spite yourself. But, if love is a drug, you become a limitless supplier when you begin to love yourself the way you love others and when that happens nothing can stop you.