How To Be Loved

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Editor's Note: This is brilliant. That is all. - Feminista Jones

Is there anything worse than being offered a nice, pat aphorism instead of actual advice?

For example, when you don’t get into your post-secondary school of choice and suddenly everyone and their mother gives you some variation on the oldeverything happens for a reason theme.

Or when your high school best friend is a jerk to you again and, instead of sympathizing, your mother reminds you that a leopard never changes its spots. Like, great, Mom, I just wanted a hug and maybe some chocolate, not a biology lesson about large jungle cats.

 


Image: Leonard Francisco via flickr

 

Or else how, when you were a kid and you were feeling kind of bummed out about the fact that your birthday party or whatever had just ended and all of your friends had to go home, some asshole grownup decided to remind you that all good things must come to an end. Like, no shit, Sherlock, I didn’t think I’d managed to bend the time-space continuum in order to create some kind of eternal birthday party. The fact that I knew that it was going to end didn’t make saying goodbye to my friends any less sucky.

For me, though, the worst saying was always, always, “You can’t love someone until you learn to love yourself.”

Seriously, hearing that is like the auditory equivalent of biting tin foil.

First of all, it always seems to come up whenever one of two things happens:

a) You’re experiencing abnormally high amounts of self-loathing

(slight digression: define “abnormally”)

b) You’ve just had some kind of romantic experience that ended badly

I used to get so irritated when people told me that I couldn’t love anyone else until I loved myself. I mean, first of all, it’s demonstrably untrue. I’m a chronic self-loather, and I fall in love at the drop of a hat. Seriously, a dude just has to say something smart, or be nice to a small child, or stand so that the light is hitting him in just the right way, and I’m done. Gone. Smitten. Head over heels.

Second of all, whenever I would hear this, I would think great, thanks, you’re basically telling me that I’m going to be single for the rest of my life. I mean, sure, it would be nice not to hate myself, but self-love isn’t really something that I see happening for me anytime soon. Don’t get me wrong, my therapist and I are working on it, but let’s be realistic here: Rome wasn’t built in a day, and those Ancient Romans had way more stick-to-itiveness than I do.

And you know what? I would even argue that it’s actually easier, in some cases, to love someone else when you don’t love yourself. Because what else are you going to do with all that pent up love and affection you’ve got stored away somewhere? And if that person doesn’t reciprocate, or treats you badly in any way, that just goes to show you that you weren’t really worth anything in the first place after all. The cycle perpetuates itself, and everybody wins. Except you, of course.

It’s also just kind of a weird, victim-blamey thing to say to someone. Like, maybe you could have love if you would stop feeling so shitty about yourself all the time. Just make a choice to be happy! Bootstraps, people. BOOTSTRAPS.

It wasn’t until I started dating Matt that I suddenly realized what this old saying actually meant. It’s not about being unable to love another person while you hate yourself because; it’s about how hard it is to be loved by someone else while you’re stuck in a deep pit of self-loathing.

Matt started using the L word (no, not lesbians) pretty early on in our relationship. And it made me uncomfortable, but it took me a while for me to figure out why, exactly, that was. I started feeling weird about him, started picking apart his behaviours, looking for something wrong with him. I called my friend Debbie, who had known him slightly longer than I had, and asked,

“What’s his deal? Is he some kind of weirdo or psychopath?”

“No,” she said, “he’s a totally nice guy, as far as I know. Why? Did he do something.”

“He keeps telling me he loves me.”

Debbie just laughed and said,

“Well, that’s nice, isn’t it? I mean, isn’t it?”

It didn’t feel nice, though. It felt weird.

I don’t remember what triggered it, but sometime during our first summer together I had some kind of epiphany. I realized that I was trying to figure out what was wrong with Matt because there was a part of me, a fairly big part of me, that didn’t believe that a sincerely nice, normal human being could actually love me or want to be with me. I figured that anyone who said they loved me and meant it probably had bodies buried in the basement or wanted to have sex with their mother or actually thought that Atlas Shrugged was a good book.

But Matt is nice, and (mostly) normal. He wasn’t the one who was fucked up. I was.

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