I looked at college as the next step on my checklist of life. An coming-of-age milestone that would act as the first stop on my journey into adulthood and building the life I wanted.
I remember my enthusiasm when I first arrived at the "Mecca," aka Howard University. I remember that girl so well - her naivety, her hopefulness, and her eagerness - to live out all of her collegiate dreams. I was determined to maintain a perfect GPA, explore my passions, find the love of my life, and get the career offer of my dreams — in that order, all while there. And convinced that the Mecca would grant me those wants.
Fast-forward to the present and I've learned that sometimes the plans life has for you are completely different from your own.
Don't get me wrong. Howard has been one amazing journey — but I couldn't shake the notion that my experience had been stifled because it lacked that quintessential romance.
And after hearing for so long that an HBCU was the last time I'd find “so many (insert accolade) Black men in one place," I started to believe the hype…and get a little paranoid that I had to act fast to establish my end all be all black love relationship. In fact, I got so preoccupied with finding the "real thing" before time ran out, that settling for a close substitute was becoming a grim reality.
Now, staring anxiously into what will be my senior year at Howard, I am filled with mixed emotions.
On the surface, I've done everything “by the book." I've made the grade, maintained a social life, dabbled in a few creative projects, and even deepened my spirituality. But nothing could stave off the gnawing question that continuously resurfaced:
Why am I still single?
If I wasn't asking myself (or God) this question, then it was coming from a well-meaning loved one or close friend, puzzled by how someone who seemingly had it all could lack the one thing she wanted — or thought she needed the most.
Like so many others, I had mapped out the life I had been socialized to expect. But even with all of my accomplishments, the emphasis was still placed on the man that I didn't have.
Fortunately, that's where my own private pity party ends.
But I will say that these past three years have given me some crazy stories that I would'nt have had otherwise. Between the laughs, tears, and melodrama, I've garnered enough gems to last a lifetime — proving that sometimes it pays for things to not go as planned. Ironically, the experiences that taught me what love is not helped me to gradually piece together exactly what love is, and why it's something I'll never compromise for again.
If you're anything like me, you love a challenge — especially when it comes to romance. There's just something irresistible about a guy with a tough exterior and a little mystique. But what happens when your affinity for the “hard to get" becomes self-sabotage?
As someone who bores easily, I found it enticing when I encountered someone who kept me on my toes. However, I'm not referring to spontaneous dates and random displays of affection…quite the contrary. In my world, the love language that I had grown accustomed to was a cocktail of neglect, half-hearted gestures, and eventual abandonment.
Back then, being an afterthought was better than not being thought of at all.
My half-baked love of self convinced me that in my entirety, I was too much. After being deemed “intimidating" and “unapproachable" by the opposite sex for so long , I just gave up. I also gave in.
For a while, I tried to dilute myself and become easier to swallow.
Since I had internalized the myth that “all men leave," I feared that if I didn't become palatable enough — I would prove myself right.
Thus, began the toxic cycle of loveless bonds.
I welcomed emotionally unavailable partners as a challenge and measured my worth within their hollow embrace. Investing in someone who demonstrates minimal effort seems like a zero-sum game. If anything, the first sign of emotional distance should be a red flag — but for me, it simply meant that I wasn't trying hard enough. So, I constantly tried to overcompensate for the love that they either weren't willing or equipped to reciprocate.
Vying for their affection allowed me to escape my own soul work.
In hindsight, “loving the chase" was just a cop-out of the truth that I denied myself. No one should have to beg for reciprocity. Even I knew that. But this was deeper than ego.
When I really faced myself, I realized that I was terrified of the prospect of being loved correctly.
I didn't know what that looked like or how that felt. Chasing the aloof felt safe and familiar. But risking vulnerability with a man who could potentially treat me right? That was scary.
Predictability gave me control — I expected to be disappointed, and so I was…
But then it hit me: I could no longer blame the world for self-inflicted pain.
It was time to own up to the ways that I had enabled toxicity within my relationships. Everything that I wanted from a partner, I would first have to exhibit myself first and foremost. Honesty, accountability, support, forgiveness, boundaries— they all stemmed from SELF. And this time around, I decided to become my own sanctuary.
With my senior year of college on the horizon, I can honestly say that I don't know what to expect — and I certainly don't have all the answers.
But that's what excites me.
I've abandoned my former checklist in favor of living on my own terms. Timelines are overrated, and I have the rest of my life to find someone to live it with. But for now, I'd much rather save my love for the one who deserves it most: me.
And that is a full-time job.
Ayana Fennell is a senior at Howard University where she majors in Public Relations. When she's not nose deep in her favorite blogs or listening to podcasts, she enjoys writing about self-care, pop culture, and navigating womanhood. You can find more of her writing by subscribing to her Medium account here.
Find her on IG and Twitter: @viva_yaya_.