If I’m awake while alone at home in the strange hours between midnight and sunrise, the aches in my heart and racing thoughts consume my entire being. They creep in at night when there is nothing to distract me; no social events, no new book to read, not even a show to binge.
Maybe that’s why I’ve begun staying out until 3 or 4 am on weekends since moving to the city. Maybe that’s why I’ve begun distracting myself as much as possible.
If there were a surgery I could undergo or a pill I could take to magically erase my desire to be a friend to everyone and loved by all, I would take the opportunity without a second thought. It’s exhausting caring so much for other people when it’s a one-sided act.
It’s exhausting caring so much about everything and everyone.
When I lived in the country, sometimes I’d lay on a blanket in the grass and stare at the stars and try to imagine what it would be like to wake up reincarnated into the body of a person who didn’t absorb pain the way I do.
I fall in love easily, but not just romantically. I fall in love with places, friendships, and memories.
When I left Connecticut for New York City, I thought I’d never look back. But now I find myself shedding tears over the memories I made there. What I once viewed as a painful time in history and a place I couldn’t wait to leave behind, I now look back upon fondly and sometimes with deep regret.
This is nothing new, however; I remember sitting on the carpet of my childhood bedroom in Alabama at age ten, watching the family videos my dad had recorded on VHS; videos of my older brother and I playing and laughing together as toddlers and small children. Even at age ten, I knew something in the bond with my big brother had gone amiss, as we were no longer as close as we had once been in the past. I recall shedding tears over those home videos and praying to God, “Please, please God, let me wake up tomorrow as a baby in Houston again. I’ll fix my relationship with my brother. I’ll be good enough for him to still love me.”
I can tell you now at age twenty-eight that my brother and I will never be close, but I no longer blame myself, because it’s not my fault. He chose a long time ago not to connect with me, or even our parents. From what I can tell, he doesn’t care about people the way I do. I try to connect with as many people as possible.
No matter how hard you love a person, no matter how kind and warm and open you are towards them, sometimes people are incapable of loving you back.
It hurts to think that someone you care for or even love will never care for or love you; that someday, you will leave this world, and they won’t even miss you.
If you struggle with this pain the way I do, my advice is to distract yourself from these thoughts by spending time with people who do cherish your existence. Or distract yourself by pursuing your passions, and chasing the events that bring you joy. Remember that not everyone will love you, and that’s okay.
For months, she lived in the dark, gazing at a full moon for clarity.
This is who you are now.
She told herself this was a normal, passionate affair.
You enjoy it.
Did the broken boundaries matter? Did the disassociation matter?
It is all you deserve.
The words “I’m sorry” were spoken across a phone line after it first happened. The word “love” was later whispered to her on the carpet of her floor.
It’s your fault.
Imagine manipulation and control and loneliness within a pandemic. Imagine being betrayed after expressing that desperate desire to experience something meaningful.
Pretend it didn’t happen.
She sought refugee in denial. She refused to accept that someone took advantage of her when all she had to offer was warmth and light. She hung her head and sobbed the day after. This was not supposed to be her life.
But this is who you are now.
If she was going to ignore the reality of what happened to her, a new narrative was necessary. He played along…for a bit. Until one day, her warmth and light was dimmed forever.
Is it too late?
The moon could never offer the clarity she needed because it lived in the darkness, covering up the scars she refused to acknowledge all this time.
How many others are also hurting?
The sun emerged, revealing the reality she’d ignored for too long. Scars and marks covered her entire being. Her body was punctured all over. Her heart wounded.
You have been bleeding out when you should have been healed by now.
Tree branches swaying in the breeze. Cold, crisp Connecticut air. That grin I couldn’t wait to see. Your fingers in my hair.
Squeeze my eyes shut in the present; liquid acid raining down.
I tell myself, “It was never real.”
But we spent hours together in your town.
With all the trauma and secrets we shared, I wish you’d at least treated me like your friend.
That was all I truly wanted from you, in the end.
Even when you discarded me, I could see you had your own pain, born from the trauma you’d shared. I worry about you to this very day. I hope you still write, and I hope you’re okay.
You meant more to me than I could ever mean to you.
This is the part in the book or screenplay where you call me and say you want to be my friend, after all. We finally become friends. And I never have to say goodbye or wonder what became of your life.
I’m so tired of saying goodbye.
Why can’t you just be the cool, kind, writer guy?
Remember that night in my car, when I looked up at the big, bright moon, and asked if you’d noticed how beautiful it was? You were shuffling around, ready to leave, as you mumbled, “No.” Then you opened the car door, and left me there.
I cried the whole drive home, feeling empty inside.
Why couldn’t you just sit for a while, and look at the moon with me? I needed a friend, and you were my constellation in a dark sky.
I’m thanking my lucky stars that the rain did not pour on this Memorial Day Yankees game like it did the rest of the long weekend in the city! The game started around 1 p.m. at warm temperatures nearing 70, but the day quickly got chilly within two hours. I neglected to bring my light jacket, but at least I was wise enough to wear jeans instead of shorts.
This is the part where someone reading this chuckles to themselves and says, “That’s what dating yourself will get! If you’d had a plus one, he would have let you wear his jacket or at least put his arm around you.”
To that, I will reply with…
I am on a serious path to self-discovery. Who cares if I forgot my jacket and my lips turned white as chill bumps formed on my skin?! Those are small prices you pay when dating yourself, people. I need to learn to take care of myself and not rely on others.
Despite the crisp weather, I had a fantastic time at my first Yankees game. The stadium wasn’t fully packed like its glory days before the pandemic, but the crowd was much larger than I had anticipated. Clearly, everyone is itching to get outside and enjoy life again.
I’ve cheered on a lot of home team baseball games before, like the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field, the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Stadium, but there was just something so exceptional about the New York Yankees’ fan base. They were loud and blunt, but still so proud of the Yankees. Maybe it’s especially that way because everyone is so excited that baseball has returned to a world where we finally have a vaccine for COVID!
And even though the New York Yankees lost to the Tampa Bay Rays (3-1), I’m already eager to watch them play again! I’ll be sure to bring my jacket next time. And an umbrella. And a blanket. You just never know what kind of weather to expect in the city, right?!
After my first few lackluster dates in the city of dreams, I couldn’t help but wonder, would I ever find my person?
But then it hit me. I realized I’m not Carrie Bradshaw. Being loved and loving someone else in return is all I wanted, but I’m not ready for that…
If I don’t fall in love with myself first, how can I ever expect someone else to?
So with that, I threw out the rulebook that says you can only go on dates with other people, and decided to date myself. And honestly, it was my best first date ever.
A little over a week before my birthday, I reserved a table for one at Upstairs. A rooftop bar nestled in Midtown East with views of the Chrysler Building and surrounding skyscrapers, Upstairs is self-described as “focusing on refined service in a relaxed luxurious setting, offering its guests a one-of-a-kind rooftop experience and the desire to come back again and again.”
The entrance to the bar is inside The Kimberly Hotel. Upon arrival in their lobby, I was guided to the elevator where I was then taken to the Penthouse level. After giving my name to the host, I took a seat at the bar, where I people-watched until my table was ready.
The partially-shaded bar area offered an impressive view of the city, and there were already around thirty guests mingling and drinking, some in dressy work attire, some in the official dress code of Business Casual. I myself wore a semi-casual sundress, duster cardigan, open-toed pink block heels, and gold jewelry. From what I could tell, the ages of the other patrons ranged from mid twenties to fifties.
The host returned to take me to my table in a private area with an even nicer view of the city. Due to COVID restrictions, there was empty seating between me and the two men to my left, who were dressed in suits. Across the room sat a table of eight twenty-something-year-old friends in semi-casual outfits, and beside them sat two women wearing work attire. For a Tuesday evening, Upstairs had accumulated a great crowd.
I already knew what I wanted even before my waitress asked: the Upstairs Strawberry Rossini, which is a blend of vodka, lemon, strawberries, basil, and cava. The moment I saw it on the QR code menu at the bar, I knew it was for me. I’m a lover of sugary cocktails.
One nice thing about dating myself? I can order as many cocktails as I want without a look of dismay from a date who feels the need to pick up the tab. I only ordered two, but even that number would have resulted in wide eyes and a comment of disapproval from my ex.
For dinner, I ordered the grilled lamb chops. They were truly a “small plate” meal but still delicious. You don’t go to Upstairs for the food, anyways. You go for the cocktails, ambiance, and view.
On my first date with myself, I scrolled through my phone, read a book, and enjoyed the view in peace. No awkward date with forced small talk. No cheap meal ordered only to satisfy someone else. I could actually, truly enjoy myself.
And you know what? I’m already looking forward to the next date.
Yesterday, as I was cooking dinner, I turned away from the oven to walk towards the table when –OUCH – I stubbed my toe against the foot of the coffee hutch.
Would you believe it if I told you I internally flinched, but not from the pain? I flinched from the memory of this time last year, when I was living with someone who would have yelled and cursed at me for stubbing my toe.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s great to have a month dedicated to this cause, but please check in on your loved ones year-round. I say this as someone who needed to be checked in on for so long, but wasn’t.
Now I look back on the girl I was in May 2020, and I hardly recognize her, and that’s attributed to the way I started managing my mental health last year.
Here are my top six ways for keeping my mental health in check:
1.) Find a good therapist.
When I was in middle school, my parents took me to a few therapists because I was being bullied by mean girls and my self-confidence had suffered as a result. The first counselor worked out of our Southern Baptist church, and her kids – who were around my age – would always be sitting right outside the door when I walked out after each session. It made me feel insecure, so my parents then took me to a professional psychiatrist who refused to speak with me when I was five minutes late to my third session. I remember walking back out to the lobby where my dad was waiting, and telling him, “I’m never coming back here.” That was my final experience with a professional therapist until adulthood.
My life completely changed for the better when my first personal therapist in adulthood questioned why I was so afraid to leave my ex. She made me face those fears head-on, and assured me it was going to be okay, even if I had to be alone. With her help, I finally left a situation that honestly had died a long time ago, but was still taking me down with it.
My life improved even more when I found my current therapist after things didn’t work out with the first one. Tip: therapy is not a one-size-fits-all situation. Sometimes it takes several tries before you find the one you click with. My current therapist treats me like a friend she genuinely cares about, not someone who pays her bills. She was also the catalyst for me finally following my dreams of moving to and working in Manhattan.
2.) Don’t settle just so you can come home to someone.
I didn’t actually “date around” until the summer of 2020, after my last relationship officially ended. I jumped from one boyfriend to another and then stayed with the same guy for five years because, deep down, I didn’t want to be alone. That can wreak havoc on your life and mental health if the guy is a bad fit or verbally abusive, both of which my ex was.
I’m finally at a point in my life where I embrace being alone, and it doesn’t terrify me, because it’s not a bad thing. If you are strong enough to be alone both romantically and literally, you should applaud yourself.
3.) Try to work for a company that excites and respects you.
I’ve worked for a company in the past that valued me and consistently told me how grateful they were to have me on the team, but I felt like they didn’t truly respect me or my career goals. More often than not, I was left out of major projects and decisions, and only told about them after the fact. It also became clear very quickly that they had no room or intentions to make room for my career to flourish and grow. As wonderful as they had been to me in other ways, I had to follow my heart and dreams and search for an opportunity with a company that excited me and respected me as a team player.
4.) Stop seeking validation from everyone but the one person whose validation matters: you.
I’ve struggled with this my entire life.
I’ve always been of the opinion, “Why can’t everyone be friends?” But life doesn’t work that way.
At one job, it became clear that everyone separated into cliques at lunchtime when I tried to merge two groups of my friends into one table, but they wouldn’t have it.
To me, that felt so very “high school.” But I’ve learned through therapy that people are allowed not to like each other. It’s okay if someone doesn’t like me or if they reject me. I’ve always believed that if I follow a checklist of problem-solving techniques, I can make anyone like me. I’m very much a problem-solver in all other aspects of my life, so it comes naturally to me to try to problem-solve in relationships as well. But at the end of the day, if someone doesn’t like you, let them. And move on to people who love you.
People are allowed not to like me, just as I’m allowed not to like them (which at times I have to remind myself that, YES, there are people in this world I don’t like. Like the homeless man trying to scare people in the subway, or the mean girl who made my life hell in sixth grade.)
It’s okay to be rejected. It’s okay to reject. As long as you remain kind to everyone, it’s okay.
5.) Stay active on a weekly basis.
Exercise is the best natural release of serotonin you can get.
To quote Elle Woods from the classic film Legally Blonde, “I just don’t think that Brooke could’ve done this. Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t kill their husbands, they just don’t.”
Since I’ve started consistently practicing yoga and taking long daily walks around the city, I’ve felt so much happier in general.
Even when I’ve had a long or bad day, I force myself to be active, and it never fails to lift my mood.
6.) Follow your heart and dreams. As cliche as it sounds, it’s true: life is short.
Life is too short to live in fear of stubbing your toe because your partner will criticize you for being clumsy. Life is too short to be embarrassed of society’s opinion of you seeing a therapist, or to be too afraid to live alone, or to remain at a job where there is no hope for your career goals. Follow your heart and your dreams. You can live the life you’ve always wanted, a life of joy, and I speak from experience as someone whose life is now filled with an overabundance of long-overdue joy.
In plain sight for all to see was where she kept her hopes and dreams.
In the end of it all, when the fragments of her world had been repainted in bursts of vivid color never before experienced, she couldn’t help but smile. Dull voices hummed in the background until eventually replaced by silence.
Onlookers were whispering and judging as they always did, but she no longer noticed. She no longer cared.
Then, one very special day, the silence was replaced by cars honking and crowds of people chattering.
Breezing over sidewalks she’d once adored from her childhood TV screen, she arrived at the doors of a grand building she’d once only read about in books.
Click. Clack. Click.
Warmth radiated every part of her being as her heels clicked and clacked across the floor.
She finally felt free.
Somewhere along the way, she began to enjoy being alone. Retiring the self-loathing rituals that had once picked her apart, she pieced herself back together. She was worthy and strong and she could fight for herself.
The box of lace had been sold. The images of the girl who wore it had been burned to ash.
This girl is pursuing her passions, hopes, and dreams. She is pursuing self-love.
I learned this as they swarmed unforgivingly in my stomach while Serendipity flashed across our screen.
We hadn’t even made it halfway through before you exclaimed, “This is a cheating movie. I don’t like this movie.”
And I stammered, “Wow, you’re right…I never realized…we don’t have to finish.”
You were already off the couch, heading towards your computer to pass the time on your own. You didn’t really want to watch a movie, anyway.
It was then that I realized what the butterflies were trying to tell me: the man I thought was my John Cusack, was actually my John Corbett. And if I were Kate Beckinsale in this scenario, that meant my love story hadn’t yet ended…had it even started?
At the time, instead of watching my favorite movie alone, for once I turned off the TV. I pushed those feelings of doubt off the proverbial cliff of my insecurities, where they sunk into an ocean of denial so deep and endless, I nearly drowned with them.
I used to believe in fairytales, and to me, Serendipity was like a modern-day example of love. But it wasn’t until you pointed out the emotional cheating that it occurred to me…
…not all fairytales are linear.
You and I both realized something that day, thanks to sweet Serendipity: we weren’t meant to be together. Well, maybe we already knew it, and maybe we pretended not to know it still for a while after. But it was undeniable what we both felt in the air – the tense yet shared understanding of what kind of couple we were, and what kind of couple we were not.
It’s okay to acknowledge that we wasted time with the wrong people.
I still haven’t found the right one. But I really hope you have, because we all deserve our magical moment on the ice rink.
I don’t want to be someone who turns cold as stone towards those who lack empathy and heart. If I care about you, I’ll say it. If you need help, I’ll provide it.
If it’s a one-way street, I’ll keep the light blazing at my end for you, even after you’ve disappeared into the shadows on yours.
One of the most tumultuous lessons I’ve learned recently is that not every friend I make will radiate as much warmth for me as I do for them. Not every person I connect with will want to keep our bond alive. I am willing to ensure every drunken friend I have is safely home, whether that means letting them crash on my couch or ordering them an Uber, even if no one will do the same for me.
And that’s okay.
I can grieve for what could have been. I can feel sad that we won’t ever be the Serena and Blair or the Meredith and Alex of my dreams. But once I’ve shed those tears, I’m moving on from the expectations and hopes I had for our friendship.
During my adolescence, I used to give up on friends at the first sign of imperfection or disrespect. If they said something cruel to me, or treated me in a way that I would have never treated them, it was over. And I didn’t care. I didn’t try to communicate or patch things up. I just moved on, because I knew I would be okay on my own.
How is it that at seventeen, I was so unafraid of being alone that I ended every “imperfect” friendship I had without a second thought, but at twenty-seven, I’m wishing I had friendships as unbreakable as those in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants?
At seventeen, I had the blind strength I wish I had now; but at twenty-seven, I have the hindsight and knowledge to realize that people aren’t perfect, and expecting perfection out of friendships is an unhealthy setup for failure.
Last fall, someone I considered to be one of my very best friends “took a step back” from me while I was going through something difficult. At the time, it devastated me. I had been there for her unfailingly during her heartaches, mistakes and scary situations. I couldn’t fathom why I was being abandoned.
All I know now is that we weren’t meant to be as close as I had hoped we’d be, or thought we were.
I know what it’s like to be alone and abandoned during devastating life events. I will never do that to someone I care about. But I also won’t be waiting. The blazing light that was once a lantern I held with hope in my hands during freezing temps, is now a lamp post that stands tall on its own as I stride forward, unapologetically yet warmly.