It goes without saying that the past year has been one of the most challenging in recent history for nearly everyone. We all know what we’ve gone through globally, nationally, and individually. Through all of the hardships, heartbreak, and loss, though, we have persevered.
Over the past 12 months, I’ve endured challenges I never expected to experience, and it all happened during my first full year out of school. I have been fully supporting myself for the first time in my life, living away from my closest friends, and in a partially long-distance relationship while my partner finishes his degree. For several months, I’ve lived alone—with the exception of my dog, cat, and partner when he’s on break from school. As a true extrovert who thrives in social situations, I’ve had to adapt the way I communicate and spend time with not only my partner, family, and long-distance friends, but also the people with whom I work and my friends at home.
Through all of this, I’ve learned that the relationships we cultivate and the love that grows within them are some of the most valuable things we can have in life. Of course, we can have moral and material aspirations, and those ambitions are important in their own right, but that’s a topic for another time. Our relationships—the people who have loved and supported us through the most difficult times in our lives—those are what carry us forward when we cannot carry ourselves. We all deserve to be loved and supported in that way.
I am unbelievably grateful for all the people in my life who have helped carry me through this past year. They’ve not only been there for me through the lowest of the lows, but they’ve also taught me the kind of love and support I deserve. They’ve also taught me how to return that love and support. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I want to share my gratitude for my loved ones.
I’ll start with family. I’ve always been close with my nuclear family, but this year brought us so much closer. My parents and my brothers have been loving, understanding, and forgiving. Whenever I’m overwhelmed or just need to talk to someone, I can always count on them to be there for me. Even though we haven’t seen each other as much as we probably would have in a “normal” year, I talked to them more than I ever have before. A two-to-three hour phone call with my parents has become a regular practice, and I’ve begun to know them as people and not just my parents. Although we’ve always been close, I prided myself on my independence as a child, so I never really asked for their help or their advice much until COVID. I remember the day I found out that everything was going to get shut down, my dad was the first person I called. I was having a panic attack, and he helped me work through it. Of course, as the months went on, that wouldn’t be the only time my parents and I had a similar call. And as we learned more about COVID and what was or was not safe, I found myself wanting to spend more time with them. When both of my brothers were home (my oldest younger brother is in his first year of college,) I found myself spending hours upon hours just hanging out with my family. I wanted, and still want, to be around them and be there for them like they’ve been there for me.
I’m also incredibly grateful for my partner’s family. He and I have been together for six years, so I’ve known his nuclear family for a while and have always loved being around them. This year, though, as with my own family, we put a much higher value on the time we spent with them. At the beginning of the pandemic, we basically split all our time between my place and his mom’s. Even though I’m not technically related to them, his family has felt just as much mine as my own has.
I also want to share my gratitude and love for my friends and coworkers. As I’ve said before, I work two jobs. I’m part-time at 1N5, and full-time at a small local restaurant. Pre-COVID, I thought of my work friends as just that: work friends. I would occasionally make plans with some of them outside of work, but for the most part, I just saw them at work. As restaurants re-opened, though, I began spending more time with the people who came back. We now have a much smaller staff, so of course, we were all pretty much with each other all the time. We truly got to know each other, and I honestly could not ask for a better group of people to be working and spending time with. We trust each other, we count on each other, and we’re there for each other.
Last, but certainly not least, I want to take time to talk about the one person who has supported and loved me the most this past year. My partner, Kyle, and I have grown so much through all of this. At the beginning of 2020, as we were coming up on our five-year anniversary, we were not in the best place. We both had problems we weren’t dealing with, and we both held a lot of resentment for each other because of it. Even though we’d been together so long, we were in sort of a rut. We weren’t really communicating, and we weren’t sharing what needed to be shared. But then, the pandemic hit, and I think both of us realized we had to put in effort to make it work. We both grew so much over the last year, each with the help of the other. We learned how to communicate, how to support each other, how to be vulnerable and honest when we need to be. We, or rather I, stopped fixating on small, petty issues and worked to get to the bottom of problems when they arose. We learned each other’s love languages and what we both need out of our partnership. Now, nearly a year later, we just celebrated our six-year anniversary, and our relationship is the strongest it’s ever been. I didn’t know the kind of love I was capable of giving or receiving until it happened, and now I honestly couldn’t be happier in my relationship.
Whether you have a partner or a family member or a close friend who supports and loves you above all else, cherish that relationship. Know that you deserve that love, and you deserve to love yourself enough to embrace it. I used to run away from getting too close to people because I was afraid of being hurt. Over the past year, though, I’ve realized there are times I need to lean on others for support. In order to actually get the support and love you need, though, you need to be vulnerable and honest. You need to love and respect yourself enough to know that others can, too. When you break down those walls and ask for the support you need, it’s terrifying, but the outcome is worth the fear.
Sometimes, it can lead to heartbreak, but that’s okay. This year, I’ve grown apart from some folks I thought would be a part of my life forever. I’ve opened up to people and watched them walk away. But again, that’s okay because it only led me closer to the people who love me just as I love them.
Baring yourself to someone else is hard, and it takes a lot of internal work to get there. It also takes work to maintain those relationships once they’ve been established. That feeling of true unconditional love and support is well worth the work, though. Keep working on loving yourself and letting others love you, too.
As always, stay safe. Stay healthy.