“Without you, I’m nothing”. These were the immortal words that fell from my father’s lips one day as he said goodbye to my mother after a relative had become ill over in England.
He stepped up to help and it meant being apart from my mother for the longest ever time in their marriage. At the time I probably screwed up my teenage face in disgust at this honest verbal expression of emotion. But only recently the scene has been replaying in my mind as if his words have suddenly gained a relevance that wasn’t there before.
Little did I know at the time, just how important and special it was for a young woman to hear such an unabashedly and fearless declaration of love from her father. As love goes, my parents raised the bar high to a point that maybe I thought I’d never be worthy.
What followed in the years to come in my life was an endless parade of emotional abuse suffered at the hands of men who had no idea how to love and damaged and destroyed people including those vulnerable around them. I was an easy target, the day dreamer and idealist who loved passionately. I would give my all to a relationship, getting lost in other people entirely, investing all my emotional energy into a bank that had a very low interest rate!
When the pandemic hit in 2020, it acted like a gap year in the University of Emotions. Single? Yeah well you better hang in there for a little while longer! It put an end to any physical possibility of meeting anyone and forced me to take stock of who I was and what I wanted.
My dad’s words and the way he looked at my mother that day came back to me in stunning clarity. I realised that there was absolutely nothing wrong with wanting love, with wanting to be so truly significant to someone else that they feel they can’t live without you. In short, I wanted to feel ‘whole’ and important with someone as if I was piece of a jigsaw that had been missing.
When we were inching out of lockdown in April 2021, I felt I was going back into the world with more respect and confidence in myself than ever before. I felt emotionally refreshed and strong, ready for anything and everything… but little did I know that this way of thinking was naïve.
I had somehow convinced myself that I was beyond hurt and disappointment, that the years of experience of bad relationships and abuse had weathered me into this strong Amazonian-like femme fatale that was beyond the clutches of heart break.
I started dating again in May and while I found the process of getting to know someone fun, it didn’t take long for the ghosts of my past to come back to haunt me. I would wake up in the middle of the night unable to get back to sleep with the cruel words of an ex-partner rumbling through my head like an articulated lorry. The idea of making myself vulnerable and open with a new partner was truly terrifying and I knew that it was time to go back to the drawing board.
In the last while, I have made a pledge to make myself ‘whole’. Maybe I’ll never feel complete with another person, and I won’t lie, that makes me feel sad. I suppose in many ways I was only looking for what my parents had but there comes a breaking point. Just how many times can I allow myself to lose my identity and let all my own needs go in exchange for ‘love’? How many times must I ignore my boundaries?
I took myself to the beach recently for a swim, stripped down to my bikini and walked my gorgeous if not slightly wobbly self to the water’s edge. As I waded in, I dedicated my swim to love and being whole as a single woman (I always dedicate my swim to something). I balanced the rising sun against the tips of my toes, gazed into the crystal-clear blue sky and declared myself beautiful. There are instances in life when the moment is so insanely and intensely perfect, that all our other life circumstances fade away into insignificance.
I am now on a mission to collect as many moments like that as possible, taking stock daily of the magnificent and ferociously fabulous person I am. It is time to stick two fingers up at the archaic notion that self-love is conceited and vain because self-love is integral to our survival. Without the love we cultivate towards ourselves how truly worthy will we ever feel in a relationship? It is time to reclaim the power that we have lost to others.
And remember, we are all still trying to navigate a pandemic. A lot of us are extremely out of practice with regards to communicating and socialising and, for many of us, our whole social landscape has changed dramatically. The way we interact with others has never felt more different or daunting. Therefore, we need to be kind and gentle not only with others but with ourselves.
While I may be choosing a single life for a while, it makes no difference to my memories of my parents’ love for each other. Forever in my mind will be my dad’s words ‘without you, I’m nothing’ and in a world that can seem so void of love sometimes, those words are the lifeboat that I cling to.
You are not lost; you are here, and I am so glad.