In many ways, society revolves around coupling. We celebrate anniversaries, engagements and weddings, but we celebrate far fewer milestones for single people. We’re taught that relationships are achievements. While romantic love is certainly something worth celebrating, it doesn’t mean that a lack of it is a tragedy.
Sometimes, getting out of a relationship is just as worthy of a slap on the back.
I learned this when I emerged from a five-year relationship with my emotionally abusive ex.
We didn’t celebrate anniversaries. I’d convinced myself that this was because we were too cool to conform to standard celebrations of love. In reality, we were trying to ignore the fact that our relationship wasn’t worth celebrating.
In hindsight, the entire relationship was built on abuse and manipulation. Through gaslighting, he taught me to do everything for him while expecting nothing in return. I worked several jobs simultaneously, paying all the bills while he refused to work. Instead, he spent his days at the gym pursuing an unlikely sporting career and living off my income. While he was building himself up, he was chipping away at my self-worth.
Since he was constantly broke, it seemed absurd for me to ever ask anything of him. This didn’t just apply to material expressions of love. It extended to all other kinds, too. I learned to live off breadcrumbs of affection, holding out for him to eventually show me that I meant something to him. I was shocked when he made the effort to cook dinner for me once or twice a year (with groceries I’d paid for). Grand or even discreet gestures on anniversaries were completely out of the question. So, we just didn’t acknowledge them.
The same went for birthdays and Valentine’s Days. He brushed them off, telling me that I didn’t need or care about those things. Not wanting to make a fuss, I pretended that he was right. If I ever said otherwise, he told me I was “crazy.” This was the same response he gave whenever I questioned him about his fidelity, although it would eventually emerge that he’d been cheating on me with multiple partners from the start.
One of my birthdays with him was particularly memorable, for all the wrong reasons. It was my 25th, and after I came home from a long day at work, he refused to acknowledge, let alone celebrate, the day. This upset me, and when he asked me why I was in a bad mood, I meekly expressed my disappointment, trying not to offend him.
“Tell it to someone who gives a shit,” he shouted as he stormed out of the room, leaving me alone and in tears for the rest of the night.
Occurrences like this one were commonplace in our relationship. Whenever I broke down and called him out for neglecting me, he flipped the script, manipulating me into feeling sorry for him and believing that I was too demanding. Yet every time I thought I’d had enough, he convinced me to stay. This cycle continued until I finally broke it on March 3, 2018. After five years, I kicked him out of my apartment and my life.
Now, that was something to celebrate.
Lots of people never get the chance to learn what it feels like to be truly happy on their own because they jump from relationship to relationship. I used to be one of those people, hopping from one toxic long-term commitment to another, some with men who were abusive, and others with ones who just never treated me right. My horrible taste in men was a running joke among friends, who couldn’t quite understand why I put up with those I paired myself with.
At the root of it all was my complete lack of self-esteem. I didn’t think much of myself, and as a result, I accepted the types of love I thought I deserved. After my breakup, being alone hurt, but it forced me into an uncomfortable space in which I had to face the elephant in the room head-on.
In that space, I grew. I realized that I’d given all my love to the men in my life and allowed none for myself. I learned that the only way I could avoid falling into the same old traps was to build my confidence. I taught myself to stop seeking love and approval from an outside source, and instead, start giving those things to myself. After some adjustment, I even become secure in my solitude.
That didn’t mean that I was lonely or unhappy. In fact, I was happier than I’d ever been. I invested the time I would have put into a partner into myself and my friends, who remarked before long that I was glowing from the inside out. I felt that way, too.
I realized that while many people treat the lack of a significant other as something to feel sorry for, I am still capable of being a whole, happy human being until I find a partner. And what if I never find one? Will my life be incomplete, leaving me forever in search of a missing piece? I don’t think so.
These days, I no longer wait for someone else to celebrate me or to give me permission to love myself. I no longer shrink to avoid taking up space reserved for other people’s egos. Now, I celebrate myself.
That’s why I’m naming March 3, 2019, as my first “singleversary.” I’m going to get a massage, take myself out on a fancy date, and do what makes me happy. Friends are invited to join me in the festivities.
A year of self-love has changed me for the better, seeing me evolve into a happier and healthier version of myself. I didn’t know what it was like to love yourself, know your worth or feel “good enough” until I made myself a priority for the first time in my life. Here’s to a year of doing all of those things, and the many more to come.