If love is the answer, can you rephrase the question?

Kendall McElhaney

Relationships are some of the trickiest of human requirements, along with the desire to participate successfully in society and become marginally happy amidst the folly of man.

I want you to hear me when I say that this is an article about love, but not the kind you’ve been socialized to believe you deserve. This is about loving YOU above everyone else in your relation-sphere, because ultimately you’re all you’ve got.

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Morbid, I know. But I am trying to be realistic with you. That is something you do deserve.

With Corporate America’s second favorite holiday looming ever so close, I thought it might be nice to remind you all of how important autonomy is in the longevity of your life. Yes, I will agree that arguably it is nice to share your life with another person in a socially constructed “healthy happy committed loving” relationship. Unfortunately, that’s not what this piece is about. I’m not here to give you advice about how to fall in love or how to fall out of love or anywhere in between. You don’t need that. If you’re looking for a guide sheet for how to have the relationship you believe you deserve, then you might as well stop reading. No one can write that story for you.

There is no secret. There is no formula. You have to create it from nothing.

I am here to remind you that even though “love” is an essential part of the human experience, it really means nothing if you can’t sit with yourself by a fire and not shrink. If you don’t feel autonomous with who you are to the core of your being, unfortunately my little turtle doves, you are nowhere near ready to add another person to your mess. There’s a Hallmark card you won’t see on the shelves this season.

Love has many interpretations, reflections, definitions, miscommunications and so on and so forth. “Love is patient, love is kind.” In my experience, love shows up in everything. Love is leaving your phone’s volume on when you fall asleep in case your friend has another panic attack and you need to help them breathe. Love is recognizing that true connection is about understanding someone, not knowing someone. Love is sitting under a sunset and not touching your phone. Love is being afraid of the future and still making the choice to get up every day and keep fighting. Love is all of this and more.

Love isn’t having someone there to hold you when you feel broken, but instead taking all of your pieces and gently placing them back together at your own pace. Love isn’t a title, but instead it is being able to listen to your body and allowing your heart to determine how you show up for others. Love is no t what I had been conditioned to believe it was, but instead it is way more than I ever expected.

My first experience with love was a big one. That’s all I can think of really when I look back at our beautiful mess. Everything just felt so big. And that big turned to heavy. And that heavy turned to confusion. And that confusion turned to hurt. And before I knew it, everything had gotten away from me and I was having a hard time getting back to where I started.

I started with me. We all start with ourselves. That’s where I got lost. At step one.

It was tingly fingertips and hard conversations and ultimately feeling absolutely pitted. Feeling like you are being simultaneously pushed in the chest while having someone kiss all of your wounds. It’s unquestionably nuts and causes you to act accordingly.

I am writing this today to remind you all that regardless of where you stand in any of your relationships, you cannot for whatever reason, compromise who you are. Chances are when this happens, it’s not something your partner is causing you to do. We start to compromise ourselves intrinsically. Don’t fault yourself for the ones who hurt you, instead rise in love through your relentless ability to grow.

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What you have to remember is that only you are in charge of the way you feel and engage with this life. Only you are in charge of you. This is why autonomy is important. That is why love is not the answer – autonomy is.

To be autonomous is to accept complete, total sovereignty over oneself, one’s body and one’s experience.

Coming from someone who has made a lot of mistakes and is trying her best to suck the poison out, I firmly believe that autonomy can be your saving grace. At least, it’s the only one I can conceptualize at this exact moment in my life. Granted, feeling autonomous is not a tangible thing you can necessarily hold in your hand. It’s not something that your friends can tell you’re trying out, or at least I’ve never had someone say “Wow, you working towards being more autonomous looks good on!” It’s not that simple. It’s getting to the nit and grit of your being, figuring out where you need to improve and actually putting in the work to get better. It’s having really good days followed by really bad days, but still getting out of bed and finding a reason to keep going.

This isn’t a letter to my ex. This isn’t a letter to me. This isn’t even a letter to you.

It’s a letter of intent.

It’s a documented recognition that self-preservation is stronger than you believe and that you can get right with yourself even when you feel unworthy. Allow yourself grace and accept your ability to fail. Allow yourself to rise above every expectation you believe you must meet to be autonomous.

So if anyone is focusing on not having a person – be your own person. Easier said than done but you’ll figure it out.

Beyond heartbreak – there is you.

Collegian Columnist Kendall McElhaney has never met a man bun she didn’t like. She can be reached at entetainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @kendallaftrdark.