You may have heard of my birthday. It’s kinda famous (infamous? Depends on who you’re talking to.) It gets smirks, gasps, understanding nods or apologies — “damn, your birthday depression must really hit!” If you’re reading this around when I publish this piece, chances are you know where this is going. Yes, my birthday is on good ol’ Valentine’s Day.
Scratch that, Valentine’s Day is on My Birthday.
When I was younger, the realization of February 14 being more than the day on which I made a point to wear pink, had yearly check-ins with distant relatives and rightfully expected my favorite birthday dessert of strawberry cheesecake, was definitely a recalibration of sorts. Getting my annual vaccinations was consistently a dreaded process, but I always blushed hearing the phrase “birthday on Valentine’s Day? So you’re getting two presents!” In all honesty, this coincidence made sense to me — it reaffirmed my already unwavering main character syndrome (yes, I did read too much Junie B. Jones!)
As I got older, the two ideals — what a birthday represents and what Valentine’s Day represents — resulted in frequent mental clashes in the yearly reevaluation that comes with birthdays. Birthdays are usually the celebration of one’s self, and Valentine’s Day is typically a celebration of romantic love. Inevitably, there was an underlying spotlight on my love life that I placed in my head; the general context of the day was already all things romance, so in trying to celebrate another year gone by, I couldn’t help but place an unnecessarily large emphasis on my romantic successes or pitfalls in that past year. When was it my fault, when was it his fault, when was it just the overall circumstances? Did I learn to progressively chip away at my apprehensions within the past year? Even in writing this, I hesitate to articulate these thoughts in fear of their annual frequency becoming a ritual of sorts that I come back to year after year.
In recent years (translation: literally this past year), I’ve tried to prioritize the notion of self-love, first and foremost. I’m a proud follower of @wetheurban on Instagram, and shamelessly have had many-a-post from their account as my lock screen. Be it either doing both will.i.am and Fergie’s verses in “Meet Me Halfway” on the way to the Kroger on Crooks and Livernois, or making my favorite comfort oatmeal that coincidentally no one in my family likes, I’ve always been more than okay hanging out with myself. To avoid sounding like my very accurate label of being a business major, on good days I think of potential men in my life (or prospects, as the group chat and I like to call them) in the framework of value-add. I (again, on most days) am more than content with the self, platonic and familial love in my life so view most men on the metric of complementariness, not necessity.
So I said “most” a lot in that paragraph. Every so often, there comes a disruption in which every notion I thought I held unwaveringly strong comes into question. For lack of a better term, I’m almost (will never admit fully being) down bad. And my brain then splits into two purviews like the two mini versions of Kronk speaking to him on each shoulder in “The Emperor’s New Groove.” One side is always giving excuses (maybe he doesn’t know how to communicate), while the other shakes her head in disappointment (and you choose to tolerate that?).
My inkling suspicion of romance is that it can disrupt your glass shield of self-love too dangerously. Beyonce’s never wrong, and she definitely wasn’t when she said we love dangerously and we love crazily (Jay-Z is out there somewhere yelling, “YES!”) While the unending, self-actualizing months of quarantine and virtual school forced me to find love and admiration and pride for myself, immediately afterwards I was hurtled into the clusterfuck that is the college “dating” scene, if it can even be called that. So on one hand, I repeat “I am healthy, I am wealthy” and on the other I say, “No matter what he’s doing…” New Girl vs. Cool Girl. I’m that girl vs. I want to be your girl. With my birthday and the day of all things love just having passed, I find myself ruminating on where the true Eliya really lies.
And then I think about the chart of human emotions and feelings one of my best friends showed me in the peak of one of my Boy Crazes(™). “Why am I feeling so MANY THINGS?” I lamented. She pulled up a kaleidoscope-looking chart of sorts on Google Images with a large spectrum of colors and little words associated with each color, called a feelings wheel. “These are your feelings, and these are the emotions that can result as a product of them,” she explained.
Yes, I may have slightly felt like a kindergartener, but the image of that chart remained imprinted in my mind as a symbol of the complexity and duality of not only myself, but all of us. Within us exist entire universes of emotions and feelings — one day you (and I) can be stoic and collected, and the next day we can be impassioned and lively. Bad bitchery, as my aforementioned group chat coined it, isn’t a contract you sign for eternity to never feel emotions like Ariel signed away her voice to Ursula. To me, it’s trusting your mind and being kind to yourself. In this day and age where emotions are seen as liabilities, I fall into many mental traps of thinking of myself as weak, and “all talk, zero game” when it comes to being Miss Independent. Then, a sense of cognitive dissonance is created: we objectively know our worth on paper, yet don’t act on that knowledge for a vague reason that maybe self-reflection (or therapy) will unearth one day. So on one hand, some of us find ourselves being “down bad,” and on the other hand, we simultaneously give ourselves a hard time for being in that state of mind.
Modern-day discourse in the media on relationships and love makes many arguments about the benefits of being emotionless and heartless, but when that heart inevitably does feel, we may think we’ve betrayed our model of 21st-century norms. Moreover, tapping into the image of “Cool Girl” for men (or as I call it, partaking in the pick-me industrial complex) even further emphasizes prioritizing your perception in the male gaze above who you actually are. Overall, in relationships, situationships and all the -ships in between, college culture seems to operate on the modality of not addressing genuine emotions. Many of us internally attempt to rewire our brains to not care, and to think that wanting a man in our lives is weak. Externally, we simultaneously try to convince them that we’re unbothered by their emotional unavailability, always down to “go with the flow.” What’s the end result? An all-encompassing sense of disconnect, one way or another, in which we refuse to acknowledge or prioritize what we feel and want to do in the midst of fitting into a persona.
So if you find yourself in the same realm of cognitive dissonance as I have, my unsolicited advice is to not admonish your heart, but be compassionate to it. Somewhere out there, my friends who gave me this very same advice are reading this right now rolling their eyes, and yes, I am giving advice that’s been hard for me to internalize. Where I am right now is at a place of learning about the most impactful person in my life: myself. When I think about the ways in which my feelings may not exactly be linear, I remind myself that we all operate on a spectrum of emotions, tapping in and out based on the sheer nature of our predispositions and past experiences. I know that I love abundantly, be it to myself, my family, my friends, my Spotify playlists or whoever ~he~ may be one day.
On the days (like this one, not like most) in which I scoff at the mention of my birthday being Valentine’s Day, I try to remind myself that something in the universe aligned to bring about my existence on a day many around the world were celebrating love. I choose to take that as an honor and as a result not be afraid of all the different shades in which my love manifests itself. And maybe it gives me the final word — I’m not ashamed to hope that when Mr. Him thinks of love, he thinks of me. Regardless, I know I am.
MiC Managing Editor Eliya Imtiaz can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org