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USC Keynote Address
Interviewing Isis King
I can’t think of Valentine’s Day without thinking of this day two years ago.
I was single, lovesick and beyond weary. Weary of Aaron’s inability to commit to me, to be with me, to choose to make a life with me.
At this time two years ago, there wasn’t an us. I didn’t know the Aaron who’d bake oatmeal cookies for me. I didn’t know the Aaron who’d spend hours editing videos and photos for my website. I didn’t know the Aaron who’d randomly leave love notes around our apartment just because.
The Aaron I knew two years ago was an Aaron who was pretty certain that he wasn’t able to give me what I needed. This disappointment was something he communicated to me time and time again, in big and small ways: Not returning my calls or texts; flaking out on my passive-aggressive invitations to hangout; and outright telling me that he was afraid he couldn’t give me what I wanted.
On Valentine’s 2010, we’d been dating for nearly a year, and in that time I had told him about my journey, about my childhood, about my transition. He knew everything about me, yet was still reluctant to commit to me. And like most women with father issues, I blamed myself, my past, internalizing his rejection, his ability to communicate that he didn’t want to be in a relationship, as a reflection of my self-worth, or lack thereof.
After nearly a year of in-between, no-title, no-commitment dating, I could no longer live in limbo. Aaron had a hold of my heart, but had no desire to take on the responsibility to handle it with care. So with no Valentine and no date, I got a knock on my door.
The person on the other side was Aaron, with cupcakes in his hands. He wished me a happy Valentine’s Day, gave me a hug and swiftly left. I was alone on this day of love with cupcakes that reminded me of all the things I did not have: a relationship, a partner that would challenge, nurture and affirm me, a man who’d actually stay.
It was then that I said, “No more.” No more crying, no more worrying, no more unanswered invitations. Aaron and I would be no more. I committed to leaving him behind so I could hopefully move on with someone who would give me what I needed and deserved.
I cried myself to sleep that night, as I made room in my heart and life. I mourned what I hoped we’d become. I mourned the intimacy, the friendship, the love. But I finally accepted what for months he’d been telling me: He was not willing, able, ready to give me what I wanted.
A week later, my buzzer woke me in the middle of the night. It was Aaron, who – after nearly a year of unmet expectations – said he was finally ready to “make room” for me in his life. It was one of the happiest nights of my life.
Since that late-night revelation, I’ve experienced the blossoming of us. I’ve watched this man, who previously disappointed me, over-deliver over and over again. His love for me, a love that I had once given up on, is the foundation unto which I am able to do what I do. It’s his support and cheerleading that made me step forward with my story, but most importantly it was sharing my story with him that made me fall in love with me all over again.
I’m a relationship person. I’ve always been and always will be. It’s deemed weak in our culture to say that you want a relationship, that you want a partner, that you want love in your life. To yearn for it is a sign a weakness. But I think the real weakness lies in those who deny themselves the opportunity to allow love and abundance in their lives.
I’ve watched my closest girlfriends discover, lose and find love again. I’ve been on the other end of instant messages that said, “You’re so lucky to have Aaron,” as if my apparently perfect relationship has been this fairy-tale romance that appears as a looming judgment or unreachable benchmark held above them.
On the contrary, I’d like to use my relationship, the good and the bad, as an example: Relationships are hard, sometimes they’re ugly, sometimes the man of your dreams, as I’ve learned with Aaron, isn’t always the man you want him to be. That it often takes time for him to figure out what he wants, and how you react to this person’s growth in your relationship is a testament to the kind of relationship you’ll have and the kind you’re willing to work for.
I don’t know why I’m writing this post, but I think I’m figuring it out as I type. I wanted to write to all the single girls and guys out there looking, hoping, wishing for love to know that I’ve been there. Before meeting Aaron and even while dating him, I didn’t know if the kind of love we have now was possible. I spent Valentine’s Day (aka Single Awareness Day) alone, wondering when the kind of love I’d been conditioned to believe was out there for all of us would actually come into fruition.
But despite how dark and lonely and lovesick I got, I never gave up. I had hope that one day I’d be a part of something amazing, a partnership worth investing all of me into. I guess I want to say to all you relationship dreamers out there: Never ever give up on love. Never.