Words by Dhriti GuptaW
hen I was younger, I’d urgently scribble in my diary about how this would be the year. The year that someone would have a crush on me, that someone would finally press their lips to mine, that someone would call me their girlfriend.
As each year passed with written goals left unfulfilled, the more frustrated I’d get. The pages of my journal continued to fill up with gems like “WHEN WILL I HAVE MY FIRST KISS?? I’M 17 DAMN IT!!!” I’m able to joke about it now, but for so many years, I felt abnormal and unlovable. One by one, I watched all of my friends find their ways into relationships, both irl and via dating apps. I happily listened to them gush about their firsts, but secretly pondered what was wrong with me that I didn’t have mine. I cried at teen romance movies, not only because I’m a water sign, but also because I felt like that would never be my experience.
Now I’m 20, and my circumstances have remained relatively the same. I still haven’t had my first kiss. I’ve never had sex. I’ve never been in a relationship. I’ve never even held hands with someone romantically.
But everything about how I process those truths has changed. This past year has forced people to become friendly with the experience of being alone, and while isolation is difficult, it also makes space for us to return to ourselves. I’ve stopped trying to control when my life will happen to me and instead try to focus on what it’s given me.
My outlook changed last semester, on a late-night FaceTime with my best friend, Zanele, as she was helping me brainstorm ideas for a personal essay assignment. “You should write about your relationship to love,” she said, her eyes wide. “What about it?” I snorted. “There’s nothing to say—I haven’t had a single successful relationship in my entire life.”
“Umm, okay, and?” she rebutted. “There were so many times you could have, but you didn’t because you know what you want.”
Zanele was right. Not to say I’m a hot commodity, but it wasn’t like there weren’t opportunities or moments that I could’ve had these experiences; times where I’ve met someone but not quite the one. Sure, I’ve spent most of my life engaging in unrequited yearning, but there have also been situationships and unspoken connections along the way.
If I wanted to have sex for the first time, or kiss someone without caring who it was, it’d only take a few swipes on Tinder. But that’s not enough for me, personally. While I’m still not 100 per cent certain on what I want, all I know is that it needs to feel natural, comforting and special. When I tell people about my “lack” of experience, the first response is always pity. It’s often disguised behind head pats and reassurance that “it’ll happen when it’s time,” but it’s clear for me to see. It’s ironic to me then, when the same people come to me for relationship advice, or to complain about their romantic troubles. What could I possibly know about love if I didn’t have a terrible first kiss in my high school parking lot? But you know what, there’s a lot you can learn from observation and dipping your toes into the proverbial dating pool without diving headfirst.
For me, remaining single doesn’t mean being in the dark. There have been plenty of times where self-growth was unavoidable, like the times I’ve had to build myself back up from friendship breakups so sudden that closure wasn’t even on the table. I’ve supported those close to me through toxic relationships, taking stock of the red flags so I can shield them from the next one before it even happens. I’ve watched enough episodes of Gilmore Girls and Jane The Virgin and any other corny mother-daughter sitcom to learn that while pretty (and mostly white) boys with dark hair come and go, family—given or chosen—is forever.
That’s exactly what A Love of One’s Own seeks to remind us: you know more about love than you think. Love and sex exist outside the boundaries of romantic and sexual relationships, and “experience” doesn’t necessarily mean, or guarantee, understanding. This issue gives credit where credit is due to all the other aspects of our lives that inform our understanding of love and sex, be that our platonic relationships, our self exploration, the treatment we internalize from others and most importantly, how we take care of ourselves. The world is fucked up and inconsistent, and people leave, but you will always, without fail, be stuck with yourself.
For that reason, A Love of One’s Own puts you at the centre: Examining and strengthening your relationship with yourself; getting to know your boundaries and expectations; and what makes you feel validated.
Some lessons in love and sex you’ve assuredly picked up before the world was ending. Moving forward, I think it would do us well to think about love on an individual level more often because being alone doesn’t mean you have to be lonely.