I would like to begin this column by iterating that I am not, in fact, Catholic. However, I observe Lent. After being raised religious, my childhood indoctrination jumps out every year around Mardi Gras and I give something up — not because I’m particularly religious now, but more so because I think it’s good to discard what doesn’t serve you or your higher self.
Among the things that haven’t served me or my higher self in a very long time, men sit at the top of the list followed distantly by alcohol, nicotine and cheese. So, after careful consideration I decided to give up men for Lent.
The idea struck me after I was lamenting yet another horrible situationship in the cluttered but comforting arms of my beige kitchen. An important thing to understand about my grieving process is that I can’t do the whole “wallow and do nothing but eat ice cream” thing some people do when someone hurts their feelings.
When a boy hurts my feelings my first instinct is to clean, then crack myself out on pre-workout, go to the gym for three hours and finally conclude the day by planning road trips at 4 a.m.
I was in phase one of this cycle after a brief fling with a frat boy went sour because I didn’t hop into bed with him upon our first date. Irritated and hormonal, I violently did the dishes with the fury of a thousand women scorned when a guest on my favorite podcast, “Girls Gotta Eat,” piped up.
She said she found herself in a perpetual cycle of dating the same types of disappointing and toxic men. She decided to take six months off from dating overall to figure herself out. That six months turned into a year. After this period of celibacy she understood herself more and actually ended up meeting her future husband.
It was like God himself had spoken through the blown-out speakers of my iPhone. It occurred to me that I have also gotten into a pattern of dating the same disappointing, toxic man over and over and over again.
All the boys I’ve loved before have looked different, done different things and had different astrological signs, but when it came down to it they were the same man under all the pomp and circumstance.
The epiphany was incredible, and I decided I would do my own little vow of dating celibacy during the course of Lent to really solve my own problems and commit to being by myself.
I’m a few weeks into this journey of purposeful loneliness and it’s been an interesting experience. The first thing I learned is that as soon as you decide to take a break from men, a man shows up. Not a week into Lent and I had a very brief potential fling that fizzled out almost immediately. In retrospect, I should have stuck to my guns and turned it down entirely, but hindsight is 20/20. But this definitely solidified the fact that I need to take a break from pursuing a relationship.
Before Lent, I never realized how much energy was taken up by men and the constant pressure I felt to impress them or put on a show for them to like me. Every Tinder message and fleeting interaction with some rando who talked to me in public was another stressor on my already fragile and exhausted sense of self worth.
In a sense, I became this permeable membrane that morphed into many faces and roles, all to convince someone to love the corpse hiding within the theatrics. I didn’t take time for myself, nor did I even know who I actually was under the costume.
Since childhood, I was playing the role of a lost and abandoned girl who thought that if she was perfect in the way that she wasn’t as a child, she’d be able to right the wrongs of her past. The first man to ever break my heart was my dad and I had subconsciously played out that storyline a million times with romantic partners all for the story to end in the same way it did when I was a child. By the time I took the initiative with this Lenten decision, I was so weary from reopening that wound that it felt like I would never be able to do it again. I was so bitter and jaded, and it was because I was hurt.
I had always assumed I was bulletproof when it came to love. I thought I could rip my own heart out as many times as I wanted and never feel the burden of a scar because calluses form and eventually it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I was wrong. For the first time in a long time, I realized I was very vulnerable with a gaping wound that no one can fix except for myself.
While the existential ponderings vastly outway the cons of being alone, I won’t lie and say that I don’t miss having someone around to give me attention or tell me I’m pretty. My bed is a little bit colder and my weekends are much freer than they once were, but I think that’s part of the journey. Because now I’m free to be whoever I choose to be. I can keep my room as cold as I want, wear ugly pajamas and spend weekends with friends whom I don’t have to pretend for.
I’ve reconnected with the layers of myself I hadn’t realized I was neglecting. There’s nothing wrong with me, and I am beautifully and terribly made in a style that I can finally fall in love with. I don’t need someone else to fall in love with me when I can finally do it for myself. I never would have had that realization if I hadn’t committed to being alone for the first time in a very, very long time.
So despite the lack of Catholicism in my life, these 40 days and 40 nights of abstaining from the dating scene have been a pseudo-spiritual enlightenment for me, and I can’t wait to see how I’ve grown and changed when this period concludes.