Several years ago, I remember watching my friend come home to a bouquet of flowers from her boyfriend. It was a lovely surprise, all bright and purple. Her smile could not be contained. It lit up the room, illuminating the difference between us. She had someone. I did not. And in one of my most embarrassing moments, I began to cry, in front of her, over a bouquet of flowers that were not mine. Over a love that was not mine. Over something I wanted desperately for myself.
My magic number today is 24. That’s the number of years I’ve been alive. The number of years I’ve been called Cassi. The number of years I’ve been left unkissed. The number of years I’ve gone without hearing a man whisper “I love you” in my ear. The number of years I’ve gone without receiving flowers or chocolates or a love letter. The number of years I’ve been untouched. The number of years I’ve longed for romance, for passion, for a man to see me as a woman.
Twenty-four years without a man. Twenty-four years of loneliness.
As I sit here, I look back and admit there have been times when I haven’t handled my singleness well. Times when I believed myself to be less worthy, less wonderful, less womanly because there was no man in my life to say “I choose you, my love. You’re beautiful.” Because as I looked around, I saw everyone else pairing off, happily and intimately. They were moving into new worlds of love and romance and leaving me forever behind. I watched my friends moving into the worlds of dating, of matrimony, of parenthood, and wondered what was wrong with me. Something must be wrong with me, right? Otherwise, why couldn’t I find a love of my own?
Because if there was something wrong with me, then it could be fixed. It could be undone. It could be changed into something better. I could be something better. Few things in life have ruined me as much as thinking there was something I was without. To look in the mirror and wonder if you’re broken leaves you distraught and empty, feelings of worthlessness swirling around you in a haze. My days seemed dull. My nights felt lonely. My mind was a dark place, filled with what if’s and if only’s and why doesn’t he want me?
I told myself I was unlovable. And for years I believed it. Because one day that was the only thing that made sense, the only thing I could point to and say “well, this is why I’m alone.” Because men didn’t look at me and see the passionate possibilities. I wasn’t the sort of woman to intrigue a man, to make him stop and look twice. I believed I wasn’t beautiful enough or interesting enough or sexy enough. So there had to be something within me that was missing; that special piece that made a man long to chase after you and woo you.
But no – no one chased. No one wooed. No one pursued or loved.
Singleness and Loneliness became my companions. They pitied me and kept me company year after year. I took them with me everywhere I went, living under the shadow of their hulking darkness. They haunted me at every turn. They held me back and made my question myself. They whispered doubt in my ear until my mind was filled with insecurity. They covered me in shame. Somewhere along the way, I had given them power over me. I let them define me and shape me. I allowed their lies to mean something.
I’m ready to give them up now. I’m ready to let go of the lies, of the shame, of the embarrassment I felt by being the third wheel, the table for one, the spinster in the making. Because I can finally look back and see the torture I caused myself as I worried about when, dear God when would I find the One. I can see the silliness in the hours I spent wondering about the right and wrong way to go about finding the right guy, the do’s and don’t’s of love. I can see the pain I caused myself, the unkind manner with which I treated my poor, bruised heart. I can forgive myself for it now. I can take a breath and shake my head at how badly I approached the whole thing.
And I was right – I was missing something. But I wasn’t missing a man or romance or true love. That wasn’t what I truly needed.
I didn’t need to hear a man to say “I love you.” I needed to hear those words from myself. I needed to feel the love from my heart directed back at my soul. I needed to know, deep down, regardless of my relationship status, my place in life, my prospects or opportunities, I am loved. I am worthy. I am lovely and beautiful. And I am enough just as I am. I am whole. I’m not broken or missing some secret piece. I am exactly who I am supposed to be at this precise moment in my life.
Because if I can’t love myself, how can I believe anyone else could love me?
I’m ready to love, I think. I’m ready to be swept away. I believe I am meant to love deeply and fiercely with all that I am. There is room in my heart for a great love story, and strength in my soul to fight for it. I wouldn’t mind a messy love, a love that was sometimes hard. I would cherish it with all that I am, because I know what the emptiness is like. That’s the beauty of having gone twenty-four years without a hint of love – I know what it means to be without. So I can look forward and treasure every ounce of love I am allowed. I can enjoy love for what it is, rather than everything I wish it could be.
Who knows? Maybe next year, 25 will be my lucky number.
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