Through all of my romantic experiences, both the painful ones and those that were filled with joy, I have learned this: One of the most important elements of lifelong stability is how you vouch for yourself.
At the beginning of 2013, the pretty brutal relationship I was in abruptly ended. It was excruciating to finalize the end because I couldn’t fathom a future without this person — so, I felt compelled to drag it on. They were overly critical, obsessed with punishing me in ways that involved humiliation. (I sometimes enjoyed this and, other times, utterly resented it.) And it was the third time in my life I had fallen for somebody who was incapable of loving me back: a boring, cumbersome trend. Soaking in their bad behavior, I inferred that real love was accepting everything of the person you love and anthologizing everything about them by making them superhuman in your eyes. I didn’t fathom that as I was doing this, they were nitpicking everything about me. Naively, I had simply thought everything about me would be similarly loved and accepted by them.
Just as many have experienced before me, and many will again, I remained in love even after it ended. Struggling with what it meant and how it felt, I was incapable of describing these anxieties to anyone other than my good friends. Most of them became a conduit of healing. One of my best friends, Sophie, became a reliable creature of survival and release. We were two people surviving the same disease: heartache.
She and a few others (Zoe, George, Zeba, Didi, and Sylvana: hello, loves) became people I turned to remind myself of who I was before all this. They allowed me to refresh, start again, and push towards a brighter future. Without them, I would not have remembered that I had definition, relevancy, and validity outside of the restraints of this sometimes harrowing partnership. These friends saved me: When I was in their orbit, they inspired me to branch out, to refer to other methods of fulfillment.
We were two people surviving the same disease: heartache.
2014 was the year I learned how to cook. I had always liked cooking but had never learned properly. My parents were exceptional, and I had never considered myself with any impressive culinary skills. I liked food, of course, I loved texture and the way a chocolate truffle could melt to the heat of your tongue, or the taste of saffron blended through ghee and jasmine rice, or the way an iced latte in the early days of spring could ignite your embittered soul. I loved the experience of eating, and how it had the ability to inexplicably lift a mood. After all, I was raised in Australia, where food was courageous as well as reliably delicious. Where flat whites were birthed, and fresh oysters with a squeeze of lemon could fix any ache.
It was not until I was at Jean-Talon, a food market in Montréal, that I decided, alongside the rows of fresh berries and ripe avocados, that I considered arresting my woes permanently with food. So, I started cooking brunches for friends. My roommate George and I would cut fresh grapefruit, bake mushroom frittatas, and serve it with fresh celery root and a brussel sprout salad. We would drink cold brews with a healthy gulp of Disaronno and sit in our tiny kitchen and eat. It became a way for me to self-actualize, to remind myself that there was purpose even in small things, like cooking yourself a meal. That surviving didn’t have to look glorious, or mighty, that survival could be small and enjoyable, too.
My whole life, I thought that I would be lovable once I was perfect.
In this time, I realized that choosing oneself — no matter what your romantic status may be — is integral to that survival. Not only did I like to cook, but my friends, and the efforts I put in for my friends, were a way to circumvent any loneliness I felt. Sometimes, it really helped.
When it didn’t, I wrote letters to friends, to myself. I started going to the movies alone, I started going to cafés with books to read, ordering allongés, and sitting on patios as I smoked a clove or fresh tobacco. I went for walks to buy flowers for leisure. I watched all the TV I’d missed out in years, and binge-watched Living Single and True Detective. I went for runs and reacquainted myself to old and new music as a jogged through fields, blasting Beach House. I decided I wanted to buy vinyl, so I bought old Billie Holiday records and sat at the foot of my speakers with a short, solitary joint, feeling myself in my own skin, embracing it, embracing myself.
When I felt alone, again, sometimes waking up in the wee hours of the morning, flooded with tears and the anguish of betrayal, I’d sit on my bed and write down all the things I was grateful for. The list was endless. Then, I would hug the plump sides of my body and whisper, “I love you, Fariha.” It was like I was the lover I’d been looking for my whole life.
What I was essentially doing was reframing the idea of loneliness, and what it meant to be by oneself. I hated that alone time was always spoken of in a pejorative manner — and the irony is that the more I did it, I loved it. I was recentering myself. I realized that choosing yourself, whether single, looking, uninterested, or committed meant deciding on yourself in a profound and specific way.
I would hug the plump sides of my body and whisper, I love you, Fariha. I was the lover I’d been looking for my whole life.
Recently, I wrote Sophie an email in which I declared that my whole life, I thought that I would be lovable once I was perfect. When I was the size I wanted to be, when my skin was clear and glowing, when I wouldn’t tell small white lies or exaggerated stories. When I was a better writer, or a kinder more generous friend who never got jealous, or felt selfish, or when I was prettier, or a better cook. Someone who was proficient in all my skills and radiant and graceful as well as sexy as hell. This is when I thought I’d be deserving of the love that was whole or fulfilling.
I’d never considered that real love could be unconditional, that I didn’t need to prove how good I was to anybody — to be loved. I could be the flawed person that I was — that I am — and still say, "I’m trying," and that could be enough. When I started to realize I could be loved just as I was, I started embracing myself in ways I never had before. The negative rhetoric started calming, and my patience and kindness started getting clearer for others. I started to see that compassion for myself was actually compassion for the whole world, that they were holistic. Ying and yang.
In those four years that I was single after that sad, terrible relationship, I no longer needed anyone because I realized I had myself the whole time. I consider myself lucky to have sat with myself for so long and figured out that I wasn’t the enemy, or that despite all the things "wrong" with me, there was still nothing truly wrong with me. We are own worst judges, and most of us need to be reminded that it’s okay to fall down, to be messy and loud, to be embarrassing and crass and undignified and ugly, and that to love yourself in those moments is actually the purest kind of love you could ever receive from anyone.
We are all a myriad of good and bad things, but this doesn’t make us unlovable. We are flawed, complex, multidimensional beings, capable not only of being loved by others, but of invariably loving and choosing ourselves.
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