Notes to self, Valentine’s Edition

Erica Zendell
Feb 14, 2018 · 4 min read

In a post in July, I wrote about my tradition around birthdays — writing myself a birthday card for the following year and opening the card from the previous year (addressed to me, one year in the future). That way, no matter what, I’m bound to receive a lovingly-written card, even if it’s just from me.

I’d been doing the birthday “notes to self” since 2010, and in 2014, for reasons I can no longer remember, I started doing the same for Valentine’s Day. Thanks to that stroke of inspiration in 2014, this morning, I was able to open cards from someone other than my mother and grandmother: I get to open cards from versions of me one, two, three, and four years in the past.

Here’s some snippets of context and favorite lines from each of them:

2014 for 2015: I gave my notice for the kitchen lease for my food startup because the owner was a complete nightmare. The card was short and my handwriting gigantic and my state of mind very “woo woo” since my spiritual life at the time was rather strong. Because I was writing the card on the day I had chosen to end a toxic business relationship, the content of my love letter to self was about continuing to be fearless.

I love you. Don’t stop believing. Don’t quit before the miracle happens.

2015 for 2016: I was on a dating spree on Tinder at the time and found myself torn between two or three people — one of whom was distant but intriguing and mysterious, another of whom was charming and outgoing but in front of whom I’d deeply embarrassed myself when things got physical. I felt doomed to romantic failure. I didn’t realize at the time that I’d end up dating the first guy for the next two years (almost).

I know that Februaries are tough for you. You almost always fall into something new right after Valentine’s Day and it ends before the next one happens. The good thing? You are constant. These people, these situations are temporary. So take in the joy and savor it even when it breaks your heart to let it go…I know none of it feels like it will ever work out, but it does and it will.

2016 for 2017: I was months away from the end of graduate school, feeling proud of how far I’d come (getting a job, starting a podcast) and hopeful of what could come next (a new career in tech, boyfriend and I moving in together into a beautiful apartment). The only thing that was really getting me down was my relationship with my body and with food. Half of the card discussed my wishes for myself that in 2017, I’d find a form of exercise I genuinely enjoyed and not using food as a drug of choice. (The exercise part came would come true in 2017 — just not by Valentine’s Day. The food part is ongoing).

Above all, I want for your relationship with food and your body to be healed. I want you to have ended your war against yourself when you sit down for a meal or try on a dress in your closet. I want you to have achieved all you need to be physically confident and let nothing hold you back and no one hold you down.

2017 for 2018: All the things I had hoped for myself in my card the previous year were up in flames when I wrote this card. Though I had some great coworkers, I was overworked at my job and had no boundaries between the office and my personal life. I had been dumped by the boyfriend and was living in (and paying for) our beautiful apartment on my own. Worst of all, I was eating my feelings about all of the above.

Despite all that was going on, the 2017 card was a positive one. In many ways, it was a synthesis of things I wrote in previous years, celebrating my friendships and professional trajectory, and encouraging me to be resilient in tough times and live my best, boldest life. Also, in a weirdly specific moment in the card, I talk about how I was anxious about ordering sushi for my team at work. DoorDash would screw up my order and leave my team hungry and sushi-less the following day, so that anxiety was genuinely warranted.

You are a strong woman making plans for yourself, determined to not let the embers of a heartbreak burn you…I wish you levity, joy, adventure, and the courage to live even more bravely and boldly.

2018 for 2019: As I write my card to myself for next year, this is the context. I’m thinking about my grandmother, whose birthday is also today. She reminds me that this holiday doesn’t have to be about the roses or chocolate. She reminds me, single once again, that I never have to worry about being loved, even when I’m not in a relationship.

Aside from a writing career of renown and a little more travel in my life, I have a life that I love right now— great friends, a steady and interesting job with good people, and after all these years, a form of exercise that I enjoy and keeps me grounded. What’s inside that card will have to wait to be read next year, but when I open it, I hope that that all these things remain true and that there’s someone else to share the them with me.

If you like Valentine’s Day, I wish you a happy Valentine’s Day. If you don’t, I wish you a Happy February 15th Eve. Tomorrow, all the chocolate and flowers will be 50% off. Regardless, you are loved, too.

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