When I was young and single, I used to dread Valentine’s Day and invites to family weddings. Because nothing else seemed to make my loneliness as painfully obvious as witnessin someone else’s togetherness. I was ill equipped to deal with these feelings, having learnt as a teenager to pour concrete around my heart.

Like most girls, I was brought up on a diet of fairytales that had 20th century interpretations of traditional values at their heart. Grease, Pretty Woman, Dirty Dancing and that staple of the late 1980s, Some kind of wonderful, that my friends and I could quote from like our alternative Bible. We children of the 1980s wore out the video tape for Dirty Dancing, rooting for Baby, of course.  We took those lessons to heart… The best years of our lives were ahead for us, and we couldn’t wait for real love to come into our lives.

Except that, of course, real love had been there all along, hidden like a chameleon among green leaves.

I needed someone to tell me that, as an adult woman, looking after your partner or your children shouldn’t erode a sense of who you are. I needed to be shown that pursuing hobbies and friendships as an adult is a valuable ingredient to your emotional wellbeing. I needed to be told that, whilst keeping fit makes good sense, neither the figures on the scale nor our clothes size are to be made conditions for our loving ourselves.

This simple truth should have been the cornerstone of your formative years. Loving myself would have made my life simpler. I was a ‘bundle of contradictions’, ‘a girl who thinks too much’, a person with a big heart and long arms. I was a girl who was bullied and a loner (which one was first, the chicken or the egg?) I could have given so much to the world, but chose to spend hours alone, locked in my room, pondering existence.

So embrace your every quirk. Everything that makes you who you are is a reason to love yourself: from your fingerprints to the way you part your hair, from your knowing smile to the way you absentmindedly jump from one topic of conversation to another. Love yourself, embrace life and all its possibilities, and this love will come back to you, multiplied, revealing itself in random acts of kindness, in words that will comfort you.

So there you are, young girl. There was one love story waiting for you after all, whether you are young or old, single, divorced, married or widowed, man, woman or transgender, neurotypical or autistic, disabled or able-bodied, whoever you are and wherever your life is headed. Look after yourself in this journey. Love yourself, and life will love you, too.

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