[Image description: Allison sits against a yellow wall in Guadeloupe, smiling. They are wearing a green fanny pack, a yellow, navy blue and orange striped shirt, jean shorts, dark sunglasses, and white sneakers.]
[This was recorded on our porch while in Guadeloupe. Sorry for any plane sounds, dogs barking, or any other background noise. Vacation isn’t silent like I want.]
I’ve thought about love a lot recently. It’s something I always think about, but it’s been particularly loud these last few weeks. I love love. My favorite holiday is Valentine’s Day (roll your eyes, I don’t care) because it gives folks a space to be blatant and bold in expressing their love for one another. I really love love. And love is also something that caused me a lot of shame. Loving as deeply, as profoundly as I do, has gotten me hurt more than a few times. I’ve loved others more deeply than I’ve loved myself, and loved the comfort they provided more than I loved doing what was best for me. As a queer person (and queerness for some folks is as much an ontology as it is about who we love), my conception and enactment of love is seen as counterculture. Folks consider it confusing, foreign and in the worst cases, disgusting. And as a non-binary person, loving myself means being really fucking honest about who I am and how I want to be seen in the world, which requires being uncomfortable a lot of the time. So clearly my recent thoughts about love have pointed inwards, beyond how I’m interacting with the people I love. It’s been about how I as a subject interact with this idea of love.
In the past few months, I’ve stumbled across a radical piece of information: love doesn’t have to hurt. And by stumbled, I mean I got sick and tired of self-loathing, accepting the bare minimum from people (especially those who are clearly capable of loving others), and being so depleted from loving others that I couldn’t even stand to be alone, for fear of realizing how I actually felt. So I didn’t stumble – I pulled the ripcord on a parachute, and it’s been the kind of freeing, terrifying tumble I imagine skydiving to be. This idea that love doesn’t have to hurt made me take stock of my relationships (all of them), and assess if they were where I wanted them to be. Those that were draining, I cut off or limited. And those that feel rich, I’m trying to nurture. In doing so, I’ve remembered why I love love. It feels abundant in my life, and if I’m managing it well, it’s the most rewarding, fulfilling, meaningful thing I have in my possession and to offer.
As I mentioned, the fact that love holds that much significance in my life has felt like a shameful thing. That feeling of shame started once I started having romantic interactions with people: in part, because they started somewhat earlier than most folks that I know. So as I do this case study on what love means in my life, I tried a little experiment. What if I try to be single? (Revolutionary) What if I try to not place so much value in myself as a lover, and instead turn that energy inwards? A couple things happened. My mom likes to tell the story of how after an impassable relationship, she had ruled out dating, and once she stopped looking, that’s when she fell for my dad. They’ve been together for almost twenty years now. In a microcosmic way, I feel as though that’s what happened for me – finally having a relationship that was worthwhile, although the timing was off and it ended. In intentionally being alone beforehand, my fear of loving myself and being by myself became a blaring problem that I couldn’t ignore any longer. That relationship was meaningful because for the first time, I was my top priority, even while coupled. And I often use my partners as an external consciousness – a place to say my thoughts, expecting the affirmation I can’t give myself. And instead, this relationship was a playground to just have fun with another person. Our relationship wasn’t without its intensity and serious moments, but it was the first time that I didn’t feel anxious or tense being around someone. That prioritization of being single also gave me enough space to create some sort of criteria for the people I’m with, so this person was probably better suited for me than anyone else had been. And even still, as I mentioned, it ended. The timing was off, and I still didn’t feel totally comfortable by myself. I’m not far along enough to not lose myself in someone else. And despite the fact that this relationship was fantastic in many ways, I care about myself enough to not stay in something that I’m not sure of – for my sake and theirs.
In sharing this in more frenzied terms, with my therapist, she asked me, “Why not date yourself for a while?” I think that’s where I’m at. I’m nervous to do so, because I know how many corners of my life have been filled with a partner. I’ll have a lot more time on my hands. But if this process is anything like dating another person, the getting-to-know-you (getting to know and like you) phase is the most fun. I’m looking forward to “getting to know myself more,” so that when faced with a predicament, I’ll have pretty default settings.
And to let myself get on a high horse for a minute, this is the type of adult stuff I wish knew happened when I was in college, and why I share rather openly. I expected that my biggest ontological questions would be about my career, my supposed purpose. And perhaps shame on me for being so narrow-minded, but I thought that adults were somehow fixed. I didn’t know what adults thought about, but I couldn’t think about much besides my assignments and what was happening on my campus or with my family. I tried so very hard to shrink myself when I was at school – afraid to love myself, because that felt like such a powerful thing. Maybe I was afraid it would distract me. But luckily, I finished and have time to think about myself, and only myself. It’s a luxury to be my only priority, and I’m trying not to take that for granted.