This time of year, I always start to feel a little anxious.
Even though those who know me best would call me overly optimistic (true) and a little romantic about everything (also true), when Christmas rolls around and I find myself single, again, for the past four years, I feel overwhelmingly defeated. For such a magical time of year – with the shared moments, sweet memories and twinkling lights – there’s something about the days that lead up to the New Year that make me nervous for what is to come – or, well, not come.
Usually on New Year’s, I made a big, grandiose gesture to myself. I close my eyes and cross my fingers and toes that the right person will make his way to me in the next 12 months. I light a Chinese lantern and let it float up into the crisp Carolina sky, sealing away the angst of dating and renewing my spirit for another round of Tinder-ing and happy hour-ing. I go to bed on New Year’s, tipsy from the champagne and reassuring myself that I won’t be alone for another New Year’s.
No, this will be the last one that I spend single. Surely. Surely all of these wishes, all of this hard work on self-love, all of this putting myself first and not settling and standing up for love will be rewarded with a wonderful, loving relationship.
But so far, it hasn’t. I haven’t met someone I would like to spend my life with. I have barely met someone I’d like to go on more than a handful of dates with. I’ve watched my friends meet their future husbands, celebrated their success in love and tried my best to not be envious when someone else stumbles across the very thing that I want more than anything. I’ve always put on a brave face and I’m pretty good at focusing my attention elsewhere – to work, to writing, to travel – instead of focusing on the relationship that’s missing in my life.
But by the end of another year, full of so many dates, so many kisses at my doorsteps, so many men I thought could turn into something until they disappeared or showed their true intentions, that courage wears a little thin. I begin to worry about feeling this way another year from now. Or another few years from now. I let myself spiral into this ridiculously irrational mindset that damns me to be alone forever and ever, without a husband, without happiness, without babies, without a home, without any of the things I hope for my future. They are scary thoughts to have and even scarier to face up to because they feel so daunting, so absolute. So isolating. So immediate.
But they aren’t. They are just fears. They aren’t truth. They don’t dictate my future, they merely make me feel like I have a deadline, when I don’t. I’ve let one calendar date – January 1 – determine how I feel about my future for so many years. I let myself float so high with hope, that by April, I find myself anxious all over again when nothing – or no one – has happened.
So I’m doing something different for 2016.
I’m not wishing for love. I’m not putting on my happiest face and going on dates just because I feel like I have to. I’m not making some grand testimony about what I’ve learned or what I want in a mate. I’m not going to chase after love like it’s something that has to be caught, when it’s rather, something that comes when the time is right. I’m not going to focus on the one thing that I don’t have when I have so much right in front of me.
I always pick a word – last year it was ‘health’ (I lost 20 pounds in 2015!), the year before it was ‘yes’ – and this one is perhaps the simplest and yet, most difficult of all: ‘joy.’
How will I make ‘joy’ my word this year? By creating daily joy in my life. And that’s as far as I will get: day by day. Not thinking about Valentine’s Day. Or the summertime. Or going on a trip with a possible future boyfriend. Or the holidays. Or New Year’s 2017.
I’m only going to focus on today and those things that bring me joy right this very moment. Because I don’t know if I’ll be single until I’m 28, 29, 30 or 35. I don’t know if I will be able to have the children I want so much. I don’t know where I will ultimately buy my future home or if I’ll have to buy it by myself or with a partner. I don’t know where my friends will pack their bags and move, as our lives all begin to take form and go down different roads. I don’t know where I’ll book my next trip or where I’ll meet the next person who will undoubtedly change my life. I don’t know where I see myself in five years or 10 years or 15 years. I don’t know when I’ll publish my first book or land that first byline in the New York Times or Vanity Fair or the New Yorker – or any of the places that I dream of writing for.
But I do know that waking up an hour earlier makes me more relaxed the entire day. I do know that when I force myself to exercise before work, I’m more productive at the office. I do know that when I leave my phone at home while I take Lucy for a walk, we both enjoy it more. I do know that I’ve always wanted to take a cooking class on how to properly chop vegetables. I do know that spending an extra hour out with my friends, laughing and sipping on wine is something I never regret. I do know that doing something kind for someone else – like writing a handwritten letter – makes me feel like the world is a better and smaller place. I do know how beautiful I feel when I let my skin breathe, free from the make-up, free from the grime. I do know that smiling at strangers has never made me feel worse, only better.
I do know the things that bring me joy into my life. And for 2016, I’m letting go of wondering when the joy of love will make it’s way to me or when it’ll be my turn. Because there’s no joy in wondering. There’s no joy in saying negative things to myself – or to others – about my non-existent love life. There’s not joy in trying to figure out the who, the when, the why and the how.
Really, the only joy is in the now. And that’s where I choose to be.