For me, it all begins around my birthday. The anxiety that is.
When September 16 appears on the calendar and I realize I’ve gone yet another year without having a relationship—meaning I’ll (likely) be spending another birthday, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s all by my lonesome—I start to get panicky. It’s not that I don’t have wonderful friends and family to celebrate with (I do, very much so), it’s more that my birthday serves as a yearly reminder of the only piece to my life’s puzzle I feel like I’m still missing: someone to spend it with.
There isn’t someone to send me flowers (or, ahem, have birthday sex with), no one to argue with about where we’ll spend Thanksgiving, or introduce to my family. Some would say that being single and getting to dictate your holidays on your own terms is a blessing. But after four years of doing exactly that, I’d say I’m ready to start making those plans (even if it means arguing and compromising) and building a life with another person.
I’m single, sure. I have been, yes, for a very long time. I can’t remember the last time I was even close to falling in love with someone, and like anyone else who is on their own, I miss being held and adored. But instead of focusing on the long term (which as a Virgo, I have a tendency to do), I’ve decided to change my perspective.
In 2015, as my 27th birthday came and went, along with all of those holidays I dragged myself to spend sans someone, I decided that if I was going to have a happier 2016, it wouldn’t happen because I met someone wonderful, but because I made a choice to think differently about my relationships. And more importantly, about my approach to them and how I let them define – or not define – my self-worth.
How? I selected ‘Joy’ as my word of the year. It’s a little play on a resolution, instead of making a huge change, I pick a word that guides my choices, my thoughts and my intentions. By focusing on the small – but impactful – joys I experience daily, I free myself from worrying about nine months from now when I’ll turn 28, maybe all by my lonesome. Or if I’ll return home for the holidays and hang out with my parents for two weeks, without that amazing boyfriend. Or if I’ll go another New Year’s without sharing a kiss with anyone (apart from my dog).
By taking that pressure off of myself, I’ve found that – in only a week – I already feel lighter.
I already, somehow, have more hope in love than I had before. By realizing how much joy surrounds me, I’m able to also see that being single for four years doesn’t make me less loved or less worthy of finding a great love. Instead, it’s given me more time to realize that who I am, what I’m made of, and what I’m deserving of once I am actually in that relationship.
Because at the end of the day, all the dates, all the years being single, all the disappointments, and holidays spent alone – the real lesson isn’t in how to find love. Or how hard I’ve worked to meet the right person. Or how brave I’ve been not to settle for just anything while waiting for something incredibly special.
The lesson is learning how to find joy. Because while a happy, healthy relationship will definitely be joyful, it won’t be everything. And some days, I’ll have to look for the joy again when it’s lost over years of being together, over children, over the trials that marriage and aging challenge us with.
But for now, seeing and relishing the joy of some good old conversations with friends is comforting. The joy of finally nailing a yoga headstand is empowering. The joy of seeing the stars in the sky, even while living among all the bright lights of New York, is inspiring. And realizing that, after all of this time wondering when I’d finally find love, maybe finding the joy in life was what I needed all along.