Back in the early summer of 2021, Emily and I were cuddled up in bed at her apartment, watching the latest episode of Cruel Summer in real-time. Unfortunately, this meant we couldn’t fast-forward through the commercials… so we used those few minutes to kiss. Just before the show started again, I looked her in the eye and said, “I love you.” Without missing a beat, she looked at me and said, “I love you, too.”
From that day forward, I think we said those three words to each other thousands of times. And, much like that evening, they came at the most random times. We’d say “I love you” as one person prepared dinner. We’d blow kisses to each other as I climbed the stairs each evening to put the kids to bed. We’d text each other throughout the workday and say, “I can’t wait to see you this evening! I love you!” And so on.
We loved each other, no ifs ands, or buts about it.
During Emily’s eulogy, I said, “Emily showed me what true unconditional love looked and felt like,” and I meant it. Emily loved me day in and day out, no matter what.
Emily had this way of seeing my positive qualities that nobody else did. She frequently told me that she loved my sense of humor, musical talents, and kindness. She’d always cheer me on as I took on new freelance projects or worked on myself. Emily supported me every day without hesitation, and, as I shared above, she told me how she felt about me multiple times each day.
She also told me that she found me physically attractive, which was something new and refreshing from any other relationship I’d ever been in. The first time we kissed, we both looked at each other and quoted Amelia from Grey’s Anatomy with a simple outburst of “pants feelings.” Those feelings never faded the entire time we were together, and Emily would find ways to help me feel more comfortable in my body and try out clothing that I was never confident enough to wear before. She’d always tell me how gorgeous I looked, whether I was dressed up for a wedding or sitting around the house in my favorite pair of athletic shorts and a tank top.
Emily didn’t see my emotionality as a flaw, but as an indication that I’m just a big softy. She also found ways to channel my constant worrying, my desire to plan out everything, and my willingness to help anyone so they were used in constructive ways. She didn’t complain about my frequent migraine attacks or the nights when I’d wake her up because of my anxiety — she just loved me through those difficult moments the same way she loved me on the easy days.
Now, that’s not to say we didn’t ever disagree or feel frustrated. I know my snoring often annoyed Emily, as did my inability to remember things. I also know that it concerned her when I’d grow quiet or refuse to explain my emotions in certain situations, but she accepted me as a work in progress and never once saw any of my flaws as a deal breaker like so many others did.
Although my anxiety and trauma history sometimes got the better of me, I knew that Emily loved me, unconditionally and without hesitation.
Seeing Myself Through Her Eyes
When Emily and I first met, I saw myself in a very negative light. I was convinced that I was “ugly” both in appearance and on the inside. I often referred to myself as a “monster” and made self-deprecating comments every chance I got. I saw myself as unlovable, unworthy, and so tragically flawed that I wasn’t sure recovery or happiness was possible.
Throughout our friendship and romantic relationship, my mindset slowly started to change. Emily often argued with me when I talked about myself harshly, and she would find a way to spin everything I said about myself into something positive. It’s funny how simple comments like, “Your body is beautiful just the way it is,” and “We all lose our shit sometimes, and that’s okay,” started to stick with me and change my perspective.
It wasn’t just her words that helped — Emily also did many tangible things to help me. She’d frequently ask to take pictures of me or snap them without me even knowing, then show them to me and say, “Look at my beautiful babe! I have such a pretty girlfriend!” Or she’d find some outfit at a store and encourage me to try it on, insisting it would look good on me. I don’t know I ever told her how impactful those things were, but they did wonders for my confidence and overall self-esteem.
Because of Emily, I learned to see myself in a new light — through her eyes.
Over the course of this year alone, I purchased outfits I would have never thought were “made for me” in my past life. I liked how confident I felt going places with Emily, holding her hand or putting my arm around her waist and thinking, “Yes, I am good enough to have an incredible girl like Emily with me.” I wore two-piece swimsuits to the pool at our apartment complex and on vacation, and I didn’t feel overwhelmed with shame or fear of judgment. I had just started to find my stride and see myself the way Emily saw me: beautiful and worthy of love.
I know it will be harder to see myself in the same way Emily did now that I won’t have her voice beside me day in and day out. However, I also know that she wouldn’t want anything to roll back the progress I’ve made these past 4 years. I’m hoping that looking back through old messages, saving some of the photos she took of me, and just playing back memories of all the wonderful things she said will help me stand tall and continue to progress.
Because she loved me, I learned to love myself… at least a little bit.
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