"Do you believe in love?" I asked him.
"What does that mean? It's like asking if I believe in air," he said back. We were snuggled up on the couch, my legs fixed on his lap, his restless hands massaging my calves and feet. 48 hours previous, he'd walked in the door with his brother, my roommate, and I got up to declare, "I'm Carmen. I live here."
"You do? I didn't know that. Very nice."
In a later conversation, he said, "I don't understand why people say love at first sight doesn't exist. Of course it does," without directly referencing our first meeting.
Truth is I'd known about him for exactly a year already. 365 days. The first time my roommate and I hung out together he told me I had to meet his older brother. I never take things like this lightly when people I admire declare them because I'm a true romantic and I believe in true love. And love at first sight. And the whole spectrum of what's possible in love. Even the possibility one can be addicted to love. Maybe I just missed mentioning the word "true" when I asked him that day on the couch.
But what I'm truly longing for, and have been missing no matter how much I tried to stir it, is the foundational love before all other loves: self-love. It is so often said that one must love oneself before loving another. That used to annoy me. I mean, what's the proven test for self-love anyway? Can it be declared in language or is it more gestural or is it how you behave toward others? What is the exact moment you KNOW you love yourself and are ready to love another? Girlfriends, aunties, self-help books, my mom, Elizabeth Gilbert, and many gay boyfriends have relayed this piece of wisdom to me over many tearful and confused episodes of longing for a man I believed to be the "the one", now just another tick on the long list of embarrassing love stories that coulda'been.
I knew they were right and yet I couldn't relate to their anecdotes and struggled. 365 days ago, I started to slow things down. Self-compassion tapes. Got into yoga. Moved out of an unhealthy neighbourhood. Stopped partying so much. As long as I can remember (and my journals from age 9 onward concur) my reflex had been self-hate. It's extreme, but when I'd really slog into the ugly shit of my psyche, there was a lot of rancour, disgust, and hatred there.
Then last summer an artist friend came to visit from Mexico bearing news of his butterfly projects and also his recent sobriety.
"I'm on a virtuous cycle," he said.
"WHAT IS THAT?" I needed to know. I'd been stuck in a frustrating rut of bad affairs and existential unhappiness (which is very unbecoming on a person with my energetic disposition).
"You know vicious cycles? Well it's the opposite of that."
He said he stopped all substances (mainly weed and booze) and though the results weren't exactly miraculous, he was experiencing a lot more productive time and more clarity in that time. No hangovers, no fogginess, no excuses, no laying about and so his good fortune, or virtuousness, was increasing exponentially. I'd been scouring the web all summer looking for detox centres or places to go and fast for a month (Jeanette Winterson had done it in Germany and it sounded awesome). ANYTHING to change how I felt and press reset on my life, but in my unhappiness, I even saw this desperation as a typical part of my cycle - was it all just more of the same self-hating shit? This virtuous cycle thing, something about that felt possible.
I stopped drinking that night. And a new cycle began. Almost like my real birthday.