By Helen McDonald
When I was a child, my father told me that I would end up alone. The worst possible fortune he thought inevitably would befall his strange, little child, with grass-stained knees and a knack for anything “unladylike,” was a future without a man. I’ve spent most of my life resisting his problematic stance on female propriety, but I could not shake the fear of spending the rest of my life A L O N E.
I clung to my first relationship, convinced that it would save me. It did not matter that the man I chose to love loved and respected me only when most convenient. I vacillated between desirable and disposable in his eyes. When he let me go, I hopped into another man’s arms and then another’s, desperate to avoid the touch of loneliness. In time, I discovered my queerness and built homes in women’s hearts, too haunted to sit alone with myself.
A year ago, I experienced a heartbreak that seemed to split me in two. I was a half-self, floundering for someone else to cling to, instead of coming to terms with every damaged part of me. Tired of hurting, I decided to heal my pain. For the first time, I was finding myself instead of getting lost in another person, and in the process a startling phenomenon occurred: I fell in love with myself.
My first move towards self-love meant forgiving myself for my shortcomings and flaws. “I am perfectly imperfect,” I murmured to myself in front of mirrors until I eventually spoke in smiles and with conviction. I actively engaged with artificial loneliness — like choosing to study in a quiet corner of the library without my friends or standing by myself in line without compulsively checking my phone to distract me — until I knew that I could survive the days I did not get to choose my solitude. I surrounded myself with images of happiness, in the forms of posters I hung on my room walls, songs I listened to, and stories I read, to inspire the happiness I wanted to put forth in the world. I even took myself out on dates as a literal interpretation of my love for myself.
Now here’s what I’m supposed to say, according to the way mainstream society constructs and depicts love and romance. I’m supposed to say that in all the time I spent alone, I loved myself enough to fix my flaws and eventually found a boo-thang who could provide everything that I discovered I needed, right? Or I’m supposed to say that I’m only single until I find that special someone, yeah? This whole single thing is just supposed to be a hiatus. Well that ain’t what’s happening. Being single made me realize that I was tired of accepting the bullshit narrative that, even in queer spaces, upholds monogamous, romantic relationships as the most legitimate and promising forms of love. I started realizing that I didn’t really want this whole “single” thing to end. “Single” stopped sounding like a punishment, and then it stopped sounding like a pit stop on a journey to fulfillment. Suddenly, the label “single” became a source of pride and comfort for me.
What a lot of conversations about love leave out is that being single can be an option by choice. Singleness is not evidence that I am unlovable; in fact, my relationship status — or lack thereof— enabled me to open my heart to different kinds of love. Self-love not only made me more confident in myself, but it also made me care about the types of people I let into my life. When I stopped chasing after some invented soul mate, I invested more time into taking care of my friendships and even familial relationships. I let go of some relationships that were too emotionally or spiritually damaging. The love in my life increased exponentially, and instead of idealizing one person as the source of perfect love, I reveled in the different forms of love, with varying degrees of intensity. Most importantly, I stopped fearing my father’s prediction that I would end up alone.
Omkar Phatakc says, “Being single is getting over the illusion that there is somebody out there to complete you and taking charge of your own life.” Likewise, my embracing of singleness has empowered me to shape my life the way I want it to be. I have discovered that romantic relationships do not help me achieve a sense of fulfillment in life, and it’s okay. Similarly, it’s okay if romantic relationships — monogamous or otherwise — do bring you great joy, satisfaction, and inspiration. However, this past Valentine’s Day, I pushed against the notion that I must be bitter to be single. I have found the love of my life, and she is me.
Helen McDonald is a 20-something college student living off of bad cooking, social justice and a lil snark. She also discusses the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality on her personal blog revolutionaryrainbows.tumblr.com and is a contributing writer at BloodyShrubbery.com.