My Not-So-Secret Admirer – The New York Times

I stood at my kitchen counter and eagerly ran my scissors down the packing tape. It was about a year ago, and the arrival of a package with my name on it — that wasn’t from Amazon — was a rush. Pushing down the box’s flaps revealed a midnight blue ceramic mug with a whimsical carving of a nighttime mountain scene. Packaged along with the mug was a note on a piece of white card stock about the size of an index card.

In a swirly handwriting penned in black ink, the note read, “Dear Lia, Congratulations on writing this piece. You knew you could do it and you did. Here’s a gift to celebrate that moment.”

I already knew how it would end — Love, Lia — because I’m the one who purchased the mug and wrote the note to myself.

Holding the note in my hand and reading it all these weeks later made me beam with joy. Knowing that I’m the one who wrote it made it all the more meaningful.

Why would I want to be my own not-so-secret admirer? After all, this summer my husband and I celebrated 10 years of marriage. In those 10 years, we’ve gone through grad school, first jobs, three big moves to different states and smaller ones within those, the birth of a beautiful baby girl and a pandemic. We’ve managed to weather the storms together. He’s my best friend. His phone number is the only one I have memorized. He’s the grounded-yet-ambitious Capricorn to my more dreamy, emotional Pisces.

If I’ve learned anything during these 10 years, though, it’s how important self-love is. And that really kicked into high gear during the pre-vaccine stage of the pandemic, when life was a series of anxiety-fueled days.

The deadlines became more feast or famine than usual. That beautiful baby girl has by then become a frenetic toddler and had little to no child care. I missed my social life. The state of the world gave me crushing headaches. Self-doubt loomed over me. It also loomed over my husband, who remained supportive, but couldn’t pick up the bait that I gave him (i.e. a whiny text) the way he could in the prepandemic times.

So I took matters into my own hands. I wrote my first self-love note in October 2020. Yes, I wanted to celebrate a milestone, but it was also that stretch of the pandemic before the vaccine where life felt really boring. The note was one way to shake things up.

After all, if I needed a dose of love and validation, why couldn’t I give it to myself? When I celebrated that first big milestone, I admittedly felt a little silly writing a note to myself. Will the ceramics company laugh at me? Then I quickly decided that I didn’t care. When my first note arrived, my husband laughed and said, “Hey, if it makes you happy.”

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A couple of months after the first self-written note, I found myself struggling on a particularly gloomy day. My daughter, nearly 2 at the time, was doing that thing toddlers excel at: flinging herself on the ground in a fit of tears and screams when she didn’t get what she wanted. Honestly, it was relatable as I, too, had to restrain myself from throwing a tantrum on the floor alongside her.

Then I remembered: Our house was close to one of my favorite chocolatiers, and it has online ordering.

A gourmet chocolate bar with notes of pineapple and lime was the tropically inspired treat I needed to turn the day around. I clicked my way through the ordering process until I saw the box that simply said “Gift card note?”

I perked up and began typing, “Dear Lia, You deserve this! Love, Lia.”

When I picked it up, the chocolate shop’s owner chuckled and said she loved the note. Reading it back to myself behind my steering wheel, the chocolate bar in one hand and the note in the other, was an affirmation. Yes, I do deserve it. The act of writing the note forced me to snap out of my funk and acknowledge that I’m doing my best. Reading it back further reinforced the message.

All it took was $6 (a fancy chocolate bar, indeed) and my words in someone else’s handwriting to lift me out of a slump that day. No one else was going to do that for me, because no one is in my head reading the internal news ticker of my emotional state.

This new habit isn’t foolproof. Sometimes, the note gets overlooked by a vendor. But, hey, the act of typing it is half the battle. Stopping to consciously think about what I want to celebrate about myself at that moment is part of the point. But when the note is there, it’s that much sweeter. Of course, I could just write myself a note without buying a gift, but where’s the fun in that?

On a different occasion, I framed a photograph from a magazine article I wrote. The story was especially meaningful and I wanted a reminder of it on my wall. The company I ordered the frame from had a space for a gift note, so I wrote, “Lia, you worked hard on this. You should be proud! Love, Lia.” By the time it arrived, though, I had forgotten all about the note, and when the flimsy notecard fell out of the box it caught me off guard and my eyes welled up. Tears quickly turned to laughter as I realized how cheesy the moment was, but I relished it nonetheless.

As much as I love buying these gifts and writing notes to myself, it’s not the cure to my daily woes. I’m fortunate that I even have the option to occasionally splurge (most of my gifts have been $20 or less, with a couple of exceptions). I know, though, that too much of anything isn’t good, and if I do it too often I’ll risk making a special treat something mundane — and go broke in the process.

In the past year I’ve sent six self-written notes. Part of the joy of this expression of self-love is the spontaneity. When will my not-so-secret admirer strike again? Only time will time will tell. In the meantime, I have the notes I’ve written to myself previously scattered around the house as little reminders, to me, from me.

Lia Picard is a freelance journalist based in Atlanta. She shares her adventures and stories on Instagram @LiaPicard.