“Be intentional.” “Set your intentions.” “Live your life intentionally.”
Acting with intention has become a buzz-action of sorts, if I can coin a phrase, here — kinda like self-love being marketed to women as being sure to schedule time for essential oil-filled bubble baths and manicures. And those things are nice and relaxing, don’t get me wrong. There’s not much more I enjoy on a Friday night than Ron Perlman on my TV and my eucalyptus vapor bubble bath. I try not to label those as acts of self-love, although Ron Perlman really keeps my heart light. Self-love, for me, has transformed from superficial pleasures, such as spending a little too much on skincare products, to intentionally doing things that align with and preserve my values, integrity and peace. By doing these things intentionally, I am operating with my best self in mind, when I choose to do them.
I’ve spent much of the first half of my 20s not knowing who or what was really for me. The uncertainty of the next steps as my responsibilities and focus in life evolve are a big source of anxiety. Quarter-life crises are a real thing, let me tell ya. When it comes to who I allow in my life romantically (the seldom instances I allow someone in), it’s usually people who want/need nurturing. I’d love on and shelter and protect them as fiercely as I could, only to be left with an unmistakable hollowness that nothing they did could fill and an aching need for something, anything else. I don’t know if that’s a testament to incompatibility, but I didn’t consider (for some time) it was, at least, partly because I was avoiding painful self-work, and I was relying on another person’s enchantment with me to be the source of light I had to provide for myself. If their light shifted, when it dimmed or went out entirely, I was the one left in darkness.
For three years, give or take a few months of on/off again breakups, I’ve had a partner. It’s the longest I’ve ever spent getting close to anyone, intimately. I love him dearly and consider him a closer friend than most. We met in college, at a time I was dating someone else, and became friends. My relationship with that person ended and within a year, and he confessed his feelings. From that moment, we were practically attached at the hip. I’d even wager that, at times, our relationship crossed into co-dependent territory. Co-dependency looks and feels almost like an addiction in that the interdependence overshadows each person’s individuality. That can look like neglected friendships, loss of interest in hobbies, or jealousy and insecurities that manifest over time. I never knew I could care so deeply for someone and seemingly never get tired of their presence, especially after a pretty intense heartbreak the year before. The euphoria was mutual.
Over time, though, and for reasons that aren’t so relevant here, we’ve grown apart. Commonalities come fewer and further in between. Technically, we haven’t been ‘official’ since March of 2018. In between then and now, there’ve been weeks of limited contact and more than a few sleepovers. I didn’t want to stop trying, and I know that feeling was shared. But as my focus and responsibilities have and continue to evolve, so do the things I value. And what I valued as a 22-year old nanny who had no real bills and a penchant for pot looks a bit different than my almost 26-year-old self who coupons religiously and avoids foods that make me bloat.
There are a lot of things he does that my 22-year old self would be OK with (because I did them, too) or silently chastise but not speak up on, for the sake of not seeming preachy or like a burden. Almost 26-year-old me, however, is vocal and always ready to communicate my feelings with little shame or fear. In these years, I’ve learned the best way to self-preserve is to be honest with myself first and make space for my full range of emotions, no matter how uncomfortable that may make me or anyone else feel. That is also due, in part, to Lexapro. (Gotta keep it a buck.) Being honest with myself means holding a mirror to my own bad habits, in love or otherwise. In this case, what is the part of me that approaches romantic relationships from a place of need, not strength? And what can I do to tend that? The answer so far has been space. Space to sink deep into myself, sit there and feel wholeness rather than angst. To cry. To feel. To unlearn. To figure all this sh*t out. I have my work to thank for teaching me the concept of space as half the battle in fostering personal power.
In other areas of my life, I pride myself on being savvy and letting nothing get by me, but in love, I have the tendency to look over the details. My capacity to care without condition for so long is a beautiful thing. I try hard to remain soft in a world where, for Black women, especially, there are a million reasons to build walls. Still, it has been important for me to create boundaries to protect myself because I know the tendency to overextend exists. Rather than looking outside, I am learning to cultivate a sense of contentment and wholeness within by being my own best partner. I am loving and committing to myself, so I don’t project my needs onto someone else and wind up disappointed when they feel unfulfilled. In doing so, I am becoming my own source of light.