Falling in love with myself has meant falling in love with the world

I’ve become a shameless flirt.

In the last month, I’ve received more male attention than I have in years, apparently because there’s now an invisible sign around my neck proclaiming: “Single and ready to engage.”

Indeed, I agree with a dear friend that the energy I now carry is different than when I was in a relationship, that there is an openness and approachability I naturally kept in check when I wasn’t looking, wasn’t interested in anyone but my beloved. Then, even if a man did cast more than a curious glance my way, I was less likely to notice without his regard being pointed out. Now, I’m not only noticing these men, I seem to be inviting them in without even trying.

From the employee stocking the shelves at Whole Foods who asked for my number after I sought his help in locating the day’s special to the police officer on duty at the bank who suggested a lunch date, I’ve been amused by how a simple smile or hello has been attracting so much more in return. One man even tried to chat me up while I was stopped in my car at a traffic light after we exchanged a fleeting glance when he strolled by.

I don’t share any of this to brag. Instead, what these brief interactions have reinforced for me is the allure of joy and the appeal of a woman in love with herself. To me, they’ve been a reflection of a part of self that’s been reclaimed in the months of mourning my relationship, a part that’s emerged from the terrain of heartbreak and longing to grasp, at last, her worth.

For the first time in my life, I have a true and unshakeable sense that who I am is enough. There is nothing outside myself I need in order to feel I matter, no reason to show up as anything but my authentic self in any interaction because I love who that woman is. I love her with such acceptance and delight on most days, I’m fairly brimming with the exhilaration of that awareness.

And if I’ve been a flirt, it’s not because I’ve been going out of my way to charm any man in particular. No, what I mean by flirting is I feel so happy in my own skin, that ease has been spilling over to even the most innocuous interactions. And what is flirting, to paraphrase one wise woman’s words, but the celebration of ourselves in the presence of another?

All I am doing is being me, without agenda or the desire to make a certain impression. And that seems to have its own alchemy.

I don’t know how I arrived here. There isn’t a moment I can point to where everything shifted, a breakdown or breakthrough that sprouted these seeds of change. All I know is, for the last year, I have been unpacking cluttered corners of my life, staring down memories and moments that had perniciously, if unconsciously, shaped the struggles on my path. When I think back to this time last summer, and the capsizing of my relationship under the weight of a protracted, unhealthy dynamic, I knew then I was being called to a healing deeper than the work of restoring our partnership to more-stable ground.

I never imagined we would ultimately go our separate ways, that in losing the man who had made a habit of celebrating me I would learn to celebrate myself. Loving him was gift enough, but if this, too, was part of our purpose in walking together, then every step has been worth it.

Years ago, I waltzed into a coffee shop to meet two of my favorite girlfriends for brunch. It was an ordinary moment, but in my memory, it has always been electric, a sliver of morning that pulsed with an enveloping vibrancy.

I remember my own exuberance, bouncing in like a loosed child, with an irrepressible smile and greeting for anyone who looked my way. At the counter, as I chatted with the barista, I caught sight of one of my friends and lifted my hand in a wave enthusiastic enough to send the bangles on my arm sailing across the room.

Fortunately, they clattered to the floor without colliding with other customers or their coffee, and I could only laugh at what my mom and brother would have cheerfully called “a Naila moment” — a phrase born of one too many acts of improbable clumsiness — as I made my way to retrieve them.

On that morning, nothing could have stinted my joy. I had recently been ordained as an interfaith minister and fallen madly in love. Summer, my favorite season, was in full feverish regalia and I couldn’t imagine a better start to my day than with two women I greatly admired and adored. I was my best sparkly self.

Years later, I would wonder what happened to that woman, the one who felt so vitally alive and walked with an awareness of the light that was hers. She’d flickered, sometimes even flared, in the space of settling into a relationship and coping with its challenges, in the seasons of loss and discarded dreams and bands of brighter passages. But mostly, she seemed to have disappeared.

Now I know she needed to be rooted in something deeper than circumstance and perception. I needed to appreciate and cherish myself not because of how others saw me but who I know myself to be. It was up to me to celebrate me and not just when life was going well and I had reason to rejoice.

And so I flirt, everywhere and anywhere — a daily act of greeting myself as beloved and putting a shine to my worth.

– Life in LaLa Land, published in The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times


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