This Year, I’m Choosing Singleness as an Act of Self-love
Second in a series. Read part one.
As a kid, I participated in the time-honored tradition of learning about love through movies.
I knew better than to fall for the more extravagant depictions. But that didn’t stop me from putting my own spin on things. By the time I turned 16, I had a sprawling fantasy life inspired by millennial classics such as “A Cinderella Story” and “High School Musical.” I didn’t really expect to fall in love with someone on the football team. But the dreams persisted.
I wanted a deep, abiding, kiss-in-the-rain kind of love.
But I wasn’t a fool. I saw the writing on the wall. I learned at a young age to stuff those unlikely, self-indulgent dreams into a box labeled “the life I could’ve lived if I hadn’t been diagnosed with SMA.”
Girls with rare diseases don’t catch the eye of the cutest person in school. They don’t share life-changing karaoke sessions with the captain of the basketball team. They are excluded by some and pitied by most. Those who dare to demand more are seen as unrealistic at best, deluded at worst.
Enter the limiting stories
Last week, I wrote about self-fulfilling prophecies: the stories we tell ourselves that limit our capacity to engage with the world. One of my “resolutions” for 2023 is to break up with these stories. To forgive myself for all the years I’ve been living a less-than-ideal life simply because the stories I tell have been holding me back.
Deep down, I know I’m worthy of love. But I’ve still internalized the messages told to disabled folks.
I will always be alone.
I will never be in a romantic relationship.
I will never find someone willing to look past the undesirable aspects of disability.
Over time, those messages have combined to create a limiting story: “Just because I’m worthy of love doesn’t mean I’ll find someone willing to enter into a romantic relationship with me.”
This story has manifested in different ways over the years. Excessive daydreaming turned to cynicism. I wasn’t going to be like the other girls, who hoped beyond hope that a fairy tale was in their future. I lived in the real world, which required a hardening of the heart, among other things.
Breaking down and breaking up
Everything changed in college. Thanks to the internet, I was able to play at “nondisabledness.” People who otherwise wouldn’t have given me the time of day were suddenly interested in me — and not just platonically. I began to hope again.
Those hopes shattered quickly. My heart was broken twice in two years — once by someone who ghosted me, and once by someone who led me on for months. I was devastated. With each difficult conversation, my limiting story was reinforced.
I would never find love.
I took the next several years to heal. I wrote poetry and listened to a lot of bubblegum pop. By the time I processed the trauma, I’d reverted to my old cynical ways.
Finding love in unexpected places
Burned by love, I started looking for alternative sources of fulfillment. I focused on my friendships. I poured myself into a variety of creative pursuits. I was determined to build a life for myself, even if it didn’t look like the life I’d dreamed of for so long.
Over time, and without my even noticing, something magical happened. I tired of my limiting story. I wanted something better for myself, something that reflected not just the reality of my situation, but also my innate worth.
Maybe I’ll never find a romantic partner. But that isn’t a reflection of me. If anything, it’s a reflection of ableist values perpetuated by society. I am not broken, nor am I naive for believing I deserve love.
My limiting story would have me believe I’m at the mercy of my circumstances. But this year, I’m reframing my singleness as a choice. I could remain in an unhealthy relationship in the hopes that my abuser might change their mind; I could try dating app after dating app, enduring ableism and misogyny on the off chance I find someone willing to look past my disability.
Or I could stop trying so hard.
Singleness can be purposeful; singleness can be holy. Singleness can be a radical act of self-love, rejecting my limiting story and stepping into something new.
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