On my last trip to Walgreens, I greeted the staff as usual. I had my headphones on, blasting Michael Kiwanuka’s “Cold Little Heart” as usual. I grabbed the same items: a pack of paper towels, antibacterial dish soap, and a pack of Haribo’s sour gummy worms — as usual. But something about the store was different. The candy aisle was dressed in pinks and whites and reds. The words, “love” and “Valentine’s Day” and figures of Cupid and his stupid little bow were everywhere.
It reminded me of the last time I gifted the word love to another; my heart was a little less cold then. It was winter and somehow, we’d found each other on a December night. For Valentine’s Day, he gifted me a bouquet and a journal. I gifted him a list of things I am not sure he kept. I often felt like an over-giver in our relationship. I often felt like too much.
Back at Walgreen’s, I glance at the “love” aisle and chuckle. Even though the holiday doesn’t advertise it, being single doesn’t have to suck.
Being single can mean that I look in the mirror and name the one looking back at me a miracle. That I put on my favorite lingerie and not flinch at the catheter that peeks through. That I listen to Al Green and Donna Summer and dance naked before the ocean. Being single allows me to be in love with my whole self — my failures and struggles, too.
I struggle with insecurity and believing in my worth. I have cried and been stuck for so long thinking I was not enough. I thought my worth was defined by my last relationship. But here I am. We are. There is truly no one like us—like you. Hold those words when the doubt arrives, when the heartbreak sings, when the news weighs heavy. You are enough and I love you for trying. I love you for being. I love you because it’s a job to be human and we are doing it so damn beautifully.
This is what I have learned: to invite all your feelings to the table. Invite the jealousy, the anxiety, the sadness, the stuck, the joy; and let them speak. I am not the worst things I have said about myself. Neither are you.
This is what I have decided: to return home to myself—to baby Tonya, the little girl whose laughter was an anti-depressant, who asked questions and did not care if she was judged for it, who was wild and lived in her smile, in her un-apology. I want to live in my un-apology. I want to trace my stretch marks and kiss my scars and be too weird and bathe in my sexy. I want to let go.
Friends, you deserve to let go. Let go of the worst things you’ve said about yourself. Let go of the one(s) who did not stay. Put on whatever makes you radiate. Write the story where you are the magic, the mundane, the movie, the magnificent.
This is how I will fall in love with myself: I will not be afraid to be ugly, to pop the pimple, to cry with all the snot. I will not be afraid to be embraced, even if I forgot to put on deodorant—or to be kissed with morning breath. I will not be afraid to embarrass myself, to drunk text the crush a photo of my elbow, to fart in a crowded elevator, to twerk like Tina Belcher, to say “you too” when the waiter tells me to enjoy my meal.
I will not be afraid to fail—the exam, the diet, the relationship, or the day—because I know even when the day is a triumphant mess, a beautiful letdown, it is a reason to be human and alive.
Some days are easier than others. Some days I miss him and the way his smile stretched across his face or the breakfast potatoes he would make for me. I miss having someone to text and people watch with. But I have learned to walk away from a love that does not love. And in my loneliness I have been nourished by a love that is always present, that will always stay. I no longer beg for anyone to love me. A tree does not beg and still offers the sweetest fruit to those willing to reach for it.
This Valentine’s Day, I am learning to reach for my own love.