The year of 25 challenged my idea of what I thought I was “supposed” to be in more ways than one. While I mulled over what I wanted to do with my life, I was also trying to figure out who I wanted to be. This question was a bit more complicated because I was rather lost on who I was in general. My 25th birthday was the first birthday since the age of 19 that I had celebrated as an actual “single” person. Matter of fact, I was actually in a relationship about 2-3 weeks before my birthday and had been for the better part of the year. But, about a month before the big 25, I had this ever-present, nagging feeling to shut myself off. This was before my school-related mental breakdown took place, so it wasn’t necessarily a negative feeling. I didn’t want to “alienate” myself, I just wanted a copious amount of “me time.” This feeling became so constant that I became irritable. Irritable because I felt as though I didn’t have the time, nor space to just be in my head and alone with my own thoughts. That irritability then morphed into guilt as I begin to feel bad for wanting to have such an expansive amount of time to myself.
He’s a good guy. He does everything you claimed you wanted in your last relationship. I should be happy. That’s what I kept telling myself, but the fact is, I just wasn’t. And though I tried to come up with many reasons as to why I was unhappy, none of them (inherently) had anything to do with the guy I was dating or the relationship itself. It was about me and how I was my own source of unhappiness. This point was further driven home once I decided to be selfish enough to finally take that time and still didn’t feel any happier. To clarify, I was slightly happy for a moment. The relief of finally doing something difficult and awkward to do is typically rewarding; I was proud of myself for finally considering my own wants and happiness more than someone else’s. I hadn’t truly done that since I was 19 either. But once those temporary feelings faded, I found myself once again unhappy. I pushed and yearned for alone time just to not know what to do with it once I got it. I didn’t know what I liked to do in my spare time. I forgot what kind of activities I found interest in. I was really just a shell of my last two relationships.
I so used to being attached to someone, to being a couple that I honestly forgot how to be single. I spent most of (what I thought were) my formative years being co-dependent. Of course, I wasn’t always co-dependent, that was the direct result of dealing with things I was way too young to be dealing with. In the second half of my freshman year in college, I began dating the person I would spend the next 5 or so years (on and off) with. As most relationships do, it started off great. My first (and my only) college relationship. I was excited. Movies like Love and Basketball (the hill I die on is spreading the gospel that this is actually a terrible movie ‘cause Quincy wasn’t shit), Drumline, and Stomp the Yard had me ready for that beautiful, Black-ass college romance. However, not too long into it, a lot of issues and mishaps started to occur. I could go into detail about everything that happened, but those details aren’t important because they’re beside the point. Long story short, this relationship was a long cycle of him doing hurtful things, me finding out about it and threatening or attempting to leave, him dazzling me with excuses, and ending with me staying, all the while internalizing his behavior, believing it was a result of something I did, or maybe something I wasn’t enough of. Repeat.
That vicious cycle birthed my own toxic beliefs and behaviors, one of which being if we were always together, he can’t do raggedy shit. Not only was I wrong (it’s actually quite impressive just how wrong I was), but it helped nothing in our relationship and only worsened my relationship with myself and others. I stopped spending as much time with my friends, and after a while, they didn’t even bother to invite me to things anymore. I don’t blame them, they knew it would’ve been a “no.” I became “that girl.” The one who neglected friends to hang out with their boyfriend. Yuck. I hardly spent any time by myself, hardly did anything alone. I started losing myself in an unhealthy routine: go to class and work, then go back home and essentially wait around to hang with this person.
By the time I begin to realize I was toxically clingy, I had subconsciously started to hate myself because subconsciously I also knew everything I was doing was, as the old proverbial saying goes, “real clown-girl shit.” I was paranoid, jealous, steadily picking at myself because I thought something was wrong with me. I was so whack and I knew it, but I kept being corny because I was so afraid of being alone. I hadn’t been in so long. This was routine for me. From the beginning, I had always known that I wasn’t okay with the things that were happening and the relationship didn’t make me feel good, but it took me much longer to understand that the relationship just wasn’t healthy. Honestly, why would I have known? We (especially the Black community) romanticize a woman’s ability to suffer in the name of love. It makes us “loyal” and “worthy.” Pop culture is filled with movies (*cough cough* Love and Basketball) and music that uplifts woman’s ability to love, forgive and “hold her man down” despite having every reason to leave. So, I followed suit because that’s what I thought I was supposed to do. It’s what I thought love was. But I knew something was off when I peeped that love was making me not like myself.
Funny thing is, what finally made me realize that I needed to spend some time by myself is the same thing that gave me that realization weeks before my 25th birthday. It wasn’t (although it should have been) the questionable behavior and inappropriate messages I kept seeming to find, but it was realizing my own identity was lost. It was realizing that his friends slowly became the only people I hung around. It was me being reluctant to do things I was interested in if he wouldn’t come along, thus abandoning hobbies. It was me ignoring my own unhappiness because I thought it was my job and purpose to save him. It was me mostly being introduced as so and so’s girlfriend and me always being expected to know his whereabouts when I did venture off and do something on my own. That bothered me a lot. I was so much more than this person’s counterpart. But I couldn’t really be mad though, because I was active in making that my reality and hadn’t really done anything to show I was more than just “the girlfriend.” When I found myself feeling like that yet again, I knew there was something within myself to address.
At 25 I began doing the work that should’ve begun following the end of the relationship that lasted my entire early twenties. So that was the first thing I addressed—why had I avoided doing this work? I think loneliness was a big part of that. My initial move to California is not at all what I had expected it to be. Black folks in Cali (especially the Valley) are…. “different” than the ones I’ve come to be acclimated to in the Midwest. I say this not to shade Cali and its inhabitants, but to say making friends was not as easy as I thought it would be. I had these big plans for myself when I moved here and those things weren’t happening. So, when I met someone I actually liked and was fun to be around, I latched on. If I just had one friend, I was good. Not-so-old habits emerged and that was that. But again, his community became my only community. I was around a bunch of artsy people who would often talk about the cool artsy shit they were doing, and then there was me: “_____’s girlfriend, she… goes to school.” I hated that shit. I hated having “friendships” that relied on my proximity to someone else. I hated being “the girlfriend” when I knew I had hella ambition. I hated my introduction being reduced to a student and partner. I really needed to find myself this time, so that’s exactly what I did.
At first, it was really rough. I repeatedly downloaded and deleted Tinder and Bumble. Even if I’m going to be physically by myself, I still need someone to talk to fill the void. That was my rationale. Luckily some weird-ass dude told me he wanted to “swap DNA” with me (I’m telling you these LA dudes are DIFF-ER-RENT) and I got rid of the apps for good. What do I do now? Who do I talk to now? Myself. That was the whole point of demanding “me time,” so it was finally time to take it. I’ve mentioned before that I started journaling, and this is the period that started that new *healthy* habit. I started revisiting past experiences and feelings. Challenging myself to really dig deep and “go there” with myself to understand why I had those feelings and how they affect my current self. In these journals, I became brutally honest with myself. I chipped away and tore down all the ugly bits and pieces of myself that I had grown to hate over the years and it produced a version of myself that I now find beautiful. A more recognizable version of myself.
Eventually, I started becoming really self-reliant. I didn’t need to lean on anyone but myself. I began to enjoy spending time with myself, I looked forward to it, I craved it. But it’s important to note that I learned how to be alone *healthily*. This wasn’t alienation or isolation. I just enjoyed me. And once I knew I was comfortable with myself enough, firm in who I am and my identity, I started to invite others into my space again, this time without the fear of becoming attached or dependent. But I didn’t go the boyfriend route, instead, I began to foster actual relationships with women. I had lost out on so many relationships with dope women over the years devoting all of my time to being a girlfriend. I was over that, no more, so I hosted a meet-up for Black women creatives in LA (can you even believe??)!
I started to feel so balanced. I was forming better relationships with other women and myself. I took myself on dates to the museum, the movies and out to eat. I was really becoming my own best friend. And recently I’ve conquered two things I’ve always been terrified to do on my own: travel and attending a concert. Both of my solo adventures were amazing and I’m looking forward to doing these things by myself more often.
25 wasn’t at all what I expected it to be, but honestly what I got was better than my expectations. The glow-up I expected didn’t just happen. It did eventually happen, but not without major effort and self-reflection. I had to resolve some issues from my childhood and early twenties to receive what I thought 25 just would just grant me. The work was so worth it. I have my confidence back. My own company is enough. I’m not afraid of the consequences of being selfish and putting myself first. I’m back to doing the things I love and enjoy and don’t need an accomplice to do them. And even though I’m not yet ready to fully commit to the girlfriend role again, I absolutely know what a healthy relationship looks and feels like now. But most importantly, I feel like a whole person by myself again. I relearned how to be an individual and for that I’m thankful. I guess I could say surviving my quarter-century life crisis made me feel a bit more adult-ish, but I know for certain it made me a better, improved version of myself.