Losing Myself…& Finding Myself…in An Unexpected Place

baby-johnny-from-dirty-dancingI’ve always been a sucker for a romantic comedy. Or a romantic dramedy. Or really a romantic movie of any kind. From a very young age, I was mesmerized by motion pictures, but particularly ones that dealt with matters of the heart. In 5th grade, my teacher would turn on Gone With the Wind every day during snack time, and though we only got to watch it for about 15 minutes a day (which meant it took forever to get all the way through it), it was the highlight of my day. Of course, GWTW is pretty far removed from a romantic comedy! But still…watching lovelorn Scarlett O’Hara moon over Ashley Wilkes while the dapper and dashing Rhett Butler stood waiting in the wings just set my soul on fire.

When I was a little older, a little movie called Dirty Dancing was released and although my parents wouldn’t let my sister and I go see it at the theater, it would become the first movie we would ever rent on VHS. My dad even bought us a VCR for the occasion…which, if you recall, in those days was a REALLY big deal. And even though my mom and dad made us fast forward through the sexy parts, the film captivated me like nothing ever had before. I was in love with movies. I was in love with LOVE. I was in love with the wonder of it all…the coming-of-age of it all…the idea that a routine vacation with your family to the mountains could alter the course of your entire life and drop you right smack dab into the middle of a fairytale romance. Because of the movie and its impact on me, I began to believe in magic and whimsy and serendipity and fate like never before. I began to dream and wish and hope and imagine. In all seriousness, I truly believe Dirty Dancing changed the course of my life and even set me on the path to someday becoming a writer and spinning my own tales of love and happily ever after.

As I got older, I began to realize that one of the things about romantic movies that struck a chord with me the most was “the grand gesture.” You know, that moment at the end of the film where the guy chases the girl (or the girl chases the guy) to the airport, the train station, etc. etc. to declare their love. Or in Dirty Dancing speak, the “Nobody puts Baby in a corner” moment. I began to wish for and hope for and dream about having my own Johnny Castle to sweep me off my feet in true grand gesture fashion.

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Baby on the left | Me on the right

And somewhere in the midst of my wishing and hoping and dreaming, I met a boy who loved to dance. A boy who lit up my world. A boy who I even traveled with to one of the locations where Dirty Dancing was filmed in North Carolina (pictured here). If you’ve read my second book I’ve Never Been to Vegas But My Luggage Has, you’ll remember this moment. We found the steps where Baby practiced her dance moves and that boy kissed me right there in that very spot, setting my little movie-nerd heart aflutter.

But every high moment with that boy was followed by an even lower moment…leading me to finally come to the conclusion one night, as we sat in Grand Central Station in New York City, where so many cinematic grand gesture moments have been filmed: “You’re never gonna be that guy at the end of the movie who chases me, are you?”

The answer was no.

And he would prove that, time and time and time again, over the course of seven and a half years.

So, two years ago, when the curtain finally closed on our relationship for the last time, I put away my romantic movies. My old friends. My sources of inspiration. My reminders that great big love and great big gestures can and do exist…if only in our imagination.

I began to doubt in love. For the first time in my life, I questioned whether or not there was really a happy ending out there for me. I looked around at other people and wondered why love seemed to come so easy for them and yet be so unattainable for me. I put walls up around my heart. I closed myself off emotionally. In many ways, I shut down. For a dreamer and an idealist like me, someone who lived with my head in the clouds, to stop dreaming and imagining and looking for magic and believing in Hollywood Endings was detrimental to me and my spirit. My creativity took a hit. My personal relationships suffered. My world became very small. I was no longer the person I had always been. I wasn’t sure who I was, honestly.

To be disappointed in love, over and over and over again, can cause us to stop believing and dreaming and hoping and wishing. It can cause us to grow cynical. It can harden us. It can make us retreat inward and shut other people out until we look up one day and find ourselves all alone. For me, movies had always been my saving grace. Why movies, you might ask? They’re not based in reality. They’re make-believe. And yet…life imitates art and art imitates life. It’s this beautiful, perfect circle. And I’ve found that often, when you have an open heart and eyes to see, life and God find ways to bring you breathtaking, awe-inspiring moments that surpass anything you’ve ever seen on a movie screen.

For two years, my eyes were closed. My hands were closed. My heart was closed. And then, like they always have, movies once again found a way to creep back in and become my guiding light. In my research over the years of the filming of Dirty Dancing, I had discovered that the resort that served as “Kellerman’s” in the movie is an actual place you can go and stay. It’s called Mountain Lake Lodge and is located in the beautiful mountains of Pembroke, Virginia. It had always been on my bucket list to go visit, and in June, after the difficult year my family and I had had, I decided there was no time like the present.

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Baby’s Cabin

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Mountain Lake Lodge

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The Gazebo (where Penny gives the merengue lesson!)

Arriving at Mountain Lake was literally like stepping into the movie. It’s exactly like Kellerman’s. From Baby’s cabin (which you can actually rent!) to the lake to the gazebo to the main dining hall…you can feel the spirit of the movie all around you. And even beyond just getting to nerd out over being on hallowed Dirty Dancing ground, the resort itself is breathtakingly beautiful. It’s very remote with cool mountain temperatures (even in the summer), walking trails, gorgeous views, cozy cabins, tons of activities, and delicious food in the dining room and pub. I’ve been going to the Smoky Mountains in east Tennessee for years, but I never felt like I had a TRUE mountain experience until Mountain Lake. It was precisely what my soul needed at that moment in time.

Because Baby and Johnny’s lake (where they practiced the lift) has receded over the years, you actually have to hike out a pretty good distance to see it. I decided to take this hike by myself one day, in order to have an opportunity to spend some time alone and just soak in the atmosphere.

It was a beautiful trek. Here are some of the highlights…

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When I got out to the lake, I found a bench sitting right by the water. It made for a perfect spot to sit and reflect on the gravity of the fact that due to the water’s recession since the movie was filmed, I was basically sitting smack dab in the middle of the lake where the fictional couple I loved so much had started to fall in love.

Something about that caused my closed-off heart to begin to open, just a tiny bit.

And as I sat and pondered the past two years and how guarded I had become…and the previous 35 years before that and how unguarded and open and hopeful I had been…and as I whispered words to God and felt the cool lake breeze tickle my face and marveled at the ecstatic dance of joy my 11-year-old self must be doing somewhere in time to see her all-grown-up self sitting by the lake where she had been in her imagination so many times before…something in me changed. The carefully-formed walls I had erected around myself began to crack. I began to feel the first rays of hope shine down upon me like the warm June sun. And it suddenly occurred to me that if I could spend seven years loving the wrong person, get my heart broken beyond measure, and yet still be standing, still have enough childlike faith to find magic in a place that to anyone else, might just be a lake, and still tap into that part of me that believed in love and movie moments and grand gestures and fairytales…wasn’t anything possible? Wasn’t it conceivable that maybe there’s a Hollywood Ending out there for me, too?

fullsizerender_3I took a rock from Baby and Johnny’s lake that day…a touchstone I keep with me now to remind me of that moment by the water…of all the things I really, truly believe in…of the girl I was before life and hurt and heartbreak and disappointment came in and changed her. And of the girl I am now: A little bit stronger, a little bit wiser, but still a dreamer who, despite the setbacks and the struggles, still sees life as a beautiful, wondrous adventure.

This past spring, I encountered a man (angel?) who told me: “When you lose yourself, you find yourself.” I think he’s right. I think I needed to lose myself for a little while…to wander…to wonder…in order to realize that I will always, always be able to find myself again in the things that I love. In the things that I’ve always loved. The heart of who we are, who we WERE, way back when…it never really changes. It just gets covered up sometimes by the storms and uncertainties of life.

Since I got back from Mountain Lake, I’ve rediscovered my love of romantic movies. I’ve rewatched Elizabethtown and Leap Year and You’ve Got Mail and When Harry Met Sally, and yes, even Dirty Dancing. And instead of causing me to scoff and doubt and feel like my life is somehow lacking…they’ve caused me to laugh and dream and imagine what my life might be like if and when my leading man dances into the picture. I feel like after two years, I’m awakening from a deep sleep…rather like Sleeping Beauty, you might say. 🙂 And best of all…I finally feel like I’m ready for love again. I hope it’s ready for me, too.

But whether or not love ever finds me…I’ve found myself again. That little girl who watched nobody put Baby in a corner with wide eyes and believed that she, too, was worthy of a grand gesture? Turns out, she’s still in there. How I’ve missed her. And as crazy as it might sound, I’m not sure I would found her…or for that matter, ever become her in the first place…without a little movie called Dirty Dancing.

As it turns out, a routine vacation to the mountains with your family CAN, in fact, alter the course of your entire life.

So maybe, in this case, I made my own grand gesture by visiting the place where the movie that has captivated me for most of my life was filmed. Maybe I rescued myself. Maybe, in the end, we have to learn to rescue ourselves. Maybe that’s what real love is all about. Hoping and dreaming and wishing to someday dance wildly with a partner…

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But learning and loving to dance, just as wildly, without one.

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(Make sure you’re following me on Snapchat…I’m going to be sharing even more pics from my pilgrimage to Mountain Lake there! My Snapchat name is mandyhaletsw)

42 Responses to “ Losing Myself…& Finding Myself…in An Unexpected Place ”

  1. Maria
    September 9, 2016

    Thank you for your articles and your words. I can relate so much!! . You are truly an inspiration!

    • lucee cesena
      September 21, 2016

      Wow! It’s so amazing how God leads you to the right people at the exact right time. I don’t know what possessed me to look at a blog site when I have never visited one before. I am also dealing with a up and down five year relationship with a man who for sure would not come for me. In fact he tells me to leave him alone so he can get over me. As embarrassing as it is to even write that I find therapy in seeing it. I love him more than I loved anyone before in my life. I feel God finds me in a space of worship with him and it is time I learn to love God in his place and myself just a lil more. Your blog has encouraged me to go ahead and find solace in my season and not to close the door to the possibility of a God given love. Thank you for sharing this and thank you for being so vulnerable to a bunch of strangers. It was received and you blessed me tonight.

      @LuceeCesena

    • Mandy Hale
      September 25, 2016

      Thank you so much, Lucee! And WELCOME! 🙂 xo, Mandy

  2. September 9, 2016

    I enjoyed your style of writing. And congrats on finding your way out of the darkness. It is funny the things that bring us back into the light.

  3. Summer Smith
    September 9, 2016

    Mandy, I read “I’ve never been to Vegas..” in 2 days! I could not put it down. I’m so thankful to have found your book and now your blog. Thank you for being willing to share your life so that you can encourage and inspire the rest of us. I know how hard that can be. You’re awesome!

  4. Tennille
    September 9, 2016

    Beauty at it’s best.

  5. Maryann Dominguez
    September 9, 2016

    Oh my God this was such an amazing beyond amazing read!!!! I identify with you so much!!! I would love to follow your writing or your books or anything because it’s hard for us girls out there and I hope that I, too, can regain my spirit just like you did. Thank you for this!!! Seriously you need to publish it for girls and women all over the world Where can I read more of your work?

  6. Kara
    September 9, 2016

    What a gorgeous essay…I am so blessed to read this! It spoke to my heart like nothing has in years…bless you for journeying to this healing spot and for sharing your discoveries with us!

  7. Adrienne
    September 9, 2016

    Oh Mandy— you and I must be on the same wavelength today. I just flew back from a trip where I encountered my ex. I was reminded that the failure In our relationship has nothing to do with me. I had avoided watching romantic movies 2 years ago(when we broke up) because I couldn’t stand to watch the ending– after all it wasn’t my reality. But God has been working on my heart. Maybe just maybe those movies I’ve loved over the years are a real reminder of my romantic and hopeful spirit. That my past is not indicative of my future. On the plane I watched Me before you and you’ve got mail–yep! And Instead of feeling sad– I felt hopeful and prayed that God would see my heart and in his timing know when I am ready for my husband. Thank you for writing this. It was so very good and so needed today.

  8. Tonja E Withers
    September 9, 2016

    This is truly an inspiring entry. I too have closed my heart for a very long time. But I’m learning to love like i will never be hurt as well as to be cautious as to who I give this love to. Most of all, this jaded, cynical woman has now started to love romantic movies again! Thanks for sharing!

  9. Rachel
    September 9, 2016

    I love this post! Have you watched the first SATC movie…. it always cheers me up! Although my life as a single woman is nothing like the SATC ladies. Another uplifting movie I really love is My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

    I’m so grateful for you! I was just feeling a little down and went to your blog and there’s a brand new post!

    And I think I sponsor a child due to you! I think you posted about it on twitter a few years ago and so I signed up. So thank you for that. I really think you do a lot of good in the world, just as you are.

  10. Paulina
    September 9, 2016

    After reading your first two books, I was eager to read the thord one… I started it and suddenly someone appeared in my life and I didn’t feel “beautifully uncertain”… So now that I’m back where I was a year and a half ago, TSW too, you have comforted me one more time with these words… I can only hope I reconnect with the dreamer inside me… Thanks Mandy!

  11. September 10, 2016

    This article came at just the right time!!! I truly believe I need to rescue myself before I can ever find or accept love.. somewhere along the way I lost me and took on someone else and I miss her… I am on t he brink of tears just so happy about the journey back to me!! Thank you for sharing this is life altering for me!

  12. Pheonah
    September 10, 2016

    Thanks Manny, this is really greatly touching, makes Alot of sense to me!

  13. rachel
    September 10, 2016

    Wow..all I can say is I related to every word that you have said in this post. I am the same too, a woman who has lost herself in a love that never was meant to be, now finding myself once more and loving all that I am even more.. This makes me more a believer that I was not at all lost nor has true love impossible. Yes we all deserve that grand gesture. Thanks Mandy, to many more happy single women out there! Keep the faith.

  14. Karen Stokes
    September 10, 2016

    I’m reading this beautiful piece thinking….gosh I don’t actually remember writing this but yet it’s ME! You’re talking about me! You are me! I could add SO many movies to your list. I love all those ones too and they give me hope. Thank you for writing this x

  15. Denise
    September 10, 2016

    What an amazing blog to read. I enjoyed every word of it. I am certain we all have a little dreamer inside us, and believe in that movie romance we are all looking for….. but are not as brave to put it out there and admit it. Thank you for your writing, I am sure it has touched many of us, including myself which came at a perfect time to read! I was very lost a year ago, and now I have become a much better person and found my old self again……. however I am still eager to come to my romantic movie happy ever after ending. I believe everything happens at the right time and in the right way, so in the meantime we keep learning the lessons we need to and loving to dance, just as wildly, on our own. God Bless You <3

  16. Cristina
    September 10, 2016

    I so love it.. despite of having eye patch on my right eye now sustaining from eye injury i cant fight but read your article.. I feel like can relate myself to it.. Having been hurt and cheated by my ex fiance of 8 years i agree that i really lost myself from how lovable i am being optimistic to love.. I’m 3 years single right now. I admit that for the past 2 years i really shut myself out to love..But it made me realized that life has so many chances to give.. And god loves me..For now im enjoying to be myself again. Praying and hoping for “the one” god has provided me.Thank you so much for lifting me up right now..

  17. Yas
    September 10, 2016

    You are a true inspiration, I love each one of your books. You make me believe so much, and show how strong you can be. I’m sure you will get your happy ending, we all do at one point, true love will make you feel your life is a movie!take care

  18. September 10, 2016

    Thank you so much for this article. When I read it I felt like I had written this. It couldn’t be more spot on regarding this amazing movie and the feelings, thoughts, regrets that I feel even to this day regarding my relationships and outlook on love. I too hope to visit the location where the movie was filmed someday. I hope to gain alot of insight as you did by placing myself in these surroundings.

  19. Sasha Reed
    September 10, 2016

    You’re a voice of honest vulnerability for all of us single hopefuls trying not to loose hope. Thanks for articulating your own journey and pulling us up when we stumble under the weight of finding our happy beginnings and endings.

  20. Jess
    September 10, 2016

    You described how I’ve been feeling so well! I’ve been jaded and disappointed to the point of hopelessness. Thanks to this post, I am going out of town as well! It’s impromptu so it will be a very short trip but I’m looking forward to getting away and getting recharged and hopefully getting back to a hopeful place. Thanks so much for sharing your heart with us!

  21. Desirene
    September 10, 2016

    This is exactly what I needed to read, especially today. I have also been feeling like giving up on dreaming of the romantic movie-like love that would one day find me because I also to lose love. But God has always been faithful through all of it. i recently finished “Beautiful Uncertainty” and now after reading this, I am not going to let the disappointment and rejection of the past hinder me from believing in the magnificent love story being penned by the divine author Himself. and neither should anyone who has ever been hurt in love. Be patient and enjoy your story until your happily ever after.

  22. Catherine
    September 10, 2016

    Love your story. I too put things away and stopped believing. Thank you for posting and your honesty.

  23. September 10, 2016

    Great read!

  24. September 10, 2016

    Love it! Love it! Love it! I have traveled a similar journey. Still wait for my Darius Lovehall (Love Jones, my Dirty Dancing and GWTW), but I am growing to love the fantasy of dreaming about ‘the one’. Thank you for this great piece!

  25. Romy
    September 10, 2016

    Love your story and loved the movie.. What you saying in this blog is so true. I felt the same way and then I met the love of my life. I believe it’s all in God’s timing. Thank you..

  26. Susan
    September 10, 2016

    Mandy, Please realize and remember that you were a victim of narcissistic abuse. That’s why you lost your passion and what may have felt like your soul. They are destroyers. It wasn’t a normal breakup. It was 7.5 years of up and down, back and forth – created and manipulated by a very sick man who was just using you for narcissistic supply. A normal relationship and break up doesn’t make you lose your SELF. A relationship with someone with narcissistic personality disorder destroys your self. It breaks you. And when you put yourself back together again you become even more whole than you ever were.
    I only mention this because I thought it was a eureka moment when you posted about who you discovered Mr. E was. It seemed like it helped many of your readers have an aha moment and realize that the relationship they were struggling with was abusive. Thanks for being your beautiful wonderful self and I’m so glad you’re feeling better.

    • CC
      September 12, 2016

      Hi Susan
      I read Mandy’s AHA post a while ago, but seemed to not realise that I needed an AHA in my own situation. Your comment actually give me a slight fright just now… Like a warning sign to stop and reconsider where I am in our on and off relationship, what I allow to continue and the affect it has on my spirit. Thanks… some thinking and deciding to do. All the best to you

    • September 13, 2016

      Hi CC,
      I’m so glad my words are helping you consider things in a maybe different light.
      The main thing that has helped me is learning about codependency. I realized that though the man may be very abusive, it was my qualities that allowed it. Please protect your beautiful heart and spirit. Sending love. <3

  27. Kim
    September 11, 2016

    Mandy, another great post! God chose you to inspire so many woman who have dealt with heartbreak. HE gave you this awesome platform and the courage to be so transparent. I am so happy that you’ve found yourself again and can’t wait to see what the future holds for you!

  28. Angela Gleaves
    September 11, 2016

    So awesome! Thank you for sharing. I too am a HUGE fan of this movie. Growing up dancing all my life I have always wanted to go visit where the movie was filmed. Now you have allowed me to truly place it on my bucket list! And I too hope to one day find the man of my dreams and fall in love. Have Faith and continue to pray. It is what I do every night and every morning. You are an inspiration and I love all of your books, posts and blogs. So, thank you!

  29. Sandra
    September 12, 2016

    Hi Mandy

    Being very close in age to you, I SO relate to your love for Dirty Dancing as your first romance movie and all the feelings that went with (and still go with) it. Its almost like your blog is the story of my life in so many ways. I have watched Dirty Dancing dozens of time but I always cry like a baby so desperate for that happy ending to be my own. I too have changed dramatically over the years from all the hurt and disappointment and bad choices in my life, I so miss who I used to be…I am not sure I can ever recover that innocence, purity and joy of life, but I will keep hoping.
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful blog…the tears chocked up in my throat as I read it…
    God bless you Mandy!!

  30. Free_katie
    September 13, 2016

    Hi Mandy, this is very timely. 7 days ago, I just got rejected by the person I have loved for 4 years. It was torture everyday because I did not tell him earlier how I felt for him. He knew thru my gestures that I loved him. What was so painful was he accepted and acknowledged those gestures like a man would if he felt the same way. I felt abused and trapped when he finally rejected me. I am however relieved that God freed me from this bondage I was suffering from for 4 years. I am continuing to heal, praying to God to fix and heal my heart. I used to cry out to God why is He giving me so much heartaches. Today, I cry because of the freedom he gave and the faithfulness and goodness He showed despite my being rebellious to His word. Thank you Mandy for writing this. God bless you!

  31. Alison Chastain
    September 15, 2016

    I love how you always aay everything I can’t put into words. Beautiful story. Also, great taste in movies. When Harry Met Sally/Dirty Dancing are tied for my top favorite movies of all time 🙂

  32. September 17, 2016

    Thank you for touching my heart. I look forward to your posts, tweets, IGs, etc. I was married to the live of my life for 7yrs (he left me snd 2 kids last yr) and my heart has been brojen ever since. I am scared, not ready to share my heart just yet w/another man, but maybe 1 day. I will leave it up to God. He was my DD, my Mr. Castle, my dancing partner, my world… Like you, I’ve always believed in live, was always with someone to love. This is the 1st yr in 20 yrs Ive been alone. I am trying to find myself…it feels good, but does make me miss my ex even more.

  33. Yenty
    September 22, 2016

    Hi Mandy
    I love your blog so much…I was so happy when I read your writings because I’m not alone as a single woman. You are an inspiration to me..I’m single and 40. I never had a boyfriend. I commited to Jesus. I’m waiting for God to bring me a man into my life. I realize that He knows what I’m feeling as a single woman. Keep writing,Mandy. God bless your works.

  34. al
    September 23, 2016

    Teary eyed! Beautiful story from losing and learnings.

  35. September 24, 2016

    Oh Mandy, this is beautiful! I’m actually so very excited for you for what’s going to come next now that you’ve got this part down – “you have to lose yourself to find yourself”. It’s the only way! And that’s how you find him – or rather, how he – the one who’s going to chase you – finds you! You’ve touched on so many things here that keep us from finding real love in the never-ending quest for a kind of love our culture portrays to us as real but is only a fantasy. You CAN have that fairy-tale kind of love! But you have to go through this part – all these parts! – to peel off all the layers until you get down to the core of what it is you truly want. I have so been there, girlfriend. I’ve been following you for a long time and get this deep down in my feeling, open, Dirty Dancing (and all those other movies) loving heart that shares so much of what you’ve been through. You’re closer than you ever realize. Don’t give up now! This is just the beginning for you!!

  36. Manoj
    September 26, 2016

    Feel better ….. nothing is permanent, things change, the world changes ….. Adios ….

  37. T. Nero
    September 27, 2016

    I love your perspective. However I am scared to dream and fantasize any more. BTW Dirty Dancing is one of my favorites also.

  38. Wendy
    October 18, 2016

    Omg! Thank you thank you thank you! I was 8 – that’s my movie too. And me too hardened now. I needed to read that right now. Thank you for outting in words whats in my heart right now. Thank you! And I’m 38. Thank you! I underatand every word!

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