Ever since I was young, I wanted a relationship like my parents. They met when they were young, became high school sweethearts, then married and had children. My parents had a sort of nerdy-girl-meets-bad-boy-that-changes-for-her kind of love. The love you see in rom-coms that makes you wish it was your own. Now, they aren’t perfect and have conquered many battlesー but they have done so together. Thirty years later, their love has evolved with time and accommodates changes as they come. Is this the kind of relationship I actually want? Yes. One where I and my partner can grow and learn together, and one where I can be sure he’s just as in love with me as I am with them…
The only problem is, I am not my parents.
As a teenager, I waited eagerly for my own lover to come and profess his love and intentions to meー much like my father did. I imagined myself reliving their lives. Boyfriend by fifteen, marriage by early twenties. But the years passed, and my teenagehood began to reach its end. At this point, I hadn’t even gotten my first kiss. That was my first wake-up call.
By then, I was growing anxious. My time for a high school romance was over. The self-loathing that already reigned in my mind grew even stronger. Was I too ugly? Was I too weird? Too nerdy? Too needy? Too childish? I admit I wasn’t exactly the prettiest girl in the room. I was too goofy and nerdy to ever be considered graceful. I was never the girl guys turned to look and stare at. I was most definitely not the girl that knew how to dance and sing. I was lumpy and felt like I hadn’t quite grown into my body. And I wasn’t too girly either. I hated my long hair, so I had a buzzcut by the age of fourteen, and I didn’t even bother with makeup because I just didn’t get it. I can sincerely say I looked like another teenage boy.
But I still had hope. I mean, my mom had been nerdy and shy like me, which meant I could be lucky like her…right? Unless…my mom had been a shy and cute teenager, whereas I had been an angry, rowdy teen.
Oh boy, this was not turning out alright.
Fast forward to college, and I often reminded myself that change was necessary in order to someday find that special someone. I let my hair grow, and I began eating less. I pushed myself into wearing more revealing clothes (something that’s just not for me, I realize now) and became quieter and less opinionated (or at least, I imagined then that I was just being agreeable and helpful). The male attention came immediately. I was happy; ecstatic, even. For once, men were noticing me and I felt great. Except I began to attract the wrong attention, but I didn’t know it then. I was suddenly surrounded by men who found it okay to laugh about my aspirations and make it their living mission to prove women weren’t as smart as we thought we were. The angry and heavily opinionated teen was raging inside of me, but I had shut her down. Instead, the smiling, cheerful and complacent version of myself was getting everything she wanted.
Except she wasn’t.
I wasn’t getting dates, I wasn’t getting flowers, and much less an honest love confession. I wasn’t getting respect. I was used, emotionally at least, by men who saw me as either a therapist or an emotional dumpster for them to feel better about themselves while leaving me in shambles. I felt used, like a mat for them to step all over.
I was devastated.
And all the while, the third version of myself was putting a front for all of us: academically and ambitiously inclined me.
In my lack of natural physical talents, I found refuge in academics and arts. Studying in an art school further evolved my artistic abilities and, soon after, helped me discover my love for writing. Reading, writing, studying, and making art became my life. Transitioning to college was brutal (that’s another story for another day), but when I finally found my own road, I began to explore the limits of my abilities. I became bolder. I wanted to not only know about things but make them. I enrolled in three majors and joined as many associations as I could and I put in the work. I was happy, and I was doing great. Academically speaking, I was on a roll.
But my love life was a whole other story.
The new meek me and the angry teenager me battled constantly. I would be a doormat in the presence of men, and when our interactions came to an end I would feel so empty. So hollow. Like a ghost of myself. I was, in all senses of the metaphor, a pretty vase for them to stare at and enjoy. I quickly realized that showing them my other selves was futile, considering that doing so didn’t exactly get them to like me. Even though their dislike wasn’t downright stated, it could be read in their weirded-out expression; their quiet judging seemed to scream “go back to what you showed me first, please. I don’t like this”. It was an excruciatingly painful time.
I couldn’t keep up with putting a front while my romantic life was really a living hell. I did have my first kiss, but only in exchange for months of anxiety and self-loathing. Was this how it would be for the rest of my firsts? An experience in exchange for months of self-hatred?
In one particular semester, the three me’s finally met and it affected all areas of my life. I did badly in my classes and I struggled at my jobー even my friends could tell I wasn’t okay. The only people who didn’t notice were the men who saw me with lustful eyes.
The angry teenager took over and I lashed out. Suddenly, I wasn’t attracting anyone’s attention and I was alone. I went back to my interests with ferocity. Even my friends were scared of me. I was a wounded animal, lashing out at whoever came too close to me. And in that solitude, I realized some fundamental things about myself.
First and foremost, I needed to heal. For the past years, I had lived by ignoring my problems and pretending everything was okay. I brushed off my worries, mainly my self-esteem issues and insecurities by blaming it all on myself and destroying my own identity for the sake of fitting in. It had, in turn, compartmentalized my entire life to the point that I couldn’t look in the mirror without asking myself “Are you okay?”. My ignorance in acknowledging that all the parts of me composed a single Naomi attracted a lot of people and left most confused when they didn’t get the me who had previously been their friend. I had destroyed my own peace in my inability to self-reflect. I had become an object in everyone else’s lives, while simultaneously halting mine.
I needed to accept myself. I had been so angry for being dorky, for having random interests and obsessions, for being a daydreamer and a hopeless romantic; and, most importantly, for being vocal about things that interested me. I had been angry at being me; instead locking all of that away in favor of being someone people would love. But in doing so, I had ruined my chances of meeting people that would feed my soul. People who I could, in return, pour into their cups. I was lost and it quickly caught up to me. Like a house built with weak foundations, I was crumbling.
I needed to accept I wasn’t like those who I admired. I wasn’t going to be my parents, because my parent’s life was theirs and mine was naturally destined to be different. Just like any normal human being. I couldn’t recreate the love others had because it was just impossible. I have needs and wants that cannot be reshaped into the puzzles of someone else’s life. And in that acceptance, the rose-colored lenses disappeared. Suddenly, I was becoming aware that even those who I admired had their own rough patches they didn’t want the rest of the world to see.
I needed to coexist healthily with other women. In my self-loathing, I had been jealous of a lot of my peers and classmates who I thought had it all. In turn, I had closed the doors to many who could become my biggest allies in these troubling times. Accepting that my traits were unique and innately positive allowed me to explore friendships and acquire advice that would in turn help me heal my own wounds. Wanting to be them would not lead me to what I truly wantedー to be happy. Wanting to be me, however, would lead me to discover more of who I could be, all the while accepting that there is just not one perfect type of girl who gets the guy in the end.
Finally, I needed to step away from love. I realized soon that I truly didn’t want a relationshipー all I really wanted was just love. I was in love with love, and in turn, I would idealize anyone who came into my life in order to fulfill this desire. But that wasn’t enough. It still isn’t enough. A relationship is not a rom-comーit’s like a job. It requires time and practice and patience. Think about when you start a new job. You’re stumbling and anxious, but you still put in the work hours because you want to prove you’re worthy of it. That’s also how relationships work. The only difference is, you add someone else to the mix. A relationship is also like a team project. And if you don’t have the right partner, to begin with, it won’t work. But in order to do a project correctly, you need to know what you’re going to do first. And how could I start a project if I didn’t even know that myself? The answer was in my solitude.
I cannot be in a relationship right now. I have to put in the work on my skills: being patient, being kind and understanding, and being able to manage my own insecurities before I “apply” for this “job” or “start” this “project”. I can’t expect my partner to know it all and be perfect when I don’t even know what I want. I can’t start a relationship when I don’t even know the first thing that it entails. How can I expect them to know me and love me, when I don’t even know myself? These are the things that keep me away from pursuing anything now.
So I stepped away from desperately searching for love, and in turn, I found it. I have found love in myself, in my friends, in my family, and in the people that come and go in my life. I have found love in my mother opening up to me about her relationship; one that I no longer put on a pedestal. I have found it in my image, as I slowly discovered the beauty of coming out of my shell, of being unapologetically loud, dorky, and clumsy. I have found it in the healthy relationships I have fostered with people as I became more genuine; as I stopped trying to be an object of desire, and more a human being. Sure, I may not look like a typical movie portrayal of a woman, nor am I destined to have a love life like my parents, and that’s okay. I still carry some pain and fear in me, though, and sometimes it’s harder to bear than on other days… for all of these reasons, I can safely say that I’m just not ready for love…yet.