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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

You’re so vain, you probably think this column is about you

I think most of us spend our teenage years into our twenties wanting to belong to someone, cycling through crushes, collecting prospects like pokemon, hoping maybe somewhere in the chaos of hook-ups, homie-hops, flirtationships and other entanglements, something beautiful will happen. 

We go to parties looking for partners, light candles for future lovers and craft perfect endings for imperfect nights. We are all, in many ways, on a quest for love, but more than that, we are on a quest for belonging. 

The first time I remember feeling that I belonged was when I was maybe three or four. My dad used to take me to this restaurant called The Tombs, and we’d sit at the bar together chatting about preschool drama or Hannah Montana, my short stubby legs dangling from the tall barstool. Occasionally, some beer-clad Georgetown boys would buy me Shirley Temples and wave shyly from the corner. And while I was the only toddler in the establishment, I’m convinced that restaurant on 36th Street was the one place I truly belonged.

Growing up, I’m sure we all found belonging somewhere — whether it be at a cozy restaurant like The Tombs, on our childhood sports team, in a friend group or at a favorite cafe where all the baristas know our name. And for some of us, we found belonging with a person — a best friend or family member or partner. 

These days, when I think about relationships, specifically the romantic ones, I think about belonging. Perhaps love and belonging are one in the same, defined by those rare and beautiful moments when someone feels like home, when our hearts pump in sync with someone else’s and suddenly their words become our words, their songs become our songs and everything feels unified and right. 

That kind of harmony is hard to come by, and if you’re anything like me, you hang onto it for dear life. 

But all things end — even those things we belong to. Your favorite coffee shop will likely go out of business, your freshman year friend group probably won’t last and that boy you loved will no doubt move onto someone else at some point. And suddenly, you’re sobbing on South Quad listening to “Real Love” by Beach House, snowflakes stuck in your eyelashes; and suddenly, you’re on hi-bye terms with someone who used to know everything about you.  

This is the nature of loss: when we lose someone, we might feel a bit more alone. We might feel empty in the places they used to fill. But even when that emptiness, that void, aches to be filled again, even when we itch for a rebound on a Friday night or someone new to take their place during our Monday and Wednesday lunch break, we can only grow if we sit in that void.

It was only in that void that I realized I'd spent my entire life wanting to belong to someone when I’ll only ever belong to myself. 

I thought about all the people I’ve loved (or almost-loved) and all the things they’ve given me—gum, rides, music recommendations, compliments, reassurance. And then I thought about all the things I’ve given myself. 

I thought about the runs and vitamin water and endless playlists. I thought about cool thrifted jackets and late-night Grotto trips and afternoons sprawled in the grass writing poetry. I thought about solo lunch dates and long drives and lake walks. I thought about all the ways I take care of myself — all the ways I belong to myself — and I realize, I am unshakable.

I am fine on my own. 

I am cool on my own. 

I am whole on my own. 

Now, we all know these things to some extent, but to know them intimately — and to really believe them — takes time. For me, it took nearly two decades, a fateful “kissing disease” diagnosis, some long conversations with God (and my therapist), and a couple of near-love experiences (in the wise words of Selena Gomez, “I needed to lose you to love me,” — sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

But really, it took loving, losing and learning to love the loss, for me to get where I am now. And where I am now is in DeBart, in my favorite sweatshirt, as the golden light pours in from the west and, of course, sometimes I think about the boy I once belonged to, the boy who introduced me to glitch-pop and fraternity handshakes or the friend that ate baguettes with me in the Safeway parking lot all those years ago…but it doesn’t hurt as much anymore. 

Kate Casper (aka, Casper, Underdog or Jasmine) is from Northern Virginia, currently residing in Breen-Phillips Hall. She strives to be the best waste of your time. You can contact her at kcasper@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.