by Seren Riggs-Davis ’21
Today is December 1st, 2018, which means I’m six months single. On June 1st, I broke up with my boyfriend. It was a surprise for both of us. We saw our relationship as long-term, there were no noticeable problems between us, and we definitely enjoyed our time together, so a break up was the last thing on his mind or mine. Among many things, what changed and ultimately led to our parting of ways was that I realized I didn’t love myself, and I was using romantic relationships as a way to mask my own insecurity. I thought that the more people who loved me, the more valuable I was, and I used my romantic partners to affirm things I wanted to hear about myself but didn’t actually believe were true.
Obviously, this pattern was unhealthy—for me and for the people I dated. Truth be told, I’ve never dated someone for longer than four months, and it’s because every one of my relationships has gone the same way. There would be a first impression where I’d project a completely false version of myself in order to seem more interesting than I believed I was. Then, if we’d start dating, I’d continue the façade and take on the role of entertainer in the relationship, usually to avoid revealing my real self by projecting humor instead of being vulnerable. Over the next few months, I’d use the relationship to feel better about myself. When I made jokes, they’d say I was funny. When I wore makeup, they’d tell me I was pretty. When I listened to their problems and supported them, they’d say I was compassionate. When I talked about Wellesley and my academic interests, they’d tell me I was smart. This went on until I started to view their opinions of me as ordinary and empty, and I would come to the same realization each time: no matter what they thought of me, I still didn’t love myself, and whomever they were flattering for her humor, beauty, compassion, or intelligence was not me. She was someone else whom I’d crafted only to get praise in the first place.
Six months ago, I confronted that same glaring realization all over again, the iceberg I couldn’t ever seem to steer away from that was responsible for sinking every single one of my relationships. I was exhausted, broken-down, unhappy, and I hated myself, exactly like I had felt many times before. However, the difference in this breakup was that I knew my own self-loathing was causing my ultimate pain. It was just easier to see this time around because I had people around me who were more than willing to point it out—and I thank God for them.
Over the summer, I served on two different missions through Cru, a Christian college campus ministry. I spent my summer growing my relationship with God, sharing the gospel with anyone who was willing to hear it, serving the community of Dorchester, and working through many of my personal issues that I had brought along with me. On the first mission, one of my friends confronted me about my boyfriend and told me that I should break up with him. Initially, I was annoyed and offended, and I believed he was saying this because my boyfriend wasn’t a Christian. Now, looking back, I recognize there was more to it than that. I wanted to grow in my relationship with Christ, but I regularly traded my values as a Christian for my own pleasure in my relationship, and I often compromised my spiritual morals to accommodate my boyfriend’s wants. Additionally, the relationship was clouding my mind and prevented me from completely pursuing Christ and effectively serving my community, and it didn’t take a genius to know that I was terribly insecure.
When I finally realized this, I followed their advice and broke up with my boyfriend. The next thing I did was radical, speaking as someone who has been boy-crazy since birth and has had her wedding planned on Pinterest since her freshman year of high school. Following my breakup, the same friend challenged me to be single for a year in order to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ, but also to learn how to love myself and find contentment in my singleness. I don’t know if it was my exhaustion with him repeatedly encouraging me to do this, or if it was my exhaustion with all of my failed relationships that made me say yes, but on June 1st, I committed myself to being single for a year.
The past six months have been extremely trying, yet equally as rewarding. The time has involved a lot of retraining my brain to value my opinion of myself and God’s opinion of me over the judgements of others. I’ve learned that my identity isn’t in who I date, how well I play my instrument, what my GPA is, how well I write, how liked I am, or the job I get after graduation. My identity is in knowing that I’m loved by a God who says that I’m worthy and important, despite my flaws or accomplishments—and I never have to prove myself to anyone, including my family, my friends, or even God Himself. I don’t even need to prove to myself that I’m worthy. My self-worth is only reliant upon the truth that I exist and I matter. And I’m deserving of love from myself because if I don’t love myself unconditionally, who will?
At Wellesley, we preach a whole lot about self-love and self-care without always knowing what that means. Self-love is not conditional, and it’s not something we practice a few times a week when we feel like we need a break from all the stresses of school and our personal lives. Self-love is deciding to value yourself regardless of your mistakes, your achievements, your possessions, your performance, the way you look, or the opinions of others. It’s deciding to give yourself grace when you don’t feel like you deserve it, and it’s doing what you know is best for your personal growth despite the discomfort or pain it might take to get there. Self-love looks a little bit different for everyone, but we’re all capable of loving ourselves, no matter how unattainable that love may seem. It’s certainly worth the work and the wait.
Slowly, I’m learning to love myself. Six months ago, I thought I was ugly, unintelligent, selfish, and didn’t belong in Boston. I’m thankful to God that I now see all of those things for the lies that they are. Over the past seven days, every time I’ve looked at myself in the mirror, I’ve really thought I was beautiful. And when I missed several classes last week, I knew that it wasn’t a reflection of my work ethic or my capability as a student. I gave myself grace instead of criticism. When I wasn’t able to support a close friend the way I would have liked to, I believed that I was still a compassionate person and had confidence that I wasn’t selfish for taking care of myself. Last Thursday night was the first time I believed that my aspirations could become my reality. I realized that I’m capable of achieving the future I want and that God actually has something incredible in store for my life. This December 1st, for the first time in my life, I didn’t want a boyfriend.
It took half a year to convince myself, but I really do believe that singleness is a gift. I don’t have to fake it to myself, my family, or my friends. I believe that there is power in singleness, and that I’m able to love myself, God, and others better because of it. I believe that my singleness is not what makes me valuable, but it allowed me to realize that I am valuable. And singleness, or even being alone with myself, is no longer scary or unattractive to me because I love who I am. I know I still have six months left to go, but if six months becomes six years, or even sixteen years, I just might be okay with that.