Listen While Reading: Heartbeats by José González.
It was a Wednesday night, I think when I had a conversation with a friend of mine that really got me thinking. We were discussing the news, workout routines, when our next papers were due, and then we got on the topic of relationships – platonic and non-platonic alike. We talked about what we look for in people, what makes a great friend, the do’s and don’t’s of choosing flatmates. Everything.
In terms of romantic relationships, there are a million and one pieces of advice we could have given each other. All would have been correct. My piece of advice was this: if you ever want to give yourself over fully to someone, you have to be comfortable with yourself first. You have to be content with being alone – in finding comfort in the silence of your own mind.
“Learn to like being alone without feeling lonely.” I said, as I tapped my fingers on my desk. It’s a lesson that took me years to learn but, by God, I’m happy I did. I’m just sorry it took me as long as it did.
My friend turned to me after I had spoken and asked why I personally thought that was such an important lesson. To explain to him what made me so sure that it was crucial for self-development. I thought for a moment, really thought, and came up with an answer as honestly as I could.
As a child, I was bullied. Not as heavily as some but I had things said to me and done to me that stuck with me for years. It drove me insane. I believed my self-worth was dependent on others’ opinions of me, of the words they chose to say about me to their friends. It was, and never will be, a healthy mindset for any child, adult, or individual to have about themselves.
Growing up, I had harsh things said to me, about me, and in front of me constantly. People judged me on my height (I was tall for my age), my weight (I was a heavy child), my eating habits (I ate too many snacks apparently), everything. And so, when it came time for me to have more genuine relationships in high school and university, it terrified me. I always thought that they must have some sort of ulterior motive in wanting to be friends with me. I figured that any romantic gesture was done as a joke and that no one would be silly enough to like me in that way.
Recently, I’ve learned that this isn’t, in fact, the case.
So when my friend asked me why I thought that learning to enjoy your own company was important, I gave him the honest answer. I had perceived myself to be alone for so long, despite having a great group of friends, that I wound up hurting myself more than the harsh words said to me as a child ever did. I fell into a very dark place that took nearly a decade to get out of. Subsequently, I developed such a broken self-image that I never believed anyone would ever romantically care about me.
I told my friend this. So many people believe that their self-worth is only justified through dating or how many friends they have on Facebook. By being able to say ‘well this person likes me’. But we are all so much more than that. We are more than the relationships we have or the things people say about us.
Self-worth starts inside. At least at the beginning, it does. Once you realize how independent you can be, how much fun you can have alone in a museum or at home on a Friday night, the more you understand that it’s okay to not have a significant other. That what you label a relationship does not define your self-worth. It took me a very long time to understand that I was okay with being alone. Sure, I’d love to have someone but I’m not craving another’s company all the time to justify myself like I used to.
I spent so long always wanting to be around people just to prove I had friends in my life who put up with me that I didn’t realize the negative impact it had on my mental state. We all go through hard times and that’s okay, just don’t feel like you’re obliged to stay in it. Being alone sometimes can be a liberating experience. You can explore your own interests or find a new hobby. Leave your comfort zone for a little while and you’ll be amazed at what you can discover.
We’d learn so much about ourselves if only we gave ourselves even half the attention we give other people.
© 2017 Reef Magazine