I needed someone to fight for me.
I admit I wanted that dramatic movie ending.
I wanted to be swept away. I thought I was supposed to be a prize—someone to be taken “off-the-market.”
I’ve watched enough love stories. When someone chases you, it shows you are worth something.
So when you walked out the door, I believed the lie I told myself a hundred times before.
I wasn’t enough. I wasn’t pretty enough, skinny enough, and interesting enough. I was too much of this, and not enough of that.
In our relationship, I allowed myself to shrink—I became less of myself. But this was my choice, not yours.
I thought if I tried hard enough, if I shifted and squeezed myself enough, the love I wanted would become real. I’d painfully learned I had exited in previous relationships without speaking my desires. I didn’t want to find myself in that story again.
I was scared of being rejected. I was scared of being alone after you left the room. I was scared that no one else would find me lovable.
I was scared to sit in silence with myself.
I had already steeped in questioning and contemplated the inevitable end. My sudden insomnia streak was tattling some inner truths. When you gave up, I felt the rejection I experienced in the past dredging up.
Memories of old hurts, of deeply-held insecurities, and self-judgment swirled around my head.
Memories of other boys who didn’t fight for me and of hurtful words erupted. Memories of inadequate feelings pulsed through me.
I remembered my dissolved marriage. Every failure and misstep flooded my consciousness.
For some time, it was a painful space. I was empty. This vast openness wanted to swallow me. I’ll never forget how loud the silence was.
Housing a million what-if questions, I whirled and steeped. Heaviness, tears, and intermittent numbness ran through me. The feeling of being out of my body, almost floating, was poetic and terrible.
But this torn-opened wound was an opportunity. I could put a plastic bandage over it and let the scab form again. I could look deep into it and find the truth this pain was revealing to me. I could then begin the healing process.
Sure, I could numb. Surrounding myself with distractions would let me avoid the ugly confrontation. Filling every night with friends who could soothe me was a few thumb-clicks away.
What was the point of such avoidance? This would get me around, but this would not get me through.
No, I did not want this to be my story anymore.
There was a narrative I absorbed long ago—one that told me that to be valuable, someone else had to choose me.
Pick me. Pick me because it would prove that I am a lovable, valuable, and special person.
I let the chase dictate how desirable I was. I was waiting for the what was meant to be to happen.
Good things come to those who wait. A good man would find me someday.
I waited patiently to be chosen. Sometimes I hoped for a guy to make the move. I held my feelings until he said “I love you” first by fear of showing how vulnerable I was.
“Coach put me in,” I silently pleaded. I waited to be discovered, to be told I was good.
I sat back. Where was my big break? Where was my Prince Charming?
This excruciating self-examination begged me to think. I asked myself, “Why did I need someone else to fight for me to believe I was worthy?”
This love yourself business is hard. We’re trained to focus on others, meet their needs, and let our own wants be a hasty afterthought.
We have a front row seat for all our shortcomings and compare what we deem as better. We see what can sometimes be an ugly inner dialogue.
When we witness our imperfections, it is hard to forgive and love ourselves.
Here’s what I eventually found: If you want to love someone well, you have to fight for yourself first.
You have to fight to put your wants at the top of your priorities.
You fight to not always serve yourself the smallest piece of cake (absent of the extra frosting).
You fight to forgive yourself for messing up (even when it’s not the first time). You fight to speak your desires out loud.
You fight to stand steady in a world that tells you what everything is supposed to look like.
You fight for the courage to wear yellow highlighter when the crowd chooses black, after trying to “fit in.”
You fight to rise above the “shoulds” that make you question your decisions and your sanity.
This ability to self-love is a gift for the partner you choose. When they can’t fulfill your needs, you remove the weight of crushing expectations. You avoid damaging insecurities.
When you don’t need them to be something they are not and can love them as they show up, you set them free. They can now go build magic and genius in the world, knowing you securely stand beside them.
You set the example for how to be treated and how to love you well. You show your acceptance of humanity and all its gorgeous flaws, and you allow them to be themselves.
I wanted my self-love, my security, my foundation to be the greatest gift I could give to another.
It meant I had to put on the shiny boxing gloves and step into the ring.
I began by staring at myself into the mirror until I could find something I loved (or at least something I didn’t cringe at). I drowned myself in a puddle of “me-ness.” It felt weird and silly.
I stared at a vintage photo of baby Jean until I could separate her from me. I loved her innocence, her learnings, and her mistakes with compassion. I worked to transition that kindness to how I view and look at myself today.
I asked myself, “What do you want to do?”
I prioritized self-care. I challenged myself physically. I fed my mind with inspiration until it poured onto my soul. I read. I wrote. I accepted praise.
I indulged in every crumb of that red velvet cupcake—Damn, that was so good.
I danced to Taylor and Drake until I collapsed into an exhausted, heaving pile on my kitchen floor.
I ate alone at restaurants. I let Friday night be my self-reflection time. I slept in the middle of the bed in a giant X and shamelessly got lost in Kardashian marathons.
And then slowly, the insomniac nights started to be less frequent. The swirling self-criticisms and feelings of inadequacy battled down. I took a giant step forward (and only a small shuffle backward) in loving who I had become.
Through this active (and sometimes agonizing) work, I started to believe in myself.
I realized I quite liked the company of myself. This once-avoided space became a luxury. My inner desires and answers began to become more vocal as I tuned in.
I could find a voice without trying to convince others because I was believing it myself. A powerful softness I never knew in me emerged.
I can tell that this work is constant.
It’s wrong to slip back and to wait for someone to prove something to you. It’s wrong to check your notifications and likes for the eleventh time in an hour. It’s wrong to let every social media-declared love story swirling around you.
It’s easy to stay attached the one that got away and let the outcome determine your worth.
But each day is a little less difficult. The grooves get deeper to find the way back to me.
The memory of this old wound has a less visible scar. The pain and the work I did to heal were the necessary components to finding my next great love. I soon realized that, after all, I could find contentment when I was working hard on how to sit with myself.
This journey started so I could become a better partner for someone else. But in the end, I found what I needed to become a better me. And it was just me.
Author: Jean Powell
Image: Love Actually (2003)
Editor: Angel Lebailly
Copy Editor: Sara Kärpänen