An old vanity was just what the room had needed to pull it all nicely together. That wall had been horribly bare, and for a good while, I couldn’t decide what it had needed. Until I’d walked past the old, nondescript antique store in town and spied the most beautiful vanity, complete with stool. The mirror was encased in the most beautiful mahogany. I had to laugh: That is MAHOGANY is one of my favourite quotes, and I couldn’t not buy it. Getting to be Effie Trinket every day… sad, sure. But my truth.
What I didn’t expect was for the mirror to reveal me. My truth. I didn’t expect the mirror to reflect exactly what I’d apparently been hiding every day, for years. Things I’d convinced myself were lies, just a tiny voice in the back of my head, an echo of historical trauma and emotional abuse that, according to my therapist, was nothing more than that: a tiny voice. Nothing truthful in it.
It started one morning while I was fixing my hair. Soft, natural curls that I’d spent a few months honing, with curly girl methods and leave-in conditioners, bowl methods… everything I could to make them shiny and beautiful and frizz-free. And as I adjusted them in that mirror with a little bit of conditioner-infused water… it happened.
A small little nag in the corner of my mind.
Not an attack. I didn’t feel belittled, or hurt, or whatever. It was just the truth. My hair was hideous. It wasn’t the neat, even curls the girls on TikTok got, or the soft shiny bouncy little boucles the girls on Facebook had. It was frizzy. It was messy. Uneven. Curly in places, flatter where I’d slept on it. It wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t big and beautiful… it was just messy. Just a mess. I set the bottle of conditioner down and sighed heavily as I pulled out three hair ties and stuck it up in a bun.
“Better… but not amazing.”
Again, another truth. The bun itself was poorly-constructed. I shrugged it off. I didn’t have the time to figure it out. But as I tucked strands into the hair ties, and stood, I did take a second to check if my hair straighteners were still in the box they’d been abandoned in for the past year…
The second time it happened, I was checking out a t-shirt. A new one I’d fallen in love with, emblazoned with an old cartoon I’d adored as a kid.
“Still in that teenage phase…”
I saw my whole outfit for what it was. A teenager’s outfit. And at thirty-one, I couldn’t really justify dressing like a teenager. Red high-tops (Doctor Who had made them cool, right?) with skinny jeans and a cartoon tee? Yeah, 2007 called. They want their wannabe emo-core back. All I needed was the stupid side part fringe I used to think was cool…
Needless to say, I took the shirt off and changed it for a plain black tee. At least it looked less ‘wannabe cute emo’ and more ‘thirty-one-year-old professional with a long-term job’. I switched the red converse for my black low-tops too… and I felt a little sparkle in the mirror. I’d spent more time on my bun that morning, and already looked a little less… whatever the hell it was I’d become.
I lived like that for a while. Picking myself apart layer by layer, until I was about to go out for a night out with my girlfriends and their partners (of course, I would be the only single friend there, which got a bit awkward when they started up the couples conversations), and I realised I couldn’t take it anymore. The picking myself apart. Sure, I didn’t feel attacked… but all the outfits I’d planned and tried on had been ripped to shreds by that fucking mirror. And I had twenty minutes before I had to leave. And I was in my underwear.
“Alright! What the fuck is the problem?!” I cried, sitting on the stool.
To my utter horror, my reflection moved independently of me.
“There isn’t a problem. I’m just wondering at what point we were going to go to in order to convince ourselves that we’re actually… attractive? Desirable?” my reflection shrugged. “Unless you’re planning on having a Dorian Gray type thing…”
“No… but come on. I’ve tried on every single outfit! And I stopped caring about what I looked like in the mirror long ago.”
“Why is that?”
“Because…” I sniffed. “Because vanity takes more energy than it’s worth.”
“Why really?” my reflection leaned forward. “Because that’s the big load of bullshit we kid ourselves with.” I looked away, but my gaze was dragged back. “Therapy helped you where you needed it most. You stopped hurting yourself… but in addition, you started lying to yourself. And you started avoiding me.”
“I’m… so fucking confused.”
“Of course you are. But if you stop lying to yourself, you’ll see my point. I’m just a reflection of you. I show you the true you… and you’ve been convincing yourself that you’re worth something at your current standard. Now, before you start with the woke bullshit, I’m not saying you need to look like an airbrushed photoshopped Victoria’s Secret angel. Not at all. But you’re not lucky enough to be zero maintenance. No-one is. The only thing you really have going for you is that you don’t stink of body odour.”
“I… well, I like smelling nice –“
“No. I said you don’t smell like body odour. I never said you smelled nice.” My reflection pressed her chapped, cut lips together. I reached up a hand and stroked my own bottom lip… of course there was chap. A big cut from an old coldsore, too. I’d just chosen to ignore it. “Now, what’s the truth?”
“My… therapist said that was a lie.”
“Yeah. And she’s paid to not be judgemental.”
“You’re wrong. You’re just… wrong.”
“I’m right. And you know it. And the sooner you stop fighting it, the happier you’ll be. And that’s something therapy can’t tell you, because it’s fucking unethical.”
It had been months that I’d had the mirror. But I’d slowly found it harder to ignore the truth. Every time I caught my reflection, I saw more and more who I really was.
By no stretch of the imagination was I a failure. I had a very, very well-paying job. Hobbies that spanned creativity and fitness and all in-between. I learned new skills at my leisure. I had a gorgeous apartment, all paid for by myself. I bought what I wanted, when I wanted it. And I did what I pleased in the space that I provided for myself. I provided for my family, too… But there was one thing that, even after thirty-one years, I’d never had. A relationship of any kind. And therapy had told me I’d never allowed myself to have it, because I was protecting myself from getting hurt. But there was a truth I wasn’t allowing myself to believe, because sure, it was a fucking horrible pill to swallow. But it is the truth.
I’m not relationship material.
Therapy had made it possible for me to stick an excuse on it. I’m protecting myself. It’s my choice to not go out and find something or someone. It’s my choice. I have free will… I choose not to go on dating apps… but those are the excuses that make the medicine sweeter. The truth… as I looked at my reflection in that mirror, I saw myself for who I truly am, and who I always will be.
See, girls like me will never have what my friends have. There was once a time I was so sure I could have a relationship, but I blamed men for not seeing my value, my worth. But if I was honest… what value? I was excited, as a teenager, to find my true love and have kids and build a home with him. But the vision I’d had of myself back then wasn’t the person I’d become now. At the age of fourteen, dreaming of prince charming, I wasn’t in converse and skinny jeans, and I wasn’t screaming over fanfic at three in the morning on a work night. I had healthy routines. Healthy habits. And a healthy sex life. And I’d developed normally, too. But I didn’t care about money, because there was two salaries coming in. I didn’t dream about things to do over the weekend, because there was another person there…
But, at thirty-one, I’d never had sex. I’d never shared an apartment with someone, nor a bed. Never been kissed, never had a guy bring a cup of tea or coffee in for me because he’d woken up before me to go to work. I’d forgotten what my mum had taught me about cooking for more than one person… I had no room in my schedule for another person. And I didn’t know how to make room without destroying everything I was.
Dorian Gray sold his soul for everlasting beauty and no recourse for his actions. I also had no recourse… but I’d also told myself, at the age of twenty-nine, that if I found my first grey hair on my head and I still hadn’t had sex, I’d go buy an escort, or hook up with someone on Tinder. And then I found two greys that same year, but most of the guys I spoke to on Tinder just didn’t turn me on, or make me want them, and if they did, they didn’t reply. Still, I convinced myself that I had something worth giving. I’m just a geode still in the rock, waiting for the right person with the pickaxe to come along and open me up and see what’s inside.
The issue with that, though, is that some geodes are left for millennia before someone accidentally finds them.
Truth is, girls like me don’t get the guy. Because no guy I want wants someone like me. The guys who turn me on and pique my interest don’t even look once, never mind twice, at girls like me. A girl who convinces herself that her natural curls look good, or that the circles under her eyes are invisible, or that her unfortunate, slightly lopsided facial bone structure isn’t visible and it’s all in my head. A girl who stays up crying over fictional characters, who cries over their own depraved fanfic. A girl who dresses like a dysfunctional teenager with little sense, because it’s comfortable, and my natural inner light will shine through. Of course, I have worth and value… but I don’t have anything to bring to a relationship. And the older I get, the more I have to swallow that equally bitter pill that the only guys who haven’t been snatched up at a similar age are single for a reason. Either they’re walking red flags and the ‘right’ person who’ll ignore those flags just hasn’t come along yet to swallow their bullshit and be manipulated by them… or they’re too low a standard for anyone else to care about.
Just like me.
But I have money. I have a job with perks. I have a strong, lean body that rarely lets me down despite the horrors I’ve put it through. I’m smart in a creative way, and I’m quirky in that I make people laugh. I’m a good friend, I give when I can, and I’ll always come through with the gifts, or the shoulder to cry on.
It just sucks that the balancer for all that is that I’ll only ever be hot enough for someone I want when they’re absolutely carparked and I miraculously become a seven… but the next day, I’ll always go back to being that immature little three that’s grateful. And then when their friends ask them how much they’d had to drink to be able to stomach me… well, I won’t know, because my number will be lost and I’ll be moving on with my day. And that’s assuming I’ll ever even get that far.
I look at my friends, as the only single person I actually know, and I should feel envy. But I don’t envy them, and that’s the weird thing. When I step through the door of my apartment and I’m met with the cold darkness of an empty abode, I don’t feel sad. When another period comes and I know each one’s just another little tick of the biological clock counting down to the moment when I can’t have the kids I’d like to decide whether I want, I don’t get angry or feel bitter. When I see couples out to dinner while I’m sat alone, or when I see hand-holding couples in the street, I don’t really feel anything. Because it’s normal. I don’t have it. I haven’t had it. And you can’t miss what you don’t have. I don’t have someone asking how my day was, or curling up with me on the sofa to watch a movie, or stealing the bedsheets, or taking up counter space in the bathroom with a toothbrush, or cooking dinner, or halving the rent and bills with me. I don’t have someone to take me to the doctor’s when I’m ill, or to nominate to turn off life support if the time ever came to it.
But I have things to make up for it. Things I like. Because the things I like to do, the creative outputs, the hobbies… they take the time that I’d have to dedicate to straightening my hair every day, or picking out outfits, or going out there to find someone, dating around...
“That’s my cursed truth, isn’t it? I have to choose myself… or doing what I love.”
My reflection nodded deeply, giving me a knowing smile.
“I’m glad you’re seeing it now. And it doesn’t mean you’re less worthy… but do us a favour?” I sat forward, listening. “Don’t let people who have someone to share their shit with piss in your cornflakes with jealousy because they don’t have your life. It’s your compensation. If they want what you have… well… you know what they need to do.” She nodded at me, and I understood. “I’ll always be here for the times you feel the need to lie to yourself.”
“And for tonight’s party? What am I wearing?”
“Oh – wear what you want. After all, you’re in the shadows. What you wear won’t help or hinder… so you might as well be comfortable.”