Me and My Lists

A series on navigating romance and growing up.

[Me and My Lists] Part 5: Making Peace With Lonelygirl

I have a habit of nicknaming myself.

There’s “Frankie,” of course–my mum gave me that nickname because of the movie Frankie and Johnny, which I love because I see a lot of myself in Frankie.  (Maybe it’s true what they say–your name helps define who you become?)

There’s “NC”–my middle initials.  I started using them as a name when I started publishing fanfiction, because it sounded cool and vaguely author-ly.

There’s “Key,” which is basically a shortened Frankie.

There’s “Tweet,” which I got in sophomore year of university because of an inside joke between me and my friend Inah.  The nickname didn’t last, though.

There’s “Panda,” which is what the DJs of Mellow 94.7’s The Factory call me, due to my then-predilection for dancing around in a panda hoodie.

…and there’s “Lonelygirl.”

I made up “Lonelygirl” the summer I spent in Starbucks Pearl, which was incidentally the summer I was obsessed with Gossip Girl (in general) and Ed Westwick (in particular).  It was one of those summers when I desperately wanted to be in love with someone while falling out of love with someone else.  A celebrity–by nature unattainable and more than a little bit imaginary–was a great distraction, but there was still that nagging sensation in my heart (somewhere in the left ventricle) that Ed Westwick wasn’t enough.

That, coupled with the fact that I did actually spend most of those long afternoons alone, commandeering a booth at Starbucks, gave birth to the nickname “Lonelygirl at Starbucks Pearl.”  And even after I stopped going to Starbucks regularly (budget, obvs), the “Lonelygirl” name (branding?) stuck–“Lonelygirl: The Elinor Adventures”; “Lonelygirl’s Excellent Brazilian Adventure,” “hashtag-Lonelygirl.”

You could say it’s become a habit, calling myself “Lonelygirl.”  And, at least in one respect, the world would not disagree with the label.

I’ve noticed that, in the eyes of a lot of people, I’m kind of old (at a decrepit twenty-one) to have never had a boyfriend (or even a first kiss).  Even my mum’s friends’ reassurances of “You’re still so young!” are beginning to sound increasingly hesitant, followed more and more with “Maybe you haven’t been looking?” “Maybe you keep turning people down?”

To be honest, I have been looking.  Or, rather, had been.  For most of my late-teenage years I jumped from crush to crush, crashing and burning in my search for The One, or at the very least someone who fit the bill at the time.  Some of them were pretty great.  Some…not so much.  A few were very nearly something.

But, in the end, nothing happened.  Or, well, nothing that can be called a “relationship” or even a “romance.”

Throughout those years, I found myself often taking to social media to rail against my consistently-single state.  I carved a niche for myself as the “bitter-love” girl, who could be counted upon to bash romance and relationships…while at the same time writing poems full of love and longing while “On My Own” played on loop in the background.  Complaining about being single and apparently unlovable became a habit, something that defined my personality just as much as the self-proclaimed nickname of “Lonelygirl.”

…and yet, on the (very) odd chance that a guy would actually like me enough to make a move, to hint at the possibility of something, to maybe end my single state…I always shot him down.  Even when I thought I could like him–and in one case I really liked him–I said no.  I backed off.  I said I wasn’t ready for a relationship.  When he would (inevitably) ask me why, I would recite a spiel on being too immature, too emotionally unstable, too jealous, too selfish to consider having someone in my life.  I’d reel that off, rapid-fire, with all the earnestness I could muster, and in the end the boy would go on his merry way and I’d stand there thinking that perhaps that was my chance but I refused to take it.

Looking back on those years, though, I’m glad I refused to take any of those chances.  Despite the fact that I probably sounded incredibly self-righteous reciting that laundry-list of reasons, the truth is I was right.  I was, I am, not ready to be in a relationship yet, for the simple reason that this isn’t my time for romance.  Rather, it is my time for something else.

Girls are often compared to flowers, “blooming” into womanhood.  I don’t like that illustration very much–it tends to sound cheesy or vaguely obscene–but there is some truth to it, in that flowers–plants in general–are governed by seasons, by steps in growth.  You need to grow a root system first before it can flower, otherwise the weight of the blossom will cause the plant to tip over or result in a bloom that fades too early.  Plants know this, which is why some refuse to bloom when the soil isn’t rich enough or the rains haven’t come.  Instead, they wait, biding their time, gathering strength, waiting for those roots to sink down deep to support the beauty that lies ahead.

All those years I was waiting, whining, looking, and running after the ideal of romance were years that I neglected my roots in favor of trying to force flowers out of season.  But it wasn’t my time: I was neither secure, mature, nor disciplined enough for a relationship.  The proof?  My relationship with God.

There’s a reason why, in Revelation, God refers to himself as the church’s “first love”–because that is what he is supposed to be.  Your first love.  Because He is love, personified and codified in the take-no-prisoners terms of 1 Corinthians 13: patient, kind; never envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, or easily-angered; and keeping no record of wrongs.  God is an all-in-all love, and he pursues a relationship with us so that we learn to reflect the same.  He is the root system that defines the flower and, eventually, the fruit.  Without a connection to him, we are incapable of any other kind of love, whether familial or friendly or romantic.

Looking back on college-age Frankie, with her self-righteous spieling and nagging insecurities, it was obvious that I was not ready for love.  And I’m still not quite there yet now.  But instead of fighting the isolation, the “loneliness” of not having a “significant other,” I’ve learned that there really is no rush.  That there may be (will be?) season of romantic love for me, but now is not it.  Right now, I am growing roots that stretch deep into nurturing soil, drinking deep and being prepared for the next level, the next stage, and confident that when the time comes–however it manifests–God will move me forward into full bloom.

I have made peace with the “Lonelygirl” identity, because I know that even as I am “lonely”–that is, single–I am not lonely at all.  Instead, I am loved, and learning to love, so that when the time comes, I won’t feel the need to spiel, or make excuses.  I will know, because He will have told me, “It’s time to bloom where you’ve been planted.  Your season has come.”

Awakening Love


(Stay tuned for Part 6.)


[Me and My Lists] Part 4: A Prince Charming (Named Dad)

My favorite Disney Princess, growing up, was Cinderella.  I loved everything about her story, from the singing animal friends, to the fairy godmother, to the sparkly dress, to the ball.  But what, or rather who, I loved most, was Prince Charming.

Prince Charming was my hero.  Even if he nearly never spoke, I was absolutely in love with him.  He was perfect: tall, handsome, rich, could sing, could dance…did I mention he was tall, handsome, and rich?

Jokes aside, I was absolutely in love with him.  Why?  Because he rescued Cinderella.  Because she was miserable, and abused, and had to sleep in a garret full of vermin for crying out loud (cute animal friends though they were, I knew that it technically wasn’t hygienic for a girl to be sleeping somewhere with mice), and then he came along and suddenly she was royalty, she was a princess, complete with the Grace Kelly-style wedding gown and the tiara.

Growing up, I wanted someone who would make me feel like that.  I wanted someone who would rescue me from the monsters under my bed or the bullies at the playground.  I wanted someone who would listen to me when I cried because my friends had been mean or my teachers were teasing me by calling me a “piggy.”  I wanted someone who would tell me I was a princess.  And while my mum did all those things…with my Prince Charming, it would be different, somehow.

The name of my Prince Charming was “Dad.”  I wanted a Dad.  I had a father, but he was a father in the Cinderella sense–he disappeared in the very beginning of the story, leaving behind shadows of memories that could not be completely trusted.  See, my parents were separated, and would be annuled when I was thirteen.  My dad wasn’t around very much when I was growing up, and when he was…it wasn’t always pretty.  Instead of enjoying my drawings, he laughed that I couldn’t color within the lines.  Instead of calling me beautiful, he called me “dummy.”  Instead of singing to me, he shouted.  Oh sure, sometimes he laughed and joked and bought me toys…but when it counted, he couldn’t be Prince Charming.

Eventually, I grew old enough to understand completely what was going on, and around that time stopped liking Cinderella.  I found her too weak, too feeble and vulnerable.  I couldn’t be those things–I had to be strong, to fight my own battles, to figure out my own way in the world. (I guess it’s no surprise that my next-favorite Disney Princess would be Mulan.)  When the boys teased me, or tried to beat me up, I fought back with fists and feet.  I flushed my food down the toilet so I wouldn’t have to eat it, making sure no one could call me “fat.”  I made very sure to give my friends no reasons to be mean to me.  In short, I learned to survive without a Prince Charming.  I was determined I would never need him.

…Except I still wanted him, somewhere.  Even as I got older, learned to fight with different weapons, learned more and more to make my own way, there were times I wished for someone to sweep in, fit the slipper on my foot, and transport me to a better life where I wouldn’t have to fight anymore, where no one and nothing could touch me.  Try as I might to deny it, I wanted Prince Charming and the safety of his Palace Gates.

Or, well, I wanted a dad to be there for me the way the dads of all the other daughters I knew were.  Because when you’re young, romance isn’t a big deal.  It’s all fun and games, fairytales.  What matters is love, and protection.  Security and significance.

We’re taught, in my church, that the father is the head of the family for a reason–he provides for them the picture of what it means to have God as a Father.  He leads the household, the same way Moses and Joshua led the Hebrews, or the Judges (the good ones, anyway) lead Israel.  That’s why being a dad is such a serious responsibility, and that’s why dads need all the help they can get from God Himself.  To their wives, they are lover, protector, and head of their household–the Warrior King for the Warrior Queen.  To sons, they are the example of what manhood means–a walking, talking operational definition, the Jedi to their Padawans.  To daughters, they are to set the standard for future husbands, to give them something to demand from men, and to reinforce the worth of their daughters to demand it.

I never got that from my earthly father, and I guess that is the reason why I spent thirteen years looking for my Prince Charming, until I found Him.  Or, rather, I found my King Charming.  I found my Dad, the King of Kings, the Father of all Fathers, the literal Best Dad Ever.  And while that doesn’t mean that all my war wounds were bandaged up overnight, it did mean that I could start to heal, because I didn’t have to fight my own battles anymore, not even the ones in my own head.  I had Someone to protect me now, and, more importantly, someone to set the standard for what it would mean for me to be a woman, and what the man in my life, my eventual Prince Charming, would have to be like in order to deserve me.

So now I have my King Charming, my Heavenly Father, God, to do all the things for me that my father never managed to do.  Except here’s the thing with having a King for a Father…you still have to treat Him like royalty.  Which means you still have to submit to Him, to learn to obey, to follow His design.  Otherwise, you end up back where you started: fighting for nothing, trying to control things beyond your control, running a life you have no idea how to run.

Considering the alternatives, submitting to God makes sense.  After all, He knows better.  He made me, after all–worked out my design, fleshed out my purpose, put me together, quirks and all.  It’s sort of like having Steve Jobs around to personally guide you on how to use an iPhone–you’d be a fool to dispense with his advice and go and do it your own way.  Except that was exactly what I was, a fool.  Even if I had made the decision to make Jesus Lord and Savior over my life, I wasn’t exactly going to go quietly.  Years of fighting my own battles had given me an insanely strong pride and a habit of control.

Most of all, those years had given me a rebel heart.

(Stay tuned for Part 5)


[Me and My Lists] Part 3: Love Makes It Easy

Love makes it easy to feel like a woman.  When you’re in love, your heart races.  You flush.  You feel small and fragile and precious.  Even if not ten seconds ago you were the vicious orchestrator of a corporate takeover, or the alluringly charming Don Draper-ette at a client pitch, when you are in love, you become a girl again.  Someone to be treasured, protected, held close.  Call me a hopeless romantic, or a traditionalist, but that is how it’s always felt like to me.

When I’m in love (or, rather, “in love”), I feel like a girl.  I feel the vulnerability, the longing to be held.  I feel the desire for companionship, for care.  I also feel a need to be the companion, to care for.  Being in love awakens both the mother and the lover in me, the stirrings of the domestic woman that modern feminists would cringe at.  I feel girlish, which comes from the low German ‘gor’: “child.”  I feel like a child, like everything is new and to be wondered at, that I can be terribly brave and yet awfully bashful by turns.

Love makes it easy for me to feel like a woman…but it doesn’t make it easy for me to be one.  When I’m “in love” is when I realize, oh-so-acutely, that I have no idea how to play out this part of the script.  Anything I say either sounds too calculated or too thoughtless.  Anything I do looks either like I planned it three months in advance or else did it without even consulting common sense.  I do something then wish I hadn’t, or don’t do something and later wish I did.

Most of all, I have to wonder at how other girls manage this and make it look so easy.  They smile, they wave, they walk with poise and grace, and they never seem to skip a beat when they speak to a boy.  One moment, a girl can be blushing by my side, pointing out a crush and giggling nervously; the next she can be chatting with him about the weather, or a class project, or some piece of news from the grapevine, looking as natural as if she felt absolutely nothing at all.

I’ve never understood how a girl could hide all those things.  I can walk around school with Dengue Fever and no one would be the wiser (except maybe for the rash), but afflict me with an attraction and I am an absolute mess, a bundle of nerves, an overloaded processor freezing, hanging, skipping, and crashing by turns.  I become temporarily schizophrenic, and with one personality surprising the other with its wants and needs and desires, and while I always feel like one personality makes more sense…I find the other one is very good at making sure she gets at least some of her way, at least until I’ve noticed she’s driving us straight into disaster.  Sometimes I don’t even notice then, and I get…crushed.  Mortified.  I could sink into the floor with all the recollections: awkward flirting, crossed boundaries, “I like you-s” I wish I could take back.

The only consolation is that mortification cures “love,” or at least staves off the symptoms enough for me not to show it.  The disappointment (and embarrassment!) at my behavior, the pain at being rebuffed…all of these are as effective as a bucket of cold water in cooling the fire of my ardor, even if they don’t necessarily silence the lead singer of Letters To Cleo singing over and over in my brain: “I want you to want me!  I need you to need me!  I’m begging you to beg me!”

Eventually, even she falls silent, and I move on.  Sometimes quickly.  Sometimes slowly.  Always, not without a new lesson, a new scar, a new reason to facepalm and wonder when I’ll ever get this right.

I take that back.  Love does not make it easy.  Or maybe love does.  But “love”?  “Love” makes it even more difficult.

(Stay tuned for Part 4)