I learned how to receive love in 2017. I had no idea I was missing out, until a conversation one evening with my then-boyfriend unexpectedly broke me open, in the best way possible. For the first time, I started receiving love, especially the love my family had been giving me this whole time. A natural (and safe) place to start.
For most of my life, I have associated partnership with control, sacrifice, and more work for women. All give, no get. Ever since I was in junior high (and especially high school) I suspected this near-fanatical pressure to get married and have kids was a conspiracy to control women (it would be another decade before I came across the word “patriarchy,” but I digress). So you can imagine my excitement at the prospect of dating.
In my twenties, partnership was another box to tick off: to much of society, a successful woman without a partner would always have something “missing” and be “less than” (back to the word “patriarchy”). I thought that if I threw an intense period of time at dating, this “problem” of finding a mate would be “solved.” Clearly that approach wasn’t healthy or effective for anyone involved. Notice how none of this has anything to do with love.
As you can see, with respect to my lifespan, learning how to love is a fairly recent phenomenon. It’s a new skill that I’m patiently practicing and expanding into. They say that being in a relationship helps you grow as a person. In learning how to receive love, I finally understood what that meant.
I'm learning that love is a verb, a two-way radio. Part #1 is now activated: the ability to receive. Fast-forward to today, l think I'm finally ready for Part #2, to give. In grammatical terms, love is a transitive verb: like a circuit or a magnet, love needs an object of that love (even if it’s yourself) for it to be operational.
For the past three years, I've felt like Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. My "Wilson" has been a stack of single-serving tupperware, which I would tote around the city and my studio and eat by myself. At first, it was liberating. The absence of small talk made space for much-needed solitude. A deep detox from unhealthy patterns in both my personal and professional lives. And each step forward came with its shadow: an intense fear of "losing myself" again – to the wrong job, to the wrong relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about alone time. Among the new friends I’ve made on this journey are Loneliness and Solitude. I thank them for their teaching and healing along the way. Yet as I enter the next year of this journey, I'm craving a healthy amount of connection. Healthy interdependence. I'm in a liminal space between three (four!) industries (tech, art/writing, personal growth) and two cities. I'm re-setting peer groups, professional connections, friend groups, my dating pool, and more. I feel the loneliness the most when I'm eating meals. Which seems natural, since eating – from meal prep, to dining, to cleanup – is a communal activity.
I'm at home in Chicago for the holidays. It's so interesting to observe my parents' marriage at close range, aspects of which just a few years ago I was terrified to repeat. At 31, I can now appreciate their relationship in a very different light.
I'm also more appreciative of the Filipino community centered around our neighborhood parish. Not two days go by that one empty-nester or another in the community drops off a delicious dish to our house, unsolicited, or vice versa. I imagine this is a common practice in other communities as well – to regularly make extra servings of a meal and bring the food over to a neighbor or two. This sense of community is described in this 2012 NYTimes article on Ikaria, an island in Greece where people have some of the longest lifespans in the world.
All a far cry from my system of frozen meals for one from Trader Joe's. When I'm thinking about where to settle (SF? NYC? Chicago?), participating in this type of long-term community, spanning decades, is something I keep in mind.
A seasoned executive coach suggested this deceptively simple exercise: create a vision board. The catch? No Pinterest: offline, old school. Over the past few weeks, I've been ambiently printing out images, cutting them out, and gluing them onto a large sheet of paper.
Faced with the vastness of the original exercise, I gave myself a more specific prompt to start: to visualize my ideal day. As I cut and pasted my way through my day, a specific scene snapped into focus: At the end of the day, I’d like to come home to my partner and have a good conversation as we prepare dinner together. That feeling of being seen and understood, combined with a comfortable and playful camaraderie. A photo of a couple in a kitchen enjoying one another's company but not having sex took some time to find. Through the act of translating a feeling into an image, a new theme emerged: building a home together, a shared life. A convergence of familial love, friendship, and romantic love that I long for but hadn't previously articulated.
This leads us to our next theme: longing. One of the drawings I'm working on: an image of a woman's torso, with a winding road leading to an opening not to her womb but to her abdomen. Somehow that illustrates longing for me. Longing reminds me of the strength of a magnet, attracting another to its very core.
I've run out of excuses not to date and I’ve hit a point of diminishing returns on books and inner work. One thing I refuse to do this time around is to navigate this process alone. In days of yore, an entire village would help you find a mate (at the expense of control over the selection, which is the secretary problem). I'm assembling a cross-functional team to help support me in this. I recently started seeing a therapist again, which has been tremendously helpful as I navigate this next chapter in my personal and professional life. Through our work together, I'm seeing that connection isn't a sign of weakness, but a human need.
My word for 2019, in my personal and professional life, is the word "with." To walk with more coaching clients; to go on dates with more people, backed with my tribe; to share my work with more folks around the world, to slow down and work with more collaborators on my creative projects; to see how I can be of service again to the tech world.
Growing up, my father would say to me as a joke, "You're like a porcupine. Porcupines need to huddle together for warmth, but if they get too close they'll poke each other." Someone recently came into my life whom I usually wouldn't have considered. My first instinct was to push him away. Now I'm thinking of giving it a chance. I guess that's a good place to start :)