In a collection of stories called Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption, Daniel Jones writes that “vulnerability is the animating quality of all love stories.”
And while you can already surmise by the title of this piece that I haven’t gotten that fairytale ending, this too, in its own way, is a love story.
Not long ago, I caught up with a friend I had little to no contact with in the last two years. Upon arriving at a neighborhood café, she asked me which boy I was currently interested in. Surprised by her candidness, I was speechless but smiling, almost in shame. She laughed it off and quickly defended herself, saying, “You always like someone!”
While our brunch turned into a six-hour reunion, I couldn’t stop thinking she was right: I could look back at life’s important moments and identify when they happened according to which guy I liked then — almost as easily as how I can tell how old I was at the time.
Call it social anxiety or fear of rejection, but it was never in my nature to be confrontational, and so being forward and professing my feelings was not something I did occasionally.
I shared this realization with another friend and she said, “Just like Taylor Swift” almost automatically. And then it clicked: just like Taylor Swift, all my life up until just recently, all I wanted was to be wanted.
But unlike Miss Taylor, my belief in this carried on way past the age of 15.
My serial crushing on boys wasn’t something I wanted to be known for, but sadly was.
Yet despite this characteristic trait of mine that I outgrew only very recently, to the non-knowledge of most friends, my boy craziness ended at just that. Call it social anxiety or fear of rejection, but it was never in my nature to be confrontational, and so being forward and professing my feelings was not something I did occasionally. Or ever.
After yet another end to an almost-relationship about four years ago, I decided something had to change. But no, I still wasn’t vulnerable enough to act on my attraction.
So I did the next obvious thing: focus on myself (for real this time!). Sprouting from never feeling enough and questioning my worth like never before after that last non-relationship, I wanted to know what it meant to be enough — and to define that by my own terms.
What happened next didn’t come as a snap decision. At the time, I was offered to test a workout program, something I reluctantly agreed to, lacking anything better to do. What was first a way to distract myself became not just a healthy activity I did because I had to; it became the me-time I most looked forward to any day.
Over time, I felt myself get stronger physically and mentally, and because I got so addicted to my progress, my top priority became me. But progress — in whatever aspect of life — is hardly ever linear.
Not long after and early into the pandemic, I met someone I thought could be different from all the rest. I found myself falling into the same old trap of dropping everything for a boy, seeing where things could go, and even thinking too far ahead.
The only difference now was I felt myself opening up a little more than usual: initiating conversations without overthinking, candidly talking about our pasts, and genuinely finding enjoyment in his interests…
I didn’t realize I was slowly fading into the background of my own story; someone else was being put up on the pedestal again.
Despite thinking this might be the time I’d finally luck out in love, somewhere along the way, things started feeling a little too easy, and I became skeptical. My skepticism wasn’t out of place though. Long story short: the quaranfling was over before it really ever began.
Like all times before, I expected the worst in my road to moving on. But I surprised myself. My friends seemed more broken up about the ending of this possibility than I was; I came out unscathed, and I felt emotionally stronger than ever before.
Maybe it was the idea of being so fixated on someone — of striving to find ways to hold on to them — that made me feel so alive. After the end of this situationship, I realized it didn’t anymore.
I admit rom-coms, chick lit and Taylor Swift’s first three albums shaped what I thought of and expected from love. And while I can’t really pinpoint when and how I shifted from hopeless romantic to romantic realist, more time spent on myself in the last couple of years made me see that relationships aren’t the only things I can be known for; that there were so many other qualities I could be defined by.
So I made the effort to get to know the real me.
Over the quarantine, I got into many different hobbies. As those interests came and went, I found myself writing more and more, even outside of my work as a writer.
Whether it was sporadically scribbling in my journal, setting down random thoughts on my Notes app or Telegram Saved Messages, or even through article contributions I so fondly call my exposés, it’s only in this recent time that I’ve been able to open myself up and process my past; to realize that all these stories of love, as unfortunate as they might be, make me, me.
In a workshop by my former mentor-manager and now friend Marla Miniano-Umali and writer Isa Garcia, we were asked to write about how we are, really — to have us experience writing as a form of self-care.
While most wrote about the greater scheme of things, I focused on the small, everyday moments that bring me comfort and peace. In this old, but also newfound way of processing my thoughts, I’m able to use my own words to perfectly describe only what I know, and not mold my life into someone else’s stories.
Writing, as frustrating as it can sometimes be, has become my way to know myself more, understand myself better, and open myself to the possibilities of losses and connections — even if this means letting go of beliefs I’d once held on so tightly to, and re-connecting with who I really am.
In an essay from the Modern Love compilation, Marisa Lascher writes, “I can’t seem to be my true self when I’m seriously looking for love…” And so it is my everyday commitment to enjoy my own company, make me the main character of my own story, and define myself with something that I love.
And that something is me.