Illustration by Lucy Cahill.

Illustration by Lucy Cahill.

In the 18 years I’ve been alive, I haven’t had a romantic relationship with anyone, save for myself. There are times when I’d like a pair of arms to hold me, or to tuck me in at night. Mainly, though, I’ve gotten so used to, and content with, being alone, that I’m not sure I know how to let the Potential Romantic Partner in. Ugh, the Grown Woman in me just cringed at the admission of needing “arms to hold me or to tuck me in at night.” Like, what am I, a child?!

Most of the people I know, if they’re not dating someone, have long-term romantic partners: as in, that real deal type of partnership. When we hang out, they talk about their daily routines, what “bae” got them for their birthday, petty fights they’ve had in the rain, weekend getaway plans, silly, kinky adventures, what their partners’ moms are like. Name it, I’ve heard it all.

I love that my friends trust me with their stories and I feel like a mom (or a grandma) to them when they reach out and ask for my opinion. Not everyone can muster the courage to speak to others about their dating issues, and I admire them for sharing their sweet moments, unloading their hurts, and knowing when to ask for help. When their stories don’t make me think, “Why am I STILL ALONE in this godforsaken world? Aaaaaghck,” they melt my heart and have me thanking the heavens for the generous gift of love, romance, and partnership. More frequent than the saccharine-sweet tales, though, are the spoiled, sour gecko ones. I listen when those come around, too. In a way, I feel accountable—if I enjoyed hearing about the Good Days, I’ve got to share the grief of the Bad Days, also.

One of my friends cried herself to sleep all summer long because she had to let go of a boy she was super in love with, not because the boy was horrible but because she “wasn’t loved the way she needed to be loved.” I did not deeply understand the situation, so all I could offer her was my silence—a particular kind of silence I’ve practiced and eventually mastered which means, “I’m here, and even though I’m not saying a word, I share in your sorrow.” Another time, I became a self-designated hair-holder, back-soother, and home-carrier for a friend who was so shaken by a breakup that she felt she “just needed to drink a li’l bit.” The night was all sobs, dry-heaving, and puking. Once I’d gotten her home I had to explain to her roommate what had happened.

As soon my friends are done recounting a bad incident or a breakup, they ask me, “What do I do? What do you think? Do you have any advice for me?” My sense of duty rises, and I’m all, “Hah, feminism! Boys are stupid!” Occasionally, though, I hesitate to give my girl-power advice because what if there are other aspects of their relationship that I don’t know about? I’m only the advice-giver, not the one who actually experienced being smothered by kisses as you wake up in the morning, or whatever. I feel honored to be the one my friends run to when they seek wisdom or clarity in their love lives but I also doubt myself: Am I really the right person to give relationship advice, or to hear these stories? Why?

I’m a dating rookie, but a veteran witness to real-life romance. Even once the stories have been shared, and we all go back to our respective homes, I ruminate over what I’ve been told pretty seriously. I archive my friends’ dating experiences and the advice I give them, saving them for when I can finally use them in my own life. Hearing relationship stories of every ilk has made me hyper aware of what being in a relationship can look and feel like. I’ve formed opinions about dating, and of what kind of partner I’d like to be. When I do eventually date someone, I don’t wanna be the one who’s all, “Oh, it’s 2 AM and I’m soooo hungry. Will you come over and bring me pizza?” Not that that’s bad but, you know, people are not robots who don’t get tired. Or, I don’t know, maybe I’m not that kind of person and other people are and that’s totally OK for them and their partners?

Clearly, I don’t know exactly what I want quite yet, since in my LIFE ENTIRE I haven’t been involved with anyone. In this year of our Lord 2015, that can kinda suck. Almost everything I see on Pinterest, or in any social media, are #relationshipgoals aka photos of a woman holding a huge-ass bouquet of white roses. I’m the one knitting a sweater, sitting by the fireplace, with three feline friends in my lap and muttering, “Why is everything about love nowadays?” I’m an old woman in soul, but I mean, why model your relationship on the likes of over a billion people across the globe who have Pinterest or an internet connection? Maybe the old woman Kiana is right, or maybe she’s just having her existential crisis.

Back to my point: I haven’t been in their shoes, but I know that my friends’ grief over a lost lover, or a broken connection, or a romantic relationship, is as real as the tears I see flowing from their eyes. This goes for the sweet, nice stories, too. As much as I enjoy basking in their sugary goodness—the recollection of late-night walks and hand-holding—I know that things can crumble, in time, even what now seems good and forever-y. What I’ve learned is, that’s OK. Everyone feels something, it’s OK, everyone needs someone at one point or another. It’s OK, you can tell that person that you like them. It’s OK if your love is not reciprocated. Most importantly, it’s OK to cry over unrequited love and your thirst for intimacy because it says so much about how capable you are of vulnerability, of giving, of loving, of tenderness.

Every day I stand before my emotional needs and wants, and every second is terrifying because I am afraid of seeming “too needy,” of not being accepted the way I am, of not finding someone with whom I can comfortably be weird. I entertain the ever-lurking idea that love has already given up ringing at my front door and moved on. Reading Anaïs Nin within the confines of a Tumblr search last week, I found a line that correlates to my worry of never finding acceptance: “…stop this incessant worrying that I can’t be loved as I am.” I immediately transcribed the quote into my journal. There I will keep it, until a friend of mine needs it. Or until I do. ♦