Over the last 12 months, I have completely transformed my life in an effort to find love. I didn’t.

As New Year’s Eve 2017 approached, I was feeling pretty fed up with questions of romance, and with myself. I’d just written an essay about being alone and without sexual intimacy for three years. Lots of people reached out to me because they, too, were alone. Some were in extreme circumstances: isolated due to age, location, or disability. They wanted to say they could relate to how hurtful it can be when lonely people are met with a pep talk instead of a listening ear.

Then there were all the folks delivering pep talks. As a writer, you get pretty used to randos who don’t know your life coming at you with advice, and boy, did they come at me. If you do this, you’ll meet someone, if you do that, love will fall in your lap. You’re too sad, too angry, too unattractive (probably). It wasn’t until a friend sent me a text accusing my essay of valorizing depression that I started to feel the weight of people’s judgement. Maybe I wasn’t alone because love is arbitrary, or a matter of luck, compromise, and opportunity. Maybe love is everyone’s unquestionable destiny if they just clear the path, and I’ve been too stubborn, lazy, and bitter to do the work. So, I decided to try some of the things I’ve been told to do to make myself worthy.

For the month of January, I did the Whole 30, a diet that demanded I give up sugar, legumes, dairy, grains, fruit, alcohol—anything that tastes even remotely like joy—for 30 days. You can tell me how pointless brief fad diets are, but I fucking did it. I lost ten pounds and bought very cheap personal training sessions at the gym. Twice a week I went to meet my very nice trainer, Daniel, and almost cried while doing squats as he pretended to be interested in what was happening. After a while, I started working out when no one was watching. I can now fit into pants I’ve been moving from apartment to apartment for the last six years in what I’d thought was a performance art piece about futility.

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I started keeping a bullet journal. I worked more, and made more money. I went to therapy. I moved into my own apartment, in a neighborhood with a lovely park where dogs run around off the leash every morning. I did The Artist’s Way. I went to a Reiki healing session. I meditated. I started performing more. I took pictures of myself in those skinny jeans, and redid all my dating profiles, then signed up for more of them.

Then, on a chilly night last spring, I made plans to meet with a strange man from the internet with the implicit promise that if he was not totally disgusting, I would go home with him. I had not so much as kissed anyone in over three years.

Hooking up. How can I convey the enormous effort it took for me to follow through that night? Let me detail all the off-ramps I set up on Smash Highway: I left the time frame to meet loose, practically non-existent. I had another party to go to that evening as a pre-loaded excuse to leave. I even went to get a manicure in his neighborhood beforehand, thinking that if I bailed I could say (to myself) that my reason for being in the area was nail care. Yet, when my nails had dried, I messaged him, trembling, in the salon bathroom. I casually suggested a wine bar nearby.

Two glasses of wine and we were walking to his place. Another glass of wine in his living room. It was exactly as I remembered. The awkwardness of learning how another person likes to be kissed. The way their taste changes in your mouth. How it’s so much more intimate to hold someone than it is to have sex with them. Just like that, I was vulnerable again: imagining nights of spooning on his couch, watching him play his keyboard, getting coffee together in the morning.

Building a wall around your heart is the traditional way to describe deliberately distancing yourself from love. It’s actually a comforting picture: strong, wholesome brick fencing in the pulsing soul and center of you. Yet almost scaleable if someone special were determined to climb. My wall had come to feel like organic matter, an undefined border of woven layers, criss-crossing and cutting in and demanding more and more ground, pushing further inwards in a process of ossification. My heart was the wall; nothing could live there. So I thought.

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He ghosted me.

There is no way this man could have understood how that felt. I’d finally opened myself up to some form of intimacy, but it was kind of like when you pull on a door handle and the spring is broken, so it slams against the wall. Shocking. Abrasive. Hard to close again. In the week it took me to realize what had happened, I was astounded by how much it hurt, how quickly I’d fallen into the trap. Was I too raw and weird and unprepared to actually ever date again? Maybe I should just...give up? I wanted to. I couldn’t. All the tiny changes I’d been making had built up and pushed me too far out of the cave to retreat.

Instead, I made a resolution. I would go on two dates a week, every week, for three months. It would be like going to see poor, bored Daniel at the gym, except building strength in my emotions instead of my butt. In this way, I would somehow inoculate myself against disappointment and high hopes. I would be strong as hell and through sheer persistence I would find the love I have been told is out there if you just try and try and try.

As I completed this experiment, I blogged about it in excruciating and embarrassing detail, but let’s fast forward to the end: I did meet someone and I fell, very briefly, in love.

We met at the tail end of the summer while he was working in New York. His real home was across the country. There was no way that the tender shoot of connection could survive the distance and uncertainty of our feelings—or the feelings I had, anyway. Though I flew to see him in November, though he promised to come visit me in December, it’s been four weeks since I’ve heard from him.

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He ghosted me.

This should be a triumphant follow-up illustrating how I cleared all the channels to love through self-actualization. I didn’t. What I’ve actually learned is that the work of keeping your path clear is a continual process, one so all-consuming that you may not ever have the time to look up and see where you’re going. You may stumble into someone crossing their path with yours, you may not. And there is no way to get so strong that that someone can’t still hurt you. You only get strong enough to keep going forward.

Having tried as hard as I could, I still might be alone forever.

Here is the actual side effect of trying: I had to tell myself I was making all these changes for some mysterious other who I would “earn” through devotion and trial; but it was all really for me. The only thing that alleviates the ache of solitude is showing up for yourself every day and taking a hand in all the little choices that make up your life. Choosing something good for your mental health, choosing to spend time with people who like you, choosing to smile at yourself in the mirror, choosing to meet up with someone new. Choosing to try made me a better person. It hurt. It was worth it.