Traditionally, Valentine’s Day is a representation of love and happiness. *Cue Al Green.* But for some, it’s an agonizing 24 hours. I’d rather sit through a marathon of Meet The Browns while in a sauna during an earthquake, than sit through a day’s worth of Snaps of tattered rose petals and “I love you” essay-length Instagram captions. I wasn’t always this person, though. I used to get excited about February 14, but after four years of being a side chick, I really dread this day.
Yes, four years. The first, and perhaps only, question you may have is the same one that has replayed in my head since it ended, “How did this go on for so long?”
How? Countless of likes lead to direct messages, direct messages lead to meet ups, and before you know it, you’ve formed some type of IRL understanding of this person. I got acquainted with, let’s call him Theo, when MySpace was still a wave. We both really liked each other’s taste in music and I thought he was hilarious. We would freestyle battle in the Bulletins, chat on AOL, and Skype. I knew he was into me, but he had a girlfriend. We didn’t act on our attraction, and went our separate ways.
Fast-forward some years, I’m in college. I’m blossoming into the hot ass mess that is our early 20s, but I’m wearing the age well. I had my own job, I was in college, and I was making new friends. I was doing thangs. I was just stepping out of the phase where you shave your head bald and try to Badu through life. (Badu actually looked good on ya girl.)
One night, I went to an event that Theo happened to attend as well; it was a pleasant reunion. Once I found out he was single I got the balls to pursue him. We hit it off. It was as if we picked up from where we left off. Seeing that he was a rapper–and I, soon to be DJ–we both shared a love for music. He seemed to be fascinated by me, captivated even.
A lot of our bond was built off me consoling him while he worked through the growing pains of severing ties with his ex. He’d tell me I was nothing like his ex. Our bond grew. I’d never had a boyfriend nor knew you could connect with another human being on such level.
I quickly reached the point many do when dating when one asks, “why aren’t we together?” One day, after having stressed to always be honest with one another, I smashed the guilt button a little too hard. He confessed that he had decided to get back with his ex. Yep, the same ex he complained about for months. Yet, for some reason, he never fell back. We hoped to maintain a friendship, but it ended up being more. (Boy, were we delusional.)
We were together every other day and night–waking up together. Sharing our hopes and dreams. Encouraging each other. Building sanctuaries in one another. He’d tell me how beautiful and unique I was. It was a high to be adored by someone I had crushed on for years, and to seemingly have everything in common with. We were developing a crazy, passionate relationship, but it only existed in a bubble for two.
I would show up to his shows and parties, holding in the secret that was us. Letting this lie take up so much space in our relationship, it grew into this living, breathing thing that ate at us. I pitied him. The flawed artist, unable to choose. Stuck in a relationship with someone who needed him more than she needed air; this was his plight. How dare I hold him accountable for all the promises he made? How dare I demand to be chose by either him or myself? I kept our secret for four years, for too long because of my warped sense of empathy and compassion and my depleted sense of self-worth.
I grew to feel fortune, despair, infatuation, and hatred all at the same time, all for the same person. I wanted more, but I wanted it from someone who wasn’t willing to give it to me. I had never felt this type of connection, or this type of love, before so I was afraid to lose the good parts of it. I was afraid to demand what I deserved because I thought I would lose him.
I grew impatient. I tried to guilt him into confessing. “If we are going to continue to be together, you have to make her aware,” I said. “How selfish of you to keep our relationship a secret from your partner, for the four of the seven years you’ve been involved with her?”
Fed up, I decided to tell her myself. His girlfriend and I ended up booking DJ gigs the same event. I saw it as a sign. I had to tell her. I had to take the chance. We were set to meet the day after our show, but it never happened. Theo rushed to her house and told her himself.
She called me, and her first words to me were, “So you’re fucking my man?” I could hear him in the background stuttering. She asked if him and I were together two weeks ago. He had lied and downplayed our relationship as if we were a weekend fling. I told her to ask Theo to tell the truth. The phone conversation ended quickly thereafter, and to this day, I don’t think she knows the extent or duration of our relationship. (Ignorance is bliss.)
“So you’re fucking my man?” still rings in my ear. I’d never thought of it that way; in hindsight, I do. I had spent so much time with him, exchanged so many ‘I love you’s, and had been through so much with him…I thought their relationship was a joke. He had violated this woman’s trust by sharing her shortcomings and inclinations with me, but he had abused mine. Her man? It threw me for a loop, but it was true. When feelings hold the place of facts you can end up in situations you never imagined. I was in a relationship with someone else’s boyfriend for four years.
When they broke up, we wounded up together again. Unbeknownst to me, while with me, he was begging for her forgiveness. After a few weeks, he claimed to need space and broke it off with me. I then found out he was still seeing her, after coming across photos of them in Miami. It really hurt. I didn’t understand. Why didn’t he want me? What could I’ve done better? How did I let this happen for so long?
I had become depressed, angry, and violent. When the violence manifested as a threat towards her, I knew it was time to let go. I’d become someone so far removed from myself. I’d never been a violent person. I’d never cried so often in my life. I constantly apologized to him for my feelings, blaming myself for what he put me through. I no longer recognized who I was. What we had had to cease.
I despise Valentine’s Day. It reminds me of how oblivious I was to my own needs, meanwhile focused on being enamored publicly, endlessly, and unapologetically. Last Valentine’s Day, I cried in bed and didn’t eat for days. I was a mess. This year, I’m less of a mess. I’m content, and arriving at this contentment took soul searching. I am firm and happy where I am.
I’ve learned that love cannot blossom in hiding. Love isn’t an Instagram highlight reel of relationship selfies. Love can be shaped in a complex, convoluted form, but it can also be a manifestation of insecurity. Love is valuing yourself, beyond Valentine’s Day. Every year I curate a side chick mix for both the Valentine-less and the hopeful romantics to enjoy. The Valentine’s Day mix below, premiered here on ILY, is laced with themes of heartbreak, yearning, deceit, empowerment, healing, and self-love (And, such self-expression is a way for me to poke fun at my own tribulations and remind myself it’s in the past.)