Belonging is a funny word; it implies safety, padded rooms of people who love you surrounding you, building you up, crowd-surfing you to your best self. You walk into a room and you feel like you’re supposed to be there, you belong there. Last night I had a dream that I had mistakenly ended up walking onto a football field during a homecoming game with someone else’s family. I was terrified and anxious and clueless about how to proceed. I heard my name and looked up to see a cluster of my dearest friends, family, and mentors cheering my name—why they were there, I have no idea. But they were there, and that’s what counts. That’s what belonging feels like—being loved so wholly you know that the bottom won’t drop out. And even though it’s a leap of faith, it doesn’t feel like a leap at all.
“If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again.” – Wayne W. Dwyer
For nearly four years, I belonged entirely to one person. I shared myself a little with my family, my friends, but for the majority of that time, I was his and only his. In the beginning, I was excited. This was movie love. This was sweep you off your feet, knock you over sideways, fill you up and tip you over love. I believed that all else could crumble around us and if we still had each other, nothing else mattered. “You can live with anything if you have what you can’t live without.” We belonged to each other so wholly that it became hard to belong to anything else—particularly myself.
My best friend’s mom once told me to “be my own girl.” I’ve mulled that phrase over a lot, especially lately. What does it mean to belong to yourself wholly, entirely? What does it feel like? I can tell you that sometimes it means putting your foot down, slamming doors, burning bridges. I can tell you that sometimes it means you must hold yourself as you fall asleep—or in my case, you can be held by a tiny white cat who has a lot of unconditional love to give. Sometimes belonging to yourself means you make the choice to care about yourself more than another—which you may know as selfish, but can re-learn as self-preservation. Sometimes, as my mom recently reminded me, it’s that No is a full sentence.
I am still romantic. I believe in all of it. In spite of what I want to think and feel about love, I still think it’s magic. But I’m beginning to see that falling in love with another person is not the only kind of magic we can touch. When you finally get your full blown big girl job, benefits and all, that is touchable magic. When you find a way to prioritize your passion every day, in my case writing, that is touchable magic. When your roommate brings home Oreos and ice cream after you bleed through your dress at work—touchable magic, people.
Belonging hurts, because we don’t necessarily belong to people forever. We almost never belong to people forever. But that is magic in and of itself. To know and grow beside someone, to learn a little more about the world through them, and to then go your separate ways, it hurts, but it is magic.
I belong to a 1 year old cat, a 10 year old dog, a 16 year old cat, and a 23 year old woman. They are my team and my family. I belong to my writing, even though I don’t know the tangible trajectory it will take, I commit myself to it wholly. I belong to my parents, of course, and my brother and sister. I belong to a few amazing women who provide me with the perfect amount of discretion and freedom to blatantly ignore their advice.
But for the most part, I am mine. I wake up in the morning and have no idea what I’m going to do or be or see. The plans that once structured my life so wholly have caved. What a pretty, structurally unsound house we were building. I opened the front door to a house with no insulation, no siding, no foundation, no roof, just a skeleton house. I opened the front door and started running. And now I’m walking. Occasionally I look over my shoulder, and I see it. That pretty, pretty house that could never be. My imagination fills in the pieces that were never there, and I see now, better than ever before, that those pieces would have always been a figment of my imagination.
Each morning I shake hands with a new version of myself, I am just getting to know her. But I like her. Even when she is reckless. Even when she is sad. Even when she is all over the place. Sometimes simply liking yourself feels like a revolutionary act.