"My glance tore away from the theater screen emitting a Joaquin Phoenix performance (pre-Joker) and moved to my date’s phone screen, the wallpaper a photo of Zooey Deschanel with the phrase “FUCK SUMMER” blockading her eyes. My conscience let out a collective sigh that released the hope that maybe this one is different. Most of my high school and college dates were based on a guy distilling me into three components: music recommendations, the personification of a LetterBoxd movie opinion guide, and a shoddy bookshop date that cannot decide where to eat.
As a teenager, my life was situated in finding comfort and safety from the confines of family dilemmas and hospital rooms in the dog-eared pages of books. I yearned that love I found in public library novels and all the Lionel Richie ballads that my mom played as she cleaned the house. Despite feeling entirely alone during the pressure points of depression, I accepted that the only refuge I had were those fictional characters in novels, and casting myself as the name here in creative but plot-stunted Wattpad stories. Love itself was ‘other’ for me in the context of the real world, where I severely guarded myself against these prefixed projections.
Frankly, the first formulas of romantic love that I witnessed, maimed the optimism that lived only inside this fantasy of fictional characters and myself. My opinion of love resulted from cinematic parallels and heart-rending images, conjured up by a deep depression that led to alcoholism. I did not know then that I was witnessing love defined only by a dangerous codependency. Yet, I used this diluted sense of love to navigate those dates that I am now well aware were manic-pixieing me; using me as both a distraction and assurance of a better reality. These were reminders that sometimes I was right to think that there was not someone out there for me. Then again, I was a sophomore at UCSB where a majority of the 20-year-old dating pool is not looking for formidable love with a vulnerable shell. I did not know that back then the only partner I was yearning for was to wholeheartedly love myself. This journey to love oneself is a beautiful one and a tragedy all wrapped up like the semblance of a Babushka doll.
The pieces of love shown during my college life allowed me to breathe a new sense of thinking, whether that be my friend brewing me a cup of tea in her dorm room when my head felt like it was going to fall off, or my professor guiding me to on campus mental health facilities. My mom breaking off a rosemary plant for me to inhale and lay on her shoulder, allowing me to cry after I told her the pain I felt witnessing my best friend get incarcerated, to the unwavering guilt I felt having them acquire loans to get me to a good university. It was always me against me, this hypothetical fight that I thought I would soon forfeit.
It is rough to talk about something so entirely personal, but that is what writing is for me. This release of every emotion, coupled with the realization that your visions of yourself can evolve and foster more creativity and more dedication to love yourself and others, kindly and graciously.
I found nobility in loving myself, the way the sun falls on my face, the way I aspire to create these cinematic visions of not only progressing my own life, but bringing my friends into their own. Maybe it is a cliche to say that I began to find myself in college, but honestly, I did. Without learning to love with every possible narrative of myself, I would never have felt comfortable with the state of vulnerability in my friendships.
I no longer fret over the prescribed concept of the artsy girl that will teach me how to find myself. I am okay with being alone, for now, because I have found the greatest love I have ever known in my close friends, my family, and myself."