When you’ve been single for a while, you get used to dreaming about love. You get used to the wistfulness, the pangs in your heart when you see others experience what you so desperately long for. You get used to the feelings of doubt and regret when you reminisce about past relationships that have ended and wonder what might have been. You replay the sweet moments in your mind, trying to recreate those feelings you wish you could feel now.
You get used to being the third wheel, the one your friends turn to when they need to vent about the tumults of coupledom, and the one who inexplicably gives the best relationship advice. You learn to dodge the well-meaning questions from family members about how your dating life is going or why it’s been so long since you’ve had someone in your life. You listen to love songs on repeat, playing out romantic scenarios in your mind, and when you go to bed and close your eyes, you imagine them lying by your side.
It can feel unfair sometimes, being able to picture it so clearly in your mind and yet not knowing when or if it will ever come. There is a cruelty in knowing how well you could love someone and not having them here. It’s a different feeling than losing someone you once loved, but similar in the sense of emptiness it leaves in your chest. Except instead of mourning what was, you’re mourning what has never been.
I call this time the Before. Before that special person has come into your life, before all those things you’re wishing for magically unfold, before everything starts making sense, there is the Before. It’s a time that often gets flack, a time most people want to skip to get to the good stuff and on to the next blissful relationship.
What I’ve come to learn is that the Before is not some in-between, passive time before the real magic starts. It’s full of magic itself, a time that is rife with possibility, growth, and beauty.
I heard a piece of advice the other day on a podcast that said you should write down a list of all the traits you want your future partner to have. Be as specific as possible. And then, become those things.
The amount of self-love I have cultivated over the past years of being single is unparalleled. I have endless compassion for myself and endless respect for the strength and resilience I have exhibited time and again during tough times. I so badly wanted someone to acknowledge and praise me in those moments, but when there was no one there, I discovered it was up to me. I learned to celebrate my own wins, to feel deeply proud of my achievements, to pat myself on the back when I did something I was scared of or when I made the huge decision I’d been doubting. I’ve learned not to compromise on what I need to be happy, not to shortchange myself, and not to allow others to treat me in any way less than what I deserve.
I used to think I needed a partner who would encourage me to do things I was scared to do, who would fill me with confidence in my own abilities, and remind me to dream big. Who would hold me when things didn’t work out and remind me that things always get better. But the beauty of the Before is that you have no choice but to get through these tough moments yourself and discover your strength in the process.
Sometimes I get sad when I think about all the firsts in my life that he has already missed.
It sucks that he wasn’t there when I got my first big girl job or traveled solo for the first time. That he wasn’t there when I started my own blog or when I summoned the strength to finally stand up for myself in a toxic friendship. He wasn’t there to comfort me when I cried, to hold me when I was broken. He wasn’t there to watch me grow into the woman I am today, one who has shed many of her limiting beliefs and insecurities, who is fearless in the pursuit of what she wants, who is confident in what she has to offer.
There is beauty in learning to rely on myself for what I always thought I needed someone else for. In learning to love myself the way I always thought someone else needed to. I think without having this Before period, I would never know the kind of love I am worthy of. Because if someone cannot love me the way I have loved myself, then maybe I don’t need them.
There is beauty in the longing too. I know one day, when I am gazing at my partner’s face as he sleeps, I will feel such immense gratitude, but I will also feel nostalgic for when I didn’t yet know him. There is a sweetness, an innocence, in the wistfulness. Right now, I cannot imagine ever fighting with my future partner, ever being annoyed by him, or ever doubting our relationship because it’s one that only exists in my mind. It is nothing more than a projection of my deepest desires and dreams, one that may be idealistic and hopelessly romantic, but that keeps me going when being single just feels hard. Lying awake in those sweet, hazy minutes before sleep has completely engulfed me. I dream about this perpetual relationship, and I feel all that love, all that joy and fulfillment bubbling up within me. And I know one day it will be mine.
And when it finally happens, how sweet that will be after waiting so long. How wonderful to know that I am with this person, not because I depend on them or will fall apart without them, but because they just simply make my life better. Because they take a bit of the load off that I have learned to carry, not because I ask them to but because they want to.
There is beauty in the waiting, in the anticipation, of what you can feel as clearly as if it is already yours. In the dreams you make about the future that you can feel in every fiber of your being. There is beauty in knowing that there is great magic in store and not knowing how it will all unfold quite yet.
The Before has allowed me to look for love in other places. To be truly grateful for the people in my life that shower me with love on a daily basis without ever asking for anything in return. One day, I hope to experience that kind of love with someone I share a house and bed with, but for right now, I relish in what I already have, in this beauty of the Before.
The Before has taught me I don’t have to pity myself or wish away these days. It’s taught me that just because I don’t have a partner right now doesn’t mean I cannot allow myself to be loved and cherished. It doesn’t mean I can’t be blissfully, wonderfully happy.