He was supposed to be different. I had paid my dues. After all the men I had dated, you would think I would’ve gotten my act together, that I’d finally be an expert at choosing the right guy. And I thought he was. Here was a man who seemed to understand my heart, who taught me how to speak up, who cheered me up on those not so good days when it felt like the whole world was against me. It was easy to believe that he was the good catch I had been waiting for. A few weeks before my 40th birthday, he left a large gift bag outside my office door. When I looked inside, there was a card, a box of ginger lemon cookies and his favourite childhood book. To say that I was touched was an understatement. Never before had any man done something so unexpectedly kind for me.
I was stood up yet again
But, as I was sitting in Starbucks, watching the minute hand move farther and farther away from six ‘o clock, I realised that I was mistaken. I had been stood up—again. I wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was in traffic, I thought to myself, even though I knew he lived five minutes away. I waited 45 minutes, hoping he would walk through those glass doors, apologising profusely for his lateness. But he didn’t show up. I was left to sit there alone, cruelly sandwiched between two couples. I could have called him for sure but I was tired of always calling people. For once, I wanted to be important enough for a man to remember.
As I drove home that evening, I didn’t cry. I wasn’t even angry. It was more like my heart was sighing, like it had already accepted the fact that I would never find a man, at least not one who cared about me and my feelings. If I had been prettier, would that have made a difference? I thought to myself. Maybe nicer eyes or clearer skin or bigger bust would have made him remember. But before I could descend into that well of self-doubt again, I heard his voice loud and clear—a seven-year-old saying to me, “Look for kindness.”
The rise and fall of my optimism
When I turned 33, I had felt like I had reached this pivotal age. I mean, Jesus died at that age. That was momentous. And here I was, still bitching and moaning that I didn’t have a man. Well, that year I was determined to do something different, something more proactive to change my single status. So I joined a dating service and I told all my friends that I was open to being set up.
The thing about starting a new project is that in the beginning, you’re so optimistic. I would say to myself, “Surely, in this sea of men, the one I want is out there looking for me.” But as the months dragged on, and the dates began to blend into one big bad date, I became less and less sure. By the middle of the year, a part of me had already given up.
One day, I was sitting with my seven-year-old nephew, bemoaning the state of my affairs. The poor kid had watched me come back from each date, looking depressed and feeling like love would never happen for me. “Look for kindness,” he said, trying to cheer me up.
“Kindness, that’s what you need to look for, Aunty.”
I scoffed at him. I put on that air of what do you know, kid? I wasn’t about to take love advice from someone who thought the mall was a honeymoon destination or that fifty dollars was a lot of money to spend on a wedding ring. Didn’t he know? I was looking for kindness. I was trying to keep my heart open. But it just wasn’t working. Over the course of that year, I had been stood up more times then I’d like to count. One of the guys even fled the restaurant minutes after I arrived, saying that he had an emergency. And then, there were the weird ones like that one guy who thought it was a gallant show of affection to kiss my hand on the first date. There could not be enough hand sanitiser to get rid of that creepy feeling. My nephew didn’t get it. Who could blame him? He was seven. He was innocent to the storms of life. But in retrospect, it was me who didn’t get it.
Meet the 12-year-old sage
Of course, I ignored my nephew’s advice and kept pushing forward in dating. There were some high points I guess. It’s not like I didn’t experience kindness; I did. Men opened their car doors for me and made nice conversation but no one really seemed to care about getting to know me in particular. It was all surface stuff. At that point, I thought I was going to die an old maid. The week before I turned thirty-nine, I was weeping almost every day. “No!” I said to the universe, “I won’t turn 40 yet! Not until you give me what I want!” Now, the universe wasn’t going to listen to some bratty middle-aged woman who thought she deserved all the entitlement of a two-year-old.
When my birthday finally did arrive, no one wanted to go out with me. And I mean, no one. My parents finally convinced my nephew, age 12, to accompany poor aunty on her day out. Looking back on that day now, I feel bad. I spent the whole time recounting the horrors of my love life. Our conversation went something like this, “And then I dated him. Oh, and that was a disaster.” But my nephew didn’t even flinch. He listened patiently and nodded his head at all the proper times. Next to me, the boy looked like a darn sage. By the end of the day, when he said to me, “I’m sure you’ll find someone, Aunty” I almost believed him.
Being kind, finally
But when I heard my nephew’s voice on that drive home, it finally clicked. When he said look for kindness, it wasn’t about the guys at all. It was about me being kind to myself. That kindness and thoughtfulness I was searching for I already had within me. I just needed to find it and nurture it. If I couldn’t find it in myself then I wasn’t ever going to find it in someone else. Over the next couple of weeks, I realised that I needed to take time to get to know me and fill up my own worth. I needed to take my self-worth out of the relationship equation. No one would get to determine that anymore except for me. I was going to be kind to myself regardless if I had a man in my life or not.
I couldn’t really be mad at the guy who stood me up. How could I? Now that I know myself better, I realised that him not showing up that night was more a reflection on him rather than on my own worth. Yes, I was stood up again, but this time, it wasn’t my fault. In the end, he didn’t see all that he was missing. Thank goodness, I did.
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