I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for indifferent when it comes to finding love. I think a lot of times we’re mistaken for not having a lot of feelings or being the ones left behind in the dust. But none of it’s true. Because the fact is we do have our own stories. We do have our own hurts, disappointments, and insecurities. We’re not always YOLOing our lives away. And for the love of all that’s good and holy, Eat, Pray, Love is not the anthem to singlehood or finding yourself. In fact, it’s a very rare anthem. Being single has a rhythm all its own and it’s different for everyone.
This is not a post I’d planned for the week, but something in me knew it was time to tell these stories. For better or worse, these are the stories of some of the guys who both broke me down and built me up and taught me a little more about life and what I wanted out of it.
Without them, I wouldn’t be able to take myself out on my own ice cream dates or know what I’m looking for or finally be comfortable in my own skin.
Part I— To the boy who took me on my first date:
It wasn’t a big deal. I acted like it wasn’t a big deal, but oh, to me it was. It wasn’t actually a date and I knew that. Because in reality, I’d crushed on you since the summer I was sixteen and you were my brother’s friend who probably had no idea. Because in reality I’d wanted to ask you to the dating outing flat-out, but I was so scared that you’d say no that I randomly brought it up one day while we were both in a group of friends and said I wanted to go with a friend. It was only because another friend pointed at you and asked, “What about him?” that I was even able to muster up the courage to ask, “Would you?” You shrugged and said, “Sure.”
But on that November day, you showed up when I’d been pacing around the house all day, mentally preparing myself for you not to show up. Because who’d actually go to a dating outing with their friend’s awkward sister? But you did. You showed up on time and came up to the door. You waded through the awkward moments where I was shaking so bad, I could barely mumble, “So how was work?” You made the conversation easy when my heart was pounding in my chest.
Then when it came time for the pumpkin carving contest, you just examined our very basic pumpkin and said, “No, we can do better than this.” So we made it into a Frankenstein pumpkin and won. Like the nineteen-year-old bosses we obviously were.
And so, to the boy who took me on my first date: you offered me your jacket and talked about how much you loved your sister. You taught me what respect for other human beings looks like. You taught me what kindness looks like. And most importantly, you shattered the illusion that guys have to be detached, indifferent, or cocky—that whether feelings are involved or not for his side, there are guys who will still be kind and still show up. You set the standard and I’m thankful you did.
Part II—To the boy who kind of knew:
I remember the day she told me I’d have to work with you one-on-one and I told her no. I asked if there was a way around it because I was always so awkward around guys and I didn’t want the awkward encounters. There was no way around it. My friends all laughed at me because lord above, they knew how single I was and that you were one of the popular ones. I remember the first time we started working together, how you had this look in your eyes like you were picking up on all the nonverbal cues being passed around between me and my friends. But despite myself, you became my friend too and I found myself hoping that I would be the one to change your mind about staying single for the rest of your life. But that simply wasn’t my role.
I also remember the day you walked out for Christmas break, how you never said goodbye. I remember how I felt when I realized you weren’t ever coming back. And I remember when I ran into you and the girlfriend I didn’t know you had, how I, at 21, stopped believing that anything good would ever happen to me.
So to you— the boy who taught me about sarcasm and not caring about other people’s opinions: you were my friend. You listened when I spoke and shook your head, saying, “Of course you did,” when I told you about accidentally finding out about my surprise birthday party. You taught me about not taking life too seriously. And lastly, you showed me that even when I feel a connection to someone, it doesn’t make it real. It makes it a dream.
Part III—To the guy who drove me cross-country:
Most people don’t do stuff like what I did—23 and accepting a temporary traveling job where all the videographers are packed into one hotel room, strangers or not. They wouldn’t have said yes despite all the red flags, despite the fact that the first and only travel job involved traveling 13 hours with and staying in the same hotel room as a stranger they’d only met twice. They wouldn’t go out and have their first beer with two men they barely knew just to look cool. But I was so determined to travel, so determined to be seen as cool, so determined to be detached from my good girl roots that I said yes even though everything in me said, “No, no, no.” I simply packed my pepper spray and texted the tag number to my parents and got in the car, driving into Louisiana that November night. The next morning, over orange juice, we sat in sullen silence and I watched a bible study from a few tables away, realizing at that moment that I was directly opposite to everything I’d ever been in my life. I followed you out of that cafe, holding onto my bag and feeling like a fake.
The weekend couldn’t have gone worse as far as work goes. It was my training weekend and you were the only one there to show me the ropes, but the venue was large enough that we needed a team of five but there was only you and me. On our way back from Houston, we were both stressed out and mad at each other. But you bought me Subway and listened as all the anxiety-ridden stories flowed out and I blabbed at least half-way back to South Carolina. You told me about your past and I told you about mine. You taught me how to grow up but you taught me a couple other important things:
1. Grab the keys. Empower yourself. Push yourself to learn.
2. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t be so afraid to get something wrong that you freeze up on the job.
3. People are much more complex than they typically let on.
4. Even if it turns out fine and you learn a lot, don’t ignore red flags. Don’t say yes to things you’re actually uncomfortable with.
Part IV—To Mike from LA:
I don’t even think I’ve told my mama about you, but you were my virtual flirtationship. (Sidenote for the readers: Yes. 22-year-old me had what would be referred to as a flirtationship. You should know I’ve pled the blood and washed my walls with holy water. Jesus, take the wheel.)
If you had to know anything, you should know that I got the app out of loneliness. You should know that I only ever wanted to talk to someone. I got the app because I was so tired of never having anything interesting happen that I downloaded it just to see what would happen. And you were the only one I ever messaged with who was actually a kind person. Sure, you might not have been who you said you were and you might have just been a troll but I didn’t mind. I never had to block you because you never asked for pictures. I never had to hide who I actually was because you just built me up and said things like, “You seem like the kind of person who has the determination to lose the weight. But I bet you’re beautiful,” and “If you lived in LA, I’d take you out.”
(Another sidenote: No, I didn’t have to hide who I was. At that point, it was PURELY recreational.)
At that moment, I really, really wanted to live in LA. Because no one likes being 22 and alone. But you were good with my standards and happy just to talk to me, even if it took me days to reply sometimes. And it was me who said goodbye to the whole friendship after scrolling through the messages and realizing how dead it was—after realizing I didn’t actually know you and it wasn’t actually real. But you respected my decision and taught me that even strangers on the internet can be a positive thing and I’ve never let go of that lesson.
And also, I would’ve gone on that date. One hundred percent.
Part V—Finally, to the guy I met on Bumble.
You didn’t know this, but I’d never been formally asked out. You didn’t know that I was a 23-year-old kid who was just trying to figure out if there was a space in the dating scene for me. You didn’t know that I was more or less just looking for a friend. You didn’t know that I didn’t actually believe I’d meet someone for me on that app. And, lastly, you didn’t know that at the time I’d lost 20 pounds and was actually pretty proud of myself.
I didn’t get what I wanted in that situation—I got someone who made me cry instead. I got someone who called me obese and said I wasn’t pretty enough to be picky. And all because I told you I didn’t want to go to your house after a ten minute conversation.
You taught me two things:
1. You made me think. Anyone who has that high of a standard for someone else, must believe they live up to that standard themselves. When they fall from that standard, they lose everything about themselves that they feel is important—they lose identity. I learned I’d much rather be comfortable in my own skin than struggling to live up to an ideal. So thank you.
2. You taught me compassion for anyone who’s struggling with appearance because I’d never been fully rejected by someone based on my own appearance. It had only been a fear of mine, to be rejected. So thank you. You showed me that I could live with a full rejection and be perfectly fine. And I hope you find some compassion for your own self too.
Psst– hey, single? Before I leave you with these, you should know that these are the stories I’ve kept locked away for a long, long time. I don’t know if any resonate with you or not—this was just what I knew I needed to say tonight, to you. I’m sitting here at 2 am and I don’t know if you can remember a time where you wanted to speak up but didn’t or if you fell hard for someone who chose someone else or if you ignored red flags and went anyway or if you had a little thing with someone only to realize it wasn’t real or right. But if you have ignored the warnings or stayed silent or gotten hurt, you’re not alone in it. Your feelings are valid and you have full permission to mourn the loss of a dream or the loss of a friend.
But you don’t have permission to stay alone because you believe that’s the only way for you. Don’t be afraid to get back up, love. Don’t be afraid to fall again. And don’t be afraid to just see if there’s anything there. Because maybe, maybe not, but you’ll always wonder if you never go for it.
And for lord’s sake, don’t be ashamed of your own story, even if it did result in getting hurt or, even worse, regret. Your story matters. It matters so much because it matters to you.