“I would do anything for you, sir. Anything that was right.” -Jane Eyre
I. Part one: where I’ve been.
Pink and white checkered shirt, short-sleeved. Sunday night. Twelve years old. I’m standing there in front of my mom’s mirror, studying my own body and pressing on my waist like maybe if I applied enough pressure the excess fat would magically go away.
“I think I could have a figure,” I thought, “…if all this would go away.”
(Thirteen years later. )
“What’s wrong with how you look right now?”
Wednesday nights are my therapy nights. My therapist always looks directly at me, like she’s noting the way I speak, the way I look off into the distance when the words won’t come, the way I rake fingers through my hair when I’m nervous. She’s one of two people who’s ever asked me that question specifically, asking me to dig deep inside my own thoughts and figure out why I don’t feel beautiful right here, in my own skin.
I hear my own voice speak, slow, “Well…it’s not beautiful.”
“Why?” she doesn’t negate what I say or head into motivational-speech time, just keeps eyes on me, waiting patiently.
“Uh…” I trail off, waiting for the lightbulb moment, “I…don’t know.” It just always had been that way, since the moment family members started noting the unusual weight gain at eleven and the way I’d watched my friends slip into the junior section like it was nothing at all, while I was headed into this in-between where I didn’t know what would fit me. Since the church elder told my dad that my sister and I wouldn’t marry more than Ingles bag boys if we didn’t slim down. Since the brown-eyed boy who’d offered me his jacket that night and partly because I’d been afraid it wouldn’t fit, I declined. Since the boy who looked like Peter Pan all grown up ended up with someone who was everything I wasn’t when I wanted him to be different–when I thought I needed him to see me.
“Why don’t you think about that this week?” my therapist suggests. “Why is having more fat on your body something that takes away from your beauty?”
And she leaves me with, “I wish you’d have more compassion on yourself.” It’s a shock to the system when she tells me things like that because no one ever tells us to be kind to ourselves, especially not in a world where Facebook threads are on full-alert and nothing is ever said without the political edge.
II. Part two: what I’ve done instead of date.
Being in a relationship would have ruined me.
This realization is one that’s come slow, like a deep breath you don’t want to take before plunging into deep waters. But once you take it, you realize it’s good and right and life-giving. For a long time, I blamed how I looked for why I was so alone. Nothing was right–not my hair, not my thighs, not my stomach, not my slouched-over appearance from trying too hard not to look like a giant in the crowd. I felt huge. I felt ugly. I felt unloveable. But you know what? I know now that I couldn’t have been further from the truth. I know now…had I gotten what I wanted, I never would’ve had what I have now.
When my dream world came crumbling down in 2014, it made all the difference in my life. At 22, I’d finally learned that no one was going to do anything for me and I started doing the things I wanted to do.
I went to the state fair. I got a henna tattoo. I rode a camel because I wanted to.
I got a pixie cut. And I looked the boy who made me so sad directly in the eye for the first time.
I made amazing friendships and got to be there for them in ways I never would’ve been able to had I been in a relationship.
I graduated with my friends, road-tripped, took a traveling job and went to Houston with a stranger (note: I’m not saying I was the brightest bulb, but here we are anyway. BLESS.) I volunteered with a nonprofit I was passionate about, found other talents I didn’t know I had, started taking long drives just because, found my own voice, and started the book. I learned to date myself. I learned that I liked rom-coms more than any other movie genre ever. Give me McConaughey or Hanks over De Niro any day. I learned that It’s A Wonderful Life is better in July. I learned that red lipstick is my thing…or at least the thing that I want to be my thing. I learned that red hair is not. I learned that I could do things I never thought I could. I learned that men’s pajamas are way better than women’s. I learned how to ignore the trolls that want more than you’re willing to give. I learned how to laugh at the guys who take themselves too seriously. I learned how to be alone. I’m not the least bit afraid of being alone. And I’m not going to give someone the time of day if the only reason I’m with them is to avoid being alone.
And finally, finally–I learned I actually liked myself, even when I was having an ugly moment. I learned I liked being in the skin I’m in.
Also, yes I got that cat. And she’s adorable. A little weird, but you know…consider the source, people.
Most importantly, though, I got to know my sister, my brother, my mom, and my dad better than had I just shot off into whatever relationship I thought would bring me the ultimate happiness. I’m so grateful for getting to know them better.
So, hey, babe? Here’s the deal:
- You’re going to have a lot of feelings about being single. You’re going to be lonely sometimes. You’re going to be tempted to shoot a message to that jerk on Tinder. Maybe you’re even going to want to backtrack to the last relationship you had and beg for a do-over. The single best piece of advice I can give you is simply: if you find yourself misplacing your value, put it back where it belongs. Your value is yours. It was given to you long before you ever took a first step. Don’t forget it’s there because of something somebody else said.
- You’re going to be given a lot of advice as a single person. Don’t necessarily listen to all the advice that’s thrown at you. Don’t listen to the people who tell you you’re running out of time or ask you personal questions about how you live as a single person. Don’t even pay much attention to the people who tell you, “Hey, he’ll come along one day. Don’t give up on your prince charming.” BLAH.
- He/She might not show up, love. You might not find someone. I might not find someone. But do you know what? I’m still going to get up every morning. I’m still going to write books. I’m still going to show up for friends’ birthdays with cracker candy galore and coffee mugs because THIS IS HOW I SHOW AFFECTION. I’m still going to love every aspect of journalism. I’m still going to be passionate about making a difference and the destigmatization of mental health issues. I’m still going to send out Christmas cards in mass and dance around my kitchen to Lorde. I’m still going to be me. I’m still a package deal, including all the bits and pieces that no one else will ever know about. And you get to be who you are too. He/She might not come along, but you still get to be here. You get to live out purpose no matter what. That, my friend, is everything.
Make the move. Go for the coffee date. Date around, make friends, don’t think too much, live your life. But don’t settle until it’s right. Don’t settle until you find the one who’s good to you. Find the person who makes you laugh harder than anyone else and sees you for you, even on your crummiest days. But for now? Be yourself. That’s your one and only job: to do what’s right for you in this moment and be present in your own life, with your crazy, loud friends and the cat who definitely loves milk and lounging on the roof more than you.
III. Part three: where it all ties together.
And you know what else? It’s been about a month since I was first asked to define beauty. Nearly a week ago, my therapist asked me to finish some sentences for her.
She started, “I am…”
Immediately, a word popped into my head and I found myself frowning, tilting my head to one side. That can’t be right, I thought.
I looked at her, “Does it have to be the first word?”
“That’s preferable, but you don’t absolutely have to.”
“It’s just…” I shook my head, “I don’t know where it came from. I don’t think it’s accurate.”
“What was it?”
Sheepish smile, I said, “Beautiful.”
She nods, once, smiling, “I like that.”
If you asked me what I’ve done, in conclusion, instead of date, I’d tell you simply: I lived. I found my own beauty. But, hey, babe? If you don’t know where your beauty is at the moment, give it some time. You’ll find it. I promise you’ll find it.