Last night when I came home from my (sort of) Valentine's day celebration with my boyfriend and two friends, I found myself bombarded with facebook notifications and messages about "how perfect" we are, how cute our relationship is, and even messages saying "all I want is a relationship like yours."
These messages are very flattering. In high school, girls said these sorts of things to me often. I was in a very successful long distance relationship with the high school sweetheart I would be attending college with, and it didn't hurt that in our circle Nate was sort of a celebrity to younger kids. I got messages from girls I've never met saying "I just want to be like you" sometimes multiple times a month.
I'm not writing this post to brag. I'm also not trying to suggest that my relationship isn't wonderful. It is. It is absolutely full of love, respect, romance, and gratitude for each other. I'm also not writing this to suggest that my life is a terrible struggle. I've very fortunate and I'm very grateful for the people, things, and privileges I have in my life.
But as I once experienced, when you're single or in a bad relationship, sometimes it's easy to think that a good relationship can fix all your problems. I'm here to tell you it can't. Being loved by someone else only works if you love yourself, and that is quite the challenge.
Without going into a long spiel, one of my biggest personal problems is and has for quite some time been my "relationship with food." From binge eating, to starvation, to purge eating (bulimia), I've run all the bases on the field of having an unhealthy relationship to food and your body, and while I'm in a better place now than I have been in the past, these issues still haunt me daily.
The reason this is relevant (It is -- I promise!) is because when I got into a great relationship with a boy I really love, sometimes I couldn't understand why being loved didn't cure my personal issues and my issues with myself. Younger girls literally were saying that their goals were to be like me and have a relationship like mine... doesn't that mean I'm supposed to be happy, and wonderful, and perfect? Isn't being not only someone's girlfriend, but other people's role model and idol (I feel so awkward saying those things, but this is actually what girls were saying to me) supposed to mean my depression, and social anxiety, and disordered eating will go away?
Wrong, Kristen. Very wrong.
This Valentine's day is illustrative of the most important thing I've learned over the past few years: being loved by others doesn't make you love yourself. Nate did something very sweet and incredible for me, but sweet and incredible sometimes isn't what makes you happy. The material and the internal aren't always at peace, and what you see on social media is not necessarily what you are feeling inside. I am grateful for Nate and for what he did for me, and for my relationship in its totality, but I am still working on myself. I hope this serves as a reminder (to myself and others), that what you feel like on the inside is more important than what you make your life look like on the outside, and that you should never be jealous of someone who has "more" than you, because you never know what they're experiencing.
And thus I bring to you: my Valentine's day the way you thought it happened, and the way I felt it happening
On facebook: my bangs were looking pretty good and I was wearing a nice sweater. Lina was looking fantastic in a long black dress with her hair curled
In my reality: I spent over two hours crying alone in my room trying on clothing. I tried on every single dress I own and probably over twenty-five outfits, trying to find the one I thought Nate would like that I didn't look too fat in. I put on six different tops to try and wear with a necklace Nate bought me for my birthday that I've been dying to find an occasion to wear, but ended up taking everything off and throwing (yes, literally throwing because I'm a child) the necklace at the ground because I couldn't stand how fat I felt in everything. I finally gave up and cried on the floor, wondering why I was too fat to look good in any clothing, Ultimately, I put on black leggings and a sweater that is loose around my stomach, rushed to get my makeup and hair done because I had spent too long crying, and left. When Lina showed up in a black dress, not only was I mortified that I was in leggings (not even clean leggings...), but I felt underdressed, generally ugly, and upset that I hadn't worn a dress because I was worried about my stomach. In short: I made a fool out of myself by letting my distorted self image ruin my evening.
On facebook: Nate and Alan spent hours cooking (and weeks planning) a beautiful dinner of vegetables, soup, cous cous, mashed potatos, and steak, with chocolate dipped pretzels for dessert. They slaved in the kitchen and surprised Lina and I with a wonderful late dinner. Nate knows I'm conscious about calories so he even went out of his way to make a form of hot and sour soup he thought I could eat.
In my reality: Nate wouldn't tell me where we were eating, I couldn't log calories in myfitnesspal, and as a result, hadn't eaten since 11:30 that morning. I did an hour of cardio so that I could eat, but it left me tired, drained, and starving all afternoon. I was insecure about being hungry and not eating, and panicked, hoping that not eating wouldn't spiral intro food restriction. We ate dinner at 8:45. I was starving all day. In trying to keep the surprise dinner a secret, Nate told me ten minutes before we left where we were going to get dinner, I looked up the menu on my phone quickly, and decided I could have a cup of black bean soup. When I got to our actual dinner there were potatoes and steak (two foods I don't like and don't eat on principle), plates of cous cous (grains... calories... ah), and a bowl of soup with tons of chicken in it. I went and sat on the floor of the communal bathroom for 15 minutes and hyperventilated before being able to compose myself in public. I ate the soup and some vegetables. I hated myself the entire time.
On facebook: Nate and Alan put together the perfect romantic evening with dinner, flowers, cute candles, and lots of love.
In my reality: I was too busy practicing deep breathing exercises and trying to not cry to appreciate what was going on and spent the whole night feeling guilty over not being able to show Nate how grateful I am for his effort because I was too worried about not knowing how many calories were in the approximately 14oz of soup I ate. I came back to my room and sobbed for the third time in a six hour period because not only can I not look in a mirror without hating myself, I make life more difficult for everyone around me because I can't overcome my eating issues. Just like on my birthday, my anniversary, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every celebration that has involved food in the last four years, I let my problems with myself ruin something wonderful without being able to explain to anyone why I was such an awful, emotional mess.
On facebook: Life is easy for everyone
In reality: We're all struggling.
So, girls and boys, whether this valentine's day you were upset because you felt like no one loved you, or whether you were showered in affection from a significant other, today is a new day, and even if it's not a national holiday, take today to celebrate and love yourself. Get off facebook and stop comparing yourself to other people. Stop worrying about the flowers you didn't get and the lover you don't have. Nobody's relationship is perfect, no one's life is always easy, and no amount of facebook photos of you on a cute date will make you like yourself more at night.
Self love is a practice and an exercise, but it's also a challenge. Remind yourself that you are worthy, beautiful, strong, and interesting, not because you want others to know those things, but because you should know them yourself. Valentine's day is about love of others, and being loved by others is great... but the other 364 days of the year belong to loving yourself. Use them well.
All my ruv,