Summers bring with them the allure of Mother Nature’s warmth enveloping us, presenting us with her most precious skies and most mouth-watering fruits of a season’s labor. The months become a daze of days in the sun and nights out with a lover’s hand, fingers intertwined, in one’s own. Adventure seems less of a cliché of the movies and the possibilities for new experiences brim over the horizon of each new sunrise.
Summer 2018 felt just like that. I had recently graduated with two degrees. It was the first time, in a long time, that I found myself with a free summer; no academia festering me with worry and open to a summer of genuine life living outside of the studying and the books. My purpose and passions had been so clearly defined in the work I completed during my schooling, but that purpose began to dissolve as the summer progressed, my mind becoming foggier as to what should come next.
In that state of in-betweens that I had never known, I decided to give online dating a go. It has always been difficult for me to form connections with other people. My natural shyness and introverted nature have often discouraged me from taking that leap into the very straightforward millennial approach to dating.
Sure, I’ve participated in mutual romantic likeness with people but no deeper emotional agreement has taken place — not in high school and not during my college years. I’ll graze very briefly over the topic of online dating … it scared the shit out of me (my introverted nature already discussed).
I was so pleasantly surprised when after a short amount of time online, I was able to find someone that I actually enjoyed exchanging words with. Messages on the app turned into texts and texts turned into phone calls and before I knew it, I was well on my way to a summer romance I never admitted to actually craving.
It was a beautiful summer together. It’s hard for me to write these words now, there is a pause as I linger over the keyboard and think about how to best phrase it. But this person gave me an importance and a purpose in a moment of my life I had lost all sense of direction. I actually had someone who wanted all of me: my body, my personality and my mind.
I had spent so much of my life giving that so much weight. I had convinced myself that this mattered above my own thoughts and desires, above my own personal and professional fulfillment. We spent this beautiful summer together getting to know one another, nights where we felt like the only two left under the starry humidity of a Florida sky. But the summer eventually ended and with it came the inevitable change that accompanies a new season.
The sting of heartbreak was something that I had never experienced. Reading poetry and prose of all these stories of love and of loss, I never quite understood how deeply they affected the writers. I was so terrified of what I was losing; I thought I would never find someone that could make me feel so alive again.
It became so difficult for me to stand up for myself, to let go of what had truly become so toxic to me. I did not want to lose what once made me so happy and feel so wanted, What once made me feel connected to something bigger than myself. And in all that sorrow and fear of loss, I hadn’t realized how much of myself I had lost.
Self-love is not only bubble baths and motivational speeches in the early morning hours (although those help a lot). Self-love is, after a day spent in bed crying, coming to the realization that you have the responsibility of making yourself happy. Self-love is not allowing yourself to be mistreated and voicing how you honestly feel. It is not a new, catchy phrase to print on a t-shirt, but picking yourself up from the floor and starting anew.
I have always struggled with confidence and believing in myself. But my first heartbreak taught me so much about the ways I have been mistreating myself my entire life. It taught me about the truly harmful thoughts and behaviors I have participated in and allowed others to participate in on my behalf.
Heartbreak has opened my eyes to all the growth I have experienced and all the growth that still needs to occur. This is not a linear process. There have been moments in my life where I have made strides and there have been moments where I have backtracked so far that the toxicity I have caused myself seemed irreversible.
But this heartbreak became a new starting point. With each passing day I am learning more ways of loving and nurturing myself. With each passing day, little by little, the only approval and the deepest love I’m seeking are my own.