To Love, Is To Practice.

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 “Fake pimps, you ain’t even alive. At least I can say I tried plus enjoyed the ride. Next go round I hope I pick the truest type. Watch me do it all again it’s a beautiful life, aight?”

– Nas

I spent my 14th birthday with a fistful of tissues in one hand and a 2nd place trophy in the other. I asked the limousine driver to roll up the partition so I could bawl without feeling embarrassed or having to witness him attempt to wrap me with words that carried no warmth.  My volleyball team had just lost the championship game to Eastside Catholic. I was now making the journey from the game back to Vancouver B.C. to finish competing in the oral exams at a Latin Convention. I’ve never cared about sports, so this feeling of disappointment was foreign to me. I typically only engaged in physical activities recreationally and lacked a competitive bone. My coaches placed me as a habitual benchwarmer because I couldn’t break my habit of befriending the opponent. Needless to say, every sport I played I won best sportsmanship award. Yet, volleyball meant something different.

The following practice, the volleyball coach had my teammates and I engage in some fun drills to wind down from the season and boost morale. My favorite drill was when she’d throw the ball in random directions and I’d have to run and dive to make contact. I think I enjoyed the aspect of unpredictability and competing with myself most, that there were only two outcomes: either I make contact or miss entirely. Although, I was devastated we weren’t division champs – I didn’t dwell on it. I just picked back up and began working on my craft during practice, looking forward to next year’s season. I realized, when you love something, or someone, even when your desirable outcome isn’t reached – you don’t quit or harbor resentment, you just improve yourself for the next opportunity. Fundamentally, to love, is to practice. It’s the choice to commit to and enjoy the journey rather than fixate on the destination.

Last month marked my one-year anniversary of being single. It’s not a significant feat by any means, yet for someone who subconsciously feared being alone and jumped from man to man this was an important milestone for me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my season of singleness. It made me realize that a woman’s identity often belongs to everyone but her. Our identities are tied to our relationships – we constantly belong to someone. As a girl we are someone’s daughter, as a young adult we become someone’s lover, in maturity we become someone’s mother. As a woman, society has conditioned us to believe that love and obligation are interchangeable, and we become consumed and burdened by the wellness of those close to us.  There was nothing more that I wanted than to rid myself of all ties and have full autonomy of my identity. I wanted my individualized existence to precede any of my interpersonal relationships.

After my last relationship ended, although we ended on amicable terms, I still harbored resentment. I perpetuated the trope that “all men are trash” and became bitter towards the opposite sex. Having had dated this individual for 4 years I felt robbed of my happily ever after, I felt robbed of years of my youth, when a woman is seen as most desirable. A type of covert violence a man can inflict on a woman is to rob her of time. After 4 years I found myself as a reflection of my partner’s image, I had acquired his friends, his interests, his mannerisms. The once distinct lines of who we both were as individuals began to blur as we molded into each other, exposing and acquiring each other’s flaws and excellencies – I wondered whether our relationship disintegrated because we didn’t love each other, or if it was because we didn’t love ourselves – we didn’t love who we had each become throughout the course the relationship.

When bitterness brews you begin to vilify individuals, I had a caricature of what men were and templatized myself in my interactions with them. I had unrealistic expectations that focused more on the ending – I was hyper protective of my time, energy and identity. What I tried to construe as knowing my self-worth was routed in ego and fear. I was holding all men accountable for the mistakes and pains of my past.

When you focus on what should be, you miss out on what is and filter out experiences that could’ve been transformative. Love is rooted in madness, and I’ve always thought it bordered mental illness. It goes against all human rationale. Love is the only thing we as humans expect to be infinite. We can conceptualize all other aspects of life as being ephemeral, but not love. When the seasons change, we immediately swap our wardrobes, when fruits spoil we throw them in the compost, when a song ends our playlist shuffles to the next, when the buzzer rings we say good game. It’s madness to wear flip flops in the snow, consume a molded orange, demand the DJ to put one song on loop, or beg the referee to put more time on the clock. Yet – this is the friction we stir when we fail to adapt to the waning of love.

Nas is my all-time favorite rapper and I kept his song “Bye Baby” on repeat as I was healing. Music fuels the subconscious and I was intentional in not listening to songs that promoted “Fuck Bitches” or “Niggas Ain’t Shit” ideologies. “Bye Baby” was unique in that it told the story about the rollercoaster ride of Nas’ relationship with his ex-wife, Kelis. It captured the highs of the relationship, and the lows. It ended with a recap of Nas’ friends dogging him for even trusting a woman in the first place when he was legally mandated to split half of his earnings as a part of their divorce settlement. Instead of fueling the narrative that he fucked up and would never love again, his message conveyed optimism and hope. He prided himself in taking a risk that most men were too timid to take and said “Next go round I hope I pick the truest type. Watch me do it all again it’s a beautiful life.” The best artists are those whose messages you can’t differentiate from your conscious, and I was grateful for this affirmation. Bitterness doesn’t look good on me, I’m most authentic when I’m in a loving and open state. I’ve come to terms that I am a hopelessful romantic and thank God for blessing me with a vast capacity for love, for partners, family and friends.

As humans we’re programmed to identify threats and protect ourselves from pain. We implement guard rails, as one sets up bumpers in bowling, to increase our chances of striking out. With each year, my tolerance for pain increases along with my ability to let it go. Some things are meant to be painful, and losing a partner is one of those. My friends have called me crazy for not wanting a prenup, but I never wanted something contractual to be a safety net, an easy cop-out. Should I get married and my husband and I have a fall out I want that to be terribly painful. Losing your other half is supposed to hurt and I don’t want external remedies to lighten the blow.

I’m now in a state where I’m open, yet not searching. I’m beyond grateful about the lessons my past lovers have taught me for they’ve played a role in me becoming a better iteration of myself. I hope my next love embodies a sequence of hypotheses – where we’re constantly experimenting and figuring out what works and what doesn’t and adjusting accordingly. He’ll learn when I’ve had too many drinks and it’s time to take me home before I get sick. I’ll learn how many times he presses the snooze button before actually waking up for work.

I want our love to wear multiple hats. Sometimes we’ll play the role of a coach, teammate, opponent, referee, or cheerleader. You’ll push yourself. I’ll push myself. We’ll push each other. We’ll compete against our personal best. We’ll compete against each other. Even we’re on opposing ends – when we fight – we’ll come out of each argument better. We’ll have the understanding that we have a shared goal of holding each other accountable to being the best version we can be, for ourselves and the greater collective. Nothing says I love you more than to be able to say I’ve dedicated my life to being the best version of myself which I’ve now chosen to share, and continue to build with you. Nothing is more intimate than chasing dreams side by side.

I’ll tell my love there’s no such thing as a happily ever after, but for each day that we both show up – we can build happily today.

To love, is to practice.

This is how your heart expands.

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