Ex on the Shelf

A few months ago when I booked my ticket to come home for the holidays, my mother tenderly and carefully asked: “You think when you’re home, maybe you could go through your room and get rid of some of your stuff?

At the time, I quickly agreed and apologized for keeping so much at the house I grew up in for my parents to look after. While my mom and dad will both promise me that I’ll have a place in their home until I get married (and even after, if I need it) – I know they want to transform my bedroom into something more than a glorified storage unit.

Yesterday, as I went through piles of clothes, boxes full of old notebooks, letters and cards from high school and college, makeup that expired years ago, books I haven’t read in years, and writings that date back to the 1990s – I came across something I had long forgotten about while gallivanting in New York.

The classic ex-boyfriend box.

I’ve heard them called “Love Boxes”, “Remember When Boxes” , “Past Flame Memorabilia” – but inevitably, every single friend I’ve had or just woman I’ve known has some collection of stuff from a man she once dated.

When I pulled down the box, opened it, and discovered what it was – I immediately pulled away. In year’s past, my ex-boyfriend box had been a part of my room I only teetered with in those sad, desperate moments of being a single-something when I wanted to remember what it felt like to be in love. When I wanted to smell an old t-shirt, that while I’m sure lost the scent of the man who gave it to me many moons ago, somehow still reminded me what it was like to be in that comfortable nook. It would be the item I’d use to excuse crying or remind me that while I “simply can’t find love” that I have in fact, been in love, and if I just hold onto these sentiments, I’ll never forget what it was like to be romantically happy.

I sat on the edge of my bed for a little while, gazing at the box, all four flaps open revealing the corner of a blue t-shirt that I knew was from Mr. Idea. I thought about my journey, my experiences in New York, and the growth I’ve been feeling, and knew I didn’t want to willingly push myself into a crying fest.

I mean, if I’m doing a 12-step program to recovery – I can’t purposefully take a few steps backward, can I? C’mon now.

I looked over at the box, racking my brain to try and determine what exactly was inside of it. If it didn’t include any of the men from the city – it was surely jammed-full of every pre-Manhattan dude who swept me away in his arms or swept me under the rug before stepping on it. I remembered the last time I went through the box; just a few days before I headed North – my eyes still swollen from crying myself to sleep more times than I would like to admit over the bittersweet end with Mr. Idea.

But – if I’m ever going to reach a point of self-love, of complete security in my single self, I certainly can’t let the Ex on the Shelf who is looking down at me, keep me from releasing the fear of being sad. Because sometimes, with a little bit of pain, comes a hell of a lot of change.

So, I dug into my Ex-Boyfriend Box of Memories.

I pulled out every last t-shirt and smelled them each. I looked at every picture, smiled at the memory of each man who has had his grip on my heart and my back. I read (and re-read) the words that these men, who at the time absolutely adored me, and felt my heart swell with thankfulness that I’ve been lucky enough to experience the blessing of  love from another person.  I held the ticket stubs and the plane tickets and thought of the experiences I had with each man, regardless if the flame died sooner than I wished upon it, or if the love was real or unrequited.

And not one letter, snapshot from the past, anniversary card, or sweatshirt made me cry. None of them crushed me. And more importantly, the memories this love memorabilia evoked – didn’t sadden me or make me long for old love – but they just made me remember how magical, how powerful, how life-altering, how incredible love can be.

Maybe because the timing wasn’t right, the romance wasn’t compatible, the desire wasn’t equal, the taking was more than the giving or due to him or due to me, or due to us – the love with the men of the box didn’t work out. It wasn’t designed by the fates to be everlasting, unconditional, and concrete enough for the commitment and upkeep of a lifetime. It took me a long time to realize that just because a relationship ended or a man walked away or put on my boots that were made for walkin‘ – that all love was lost. And to preserve those feelings, to hold onto to the images in my head that I valued so much I needed to catalog their apparel, their handwriting, and their handsome faces in a box on a shelf 600 miles away.

As I looked at all of my mementos and physical shadows of boyfriends-past (praying my parents didn’t open my door and ask what I was up to) – I decided I didn’t need any of it anymore. Well at least, not most of it, anyways. Of everything in that rather large box – I kept only two envelopes.  One with a few notes and another with a handful of photos. The rest of it was either tossed away or placed in a box for charity.

Because I don’t need a box to put my past behind glass or keep old love filed away. My exes don’t belong on a shelf – but rather, in special place in my heart, in my soul, and in my mind. And those memories, those images, those moments I shared with some very special men can never be contained to a single box or an entire blog, anyways. They are far too immense and have helped me become the woman I am more than any memorabilia I could ever keep.

After all, the love I’m searching for in myself, in the brilliance of being bold, beautiful, and single, in the bliss that comes with being independent – is partly due to the experiences of the past. Of the love I’ve shared and the heartbreak I’ve endured. Of the reminients of love that linger in my heart and will forever hope to find a love that not only stains, but stays. Of the process of not only admitting to the difficulties of the journey to loving myself, but accepting and learning from them, too.

If I’m going to free my mind and liberate my heart – I can’t keep all the exes on the shelf. Especially when the thought of them no longer makes me yearn, but makes me grateful for what was…and even more excited about meeting the man who I will share my life with, and hopefully much more than what could fit in any box ever created.

 

All I Want for Christmas is Me

There is something about this time of the year that makes everyone, young and old, near and far – want to be less of a “patridge in a pear tree” and rather one of two turtle doves. With less than 12 days left to Christmas – how’s a girl supposed to get through this season without wanting five gold rings (or just a diamond one), a kiss under the mistletoe, and someone to prove to us that really, every kiss does begin with Kay.

Since I started college, and freshman, sophomore, and junior year passed swiftly without a significant other to dote on me during the holiday season – Christmas has served as a nagging reminder that I was (and am) in fact, single. As my friends and their newly found college sweethearts would plan out trips to their respective hometowns (and now are married, by the way), and obsessively describe what they wanted and what they were getting their boyfriend – I silently wished they would all just shut up.

During breaks, I’d work at a retail store at the local mall and constantly watch couples cooing and smiling with their little shopping bags and hand-holding techniques that made me want to gag myself. And of course, at my Southern-inspired Christmas dinner, where at the ripe ol’ age of 20 – I was the strange one who was not only without a boyfriend, but also with no intentions of getting married right after graduation. Nope, I was the crazy misfit who wanted to move far, far away to a scary place called New York City and be a writer. Though they supported me, I’m not sure they ever quite understood.

But this year, this Christmas, this season, something in me is different. In fact – I hadn’t even noticed that I was single for the holidays until a dear friend of mine, K, sought my counsel and said “You know, it is just really hard to be single right now.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve been well aware that Christmas is quickly approaching. I’m flying home on Friday to spend some much-needed time with my family and long-lost friends whom I haven’t seen in ages. I’ve toured all the window-displays on Fifth Avenue both with my friend E, and Mr. Possibility. I had front-row tickets to watch the tree at Rockefeller Center light up with Mr. Unavailable. I saw the Rockettes in complete style and everlasting wonder with my friend J, and I’ve walked throughout the city admiring the lights and the peace that seems to come with this time of year. Mr. Possibility took me ice skating and we went to Macy’s to check off gifts on our shopping lists. Right this very second and for the last few weeks, my Pandora “Christmas” station has been getting quite the workout. And most important of all, when that first flake fluttered to the Manhattan ground, I was completely alone and completely in awe.

I’ve embraced Christmas, and without even knowing, I’ve been perfectly content without a boyfriend. I haven’t been putting myself down because for the fourth year in a row, one of my best friends, L, will be my date to our Christmas Eve dinner. I haven’t felt ashamed that I’ll reunite with my extended family and they will probably ask me when I’m getting married. I haven’t wished and hoped and dreamed of being proposed to on Christmas morning (as I used to carefully plan out in my head). I haven’t cursed the smitten couples or the newlyweds who are so excited to spend their very first Christmas together.

But for the longest time, this season was so difficult, so grueling, so sad, so disappointing – because isn’t Christmas or any type of holiday at this time of year – supposed to be about love? About celebrating miracles and hoping for all that is to come? Or trusting that even if you can’t see it, it is out there – waiting to come into your life and shower you with gifts not only under the tree, but also helping you hang ornaments on the top limb.

But really, aren’t all of those ideas applicable to being single? Even when we relate it more about being a pair?

That while we think meeting Mr. Right will be a miracle, the true amazement is that before him, we get this incredible time to just love and concentrate on ourselves. We hope to see our children’s faces light up and ask us about Santa and play with our hubby in the snow – but don’t we also hope that we don’t lose ourselves in a relationship, and that we continue to adore the person we’ll see staring back at us in the mirror, each and every day for the rest of our lives? That sometimes it is so tough to believe there is a light at the end of the single tunnel or a glimmer of positivity in truly, finding peace in being alone – but even if we can’t feel it, we know it is possible, we know it can be ours.

This anticipation of a man to enter, to make the holidays brighter and fuller, to give us little boxes with bows, and to love how we look in our red sweater dresses – tears us up inside. Because really, we fear it will never happen. But instead of doubting the process, doubting the fates, and even worse, doubting ourselves – we miss out on how magical and truly beautiful a Christmas can be without a man. How experiencing flickering lights, parties, and travel can be just as entertaining when we’re out of love.

I don’t feel like I’m waiting on something. I don’t feel like I’m missing something from Christmas or that the universe is depriving me of a companion to make the holidays bearable. But instead, I’m excited. I’m so ready to shout from the rooftops that I’m single and that I’m happy. That I have a life that I created, that the presents you see were bought by only me and my money. That while I’m not kissing under the mistletoe – I haven’t lost hope that one day I will. Besides, it isn’t the number one priority anymore – not at Christmas, not at New Year’s, not at all. Right now, in this moment, in the snow, in the lights– the only thing to focus on is myself and this journey. And I can say with confidence that I disagree with you, Mariah Carey – I don’t want you (whichever man that represents) for Christmas, but all I really want is me.

Tis Christmastime in the city, and my, oh, my is the weather frightful

…but the feeling I have inside is so delightful. It is a feeling of wholeness, of completeness, of security, of magic – that derives from the greatest blessing, the most thoughtful gift, and the most incredible miracle I could ever experience – and that’s celebrating self-love. Celebrating…me.