Welcome to Love Files, our personal essay column exploring how our experiences have shaped our views on love – positively or negatively. From friendship to familial we’re unpacking it all in this series.
My approach to love has always been filled with cynicism, well, romantic love anyway. Like most teenage girls, when I was in secondary school, I was obsessed with boys. I had seen all my friends and classmates getting their first boyfriend and I didn’t want to be left out of that party. In hindsight, I’m not entirely sure what the appeal was, secondary school boys were mostly a disaster but still, there was nothing I wanted more than a “boyfriend”. I didn’t care about whatever connection I had or thought I had, I just wanted ANY boy to like me enough to make me their girlfriend.
There was no bigger validation for me at the time, but no matter how hard I tried (trust me, I trieeeed), it never happened. I attempted to “like” people I had no true feelings for because the quality of the relationship wasn’t what mattered to me, but the fact that I had a relationship in the first place. Because all my efforts proved futile, it made me genuinely believe that I wasn’t worthy of love. It didn’t help that I began to use the other people around me who had been in relationships as a yardstick. It was a stark reminder of all the things I felt were wrong with me – I wasn’t pretty and I talked way too much.
It’s funny how much of your childhood shapes you into the person you are today. I carried the belief that I wasn’t good enough for romantic relationships into every bit of my life. I started to believe that because romantic relationships hadn’t worked out for me in the past, it somehow reflected negatively on my self-worth. If I wasn’t good enough for that sort of love, then maybe I just wasn’t good enough for much else. It didn’t help that I moved to America for university and was even farther away from most of my friends and all of my family, it was very easy for me to feel isolated. It was also a huge culture shock, I didn’t understand American men and they didn’t understand me. I basically had to start all over with forming new relationships. It made me really insecure which in turn made me very indecisive. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to study in uni, if I wanted to move back home to Nigeria when I was done, or even if I liked a top enough to buy it. I constantly sought outside validation for everything. To make things worse, I was in a 4-year situation with someone who could not decide if he wanted me or someone else. Spoiler alert: I wasn’t the chosen one.
I poured over everything and anything there was to read about self-love, desperately trying to unlock what seemed to be the key to happiness in life. Articles reiterated how important it was to, “love yourself first and everything else will follow” but it wasn’t resonating with me. How was I supposed to love myself when I didn’t even like who I was in the first place? How does one simply decide to “love themselves”? I had been taught to hate the very things that made me who I was; I was way too open, too trusting and always ready to forgive.
I decided to try therapy to help make sense of all these feelings and thoughts. I will admit that at the time it helped. I didn’t immediately figure out the key to liking myself. There wasn’t a *eureka* moment that came to me suddenly and fixed everything. No, it took much more work than that and felt more like uncovering different missing puzzle pieces and trying to put them together. The first puzzle that came to me was how much I hated my job at the time. It contributed heavily to the way I viewed my life and I was incredibly dissatisfied with the work I was doing. This allowed me to have a real hard think about what I wanted to do and led me to start my baby, Femme. Through Femme, I was creating the sort of community and network I had craved when I was younger. It felt amazing.
All this while I had been trying to figure out how to be loved when the primary thing I needed was to love myself. And not “love yourself” in the colourful 6-slide Insta graphic with empty statements that feel neat and tidy, but by figuring out who I was and what brought me joy. I began to accept myself which wouldn’t be possible without my sister ( my BIGGEST cheerleader), my best friends and our Femme Africa and FEMME MAG community. I had been so focused on all the things I was not and all the things I had not done, that I never thought about all the things I was and all the things I have built and achieved. I also decided it was important for me to achieve goals, no matter how big or small. I decided I wanted to learn to drive, and while I hated it in the beginning because I can’t stand being bad at things, I pushed through it and now look at me, driving all over the most hectic city ever, Lagos. I’m still standing. I can’t say my life is perfect but I can actually say that I enjoy myself and the person I have become. I love my little routine of tennis twice a week, unwinding at the weekend with my girls and going to the spa whenever I can afford to.
It hasn’t been an easy journey but I’m almost glad I went through everything I did because it brought me to myself.