Here I sit with a familiar case of the Winter blues. And somehow, even my Discover Weekly on Spotify knows it. Wilco to Duke Ellington to a song I haven’t heard before by Aisha Badru who croons “Have you seen the girl with the mind on fire?” — indeed I have, Aisha — in the mirror.
I tossed and turned until 4am thinking about first love, probably thanks to quietly sobbing through the devastatingly beautiful film Call Me By Your Name and a brief, splendid make-out sesh with a 23 year old boy (6 years my younger) who either lost my number in his screen-cracked iPhone 4 or has, sigh, ghosted me. The overarching sensation I woke up with was, well, confusion.
For most of my life, I had basically been a bleeding heart; always on the hunt for a boyfriend, always feeling heartache, always seeing the best in boys even when they left me feeling unfulfilled, frustrated, or rejected. For someone who considers herself a friggin’ catch — smart, ambitious, capable, cool AF, pretty, funny, thoughtful, and bullshit-averse — it’s taken a while to apply this confidence to my love life… until 2017, the year I hated men.
Fresh out of a 4-year relationship (that was probably 2 years too long), I started 2017 as that carefree, take-it-or-leave-it single gal. I moved into my own place with my (formerly our) two cats, Betty and Veronica. I excelled in my career, picked up a fantastic yoga habit, actually enjoyed going out, and had some much-needed sexy trysts that generally ended on my terms because the guys unimpressed me, bored me, mansplained to me, or held me to a double standard. For the first time in my life, I was a Samantha. I finally stopped seeing men through rose-colored glasses; I saw myself more clearly than ever.
Simultaneously, we entered a year where women banded the fuck together. It’s like our periods synced up at the Women’s March and we collectively decided to focus on supporting, cherishing, admiring, and making room for each other. I felt it in my personal and professional life, connecting with badass, hilarious, self-assured female friends and colleagues who led by example.
All of these shifts brought out many of my previously amorphous feelings about expectations of how women should think and behave. It made me question things I was formerly hung up on — keep your hair long because guys like it that way, never cry at work, hanging with Mr. Right Now is better than being alone, don’t mix business and friendship, he’s kind of an asshole but keep pining over that sweet thing he said. All of that just slipped away. I shed a filter that I hadn’t realized was there, which left me more disillusioned than ever about men and the prospect of finding love.
Needless to say, I thought I’d be wrapping up the year with next-level cynicism about dating. But then I got a little hit of those teenage first love feels during a very Dashboard Confessional night with the 23 year old. We shook hands when we met and didn’t really let go for the first few minutes of talking, staring into each other’s eyes as the rest of the party melted away. We played a drinking game and kept finding ways to touch each other. We made out for hours in a hammock and walked through twinkle-lit pathways.
Naturally, I replayed the night in my mind, mixed with flashes of movies and my own experience with first love during an idyllic Massachusetts summer. Back then, we were 16, and we got together so purely, openly, and intimately with no airs, no baggage, no social pressures, and no social media. Our feelings were enough, hormones raged, and nothing beat time spent together. We talked on the phone for hours and hours about the goings on of our families, our hopes and dreams, our feelings for each other, the inside jokes with our friends — we knew every single bit of each other’s short lives up to that point. We had the space in our brains to spend most of our free time reimagining the electrified moments together and anticipating the next ones. We fought maybe two times, one being the time I got mad because I wasn’t at the top of his AIM buddy list. Crushing. I could be unfiltered, even over the top, with my feelings and he could see that I just needed reassurance and compassion, which he willingly gave without being defensive or exasperated. He and I could totally be ourselves because we hadn’t yet learned not to be.
I feel like the universe has winked at me.
It says: We know you hate men right now, Britt. We know you’re disappointed the 23 year-old is somewhere in LA not texting you, and it stings to think about your first love now married to his second love. You’re frustrated about being in the wrong relationship for so long. You want to scream when you see and hear men being terrible. You don’t get why every guy you’ve met so far falls somewhere on the spectrum of sucking, yet everyone around you is engaged or married. Despite it all, you’re finally ready to let hope back in because you remember now what it’s supposed to feel like and, best of all, you like being you.
Youth allowed me to be vulnerable, carefree, and unencumbered by circumstances when I met my first love. It was a time well before I began “finding myself” because when you’re 16, you’re kind of the most yourself without really trying (not to mention having a fantastic metabolism). When you’re young and you find someone that thinks you’re adorable, hilarious, and wants to touch you all the time and vice versa, you’re pretty much all set.
Nowadays, there’s so much more to it. You have responsibilities, insecurities, fears, distractions what with work, friends, TV, weed. You know what happens when those gooey feelings wear off or you get that itch to find someone better or you’re rejected or you feel stuck or the sex is bad. You break a few hearts too and realize the other side isn’t so fun either. And then you’re single at an age you didn’t think you’d still be single and that freaks your mom out. But then something beautiful happens.
You start to realize you’re more of a catch than you ever were, you look your best, you’re crystal clear about what you’re looking for and what you have to offer. Unlike your teenage self, you’re more capable of overcoming heartache because you’ve already gotten the big heartbreak out of the way, so you’re cool with being vulnerable. You’re too comfortable with yourself and the life you’ve created to be derailed by a case of the blues, and you have the camaraderie of the women in your life and the ones you admire from afar to get you through.
Without the clarity that age and experience has given me, without the reminder that having an open heart is the most thrilling way to fall in love, and without observing the strength and magic of womenfolk, I may have run the risk of losing all hope. Or worse, ending up with the wrong guy. As a new year begins, I’m toasting you all with a wonderful love potion in my rocks glass composed of self-confidence, starry-eyed optimism, and a dash of lime. The best part? There’s a bottomless supply and I’m more than happy to share. Bottoms up!