Where Cliche & Truth Align
I’ve made a decision: to try to allow myself to be loved and to love in return.
Let me be clear: it’s not as though I’ve been navigating the past 30 years rejecting love on a conscious level — I gave and accepted what I could. Which was always some compromised version of love, one in which I would put caveats around what I would deem lovable about myself and in-turn my partner.
I would stay in a relationship so long as I held as much power as I needed to feel secure, which was most of it. I allowed my partner to be imperfect only in the ways I deemed acceptable. In short, I was cruel. And totally oblivious.
I cut myself into pieces and divided them into the parts that would be allowed to breathe and those that would be suffocated. I thought that deprived of air, those undesirable parts of myself would die away, give up, and just fuck right off already. But instead, they became a stew brewing inside me, ready to consume me the moment I let my guard down.
Eventually, these unexpressed parts of myself would transform into vengeful pain, becoming the arsenal I would unleash on partners with unaware callousness. My perceived shortcomings would become his — he was no longer attractive, smart, successful, funny, aware, attentive, caring, sensual, or amusing enough.
Partners became punching bags while I became something I could hardly recognize or stomach. I turned abandoning myself into a fine art.
My sense of unworthiness became the prominent lens through which I interacted with the world, and I lost the ability to see beyond it. Lost and confused, I decided that being in love was simply no longer an option for me. I turned myself off to even the possibility, because deep down, I understood that I wasn’t ready to make the necessary changes to truly allow it to flourish.
And so here I am, three relationships later, trying to build a new one. And oh boy, I’m having to confront with uneasy clarity all the ways in which I’ve been a destructive force for myself and others.
I remember doing an inventory of past relationships a few years ago and focusing especially on my most emotionally abusive one. Sitting with it, I attempted to parse out which parts of it were my dysfunction, which were his, and what had become ours.
I tried to see where I had failed him, and I began to understand that I never offered him the security that I truly wanted to be with him. I never made him feel good enough, because I never believed he was. And I now understand how immensely distressing that must’ve been for him.
(Disclaimer: I want to be careful to not sculpt a narrative of victim blaming. This emotionally abusive relationship was very problematic, and my inability to commit to him fully was in large part due to our intense dysfunction. That being said, I’ve decided to take a look at my side of things not to blame myself but to understand myself. There is no justification for abuse, no matter how imperfect we are or the ways we fail to show up.)
I’ve never chosen a partner that intimidates me — that’s been a subconsciously intentional decision on my part. And moments when partners have intimidated me, I’ve acted out, demanding enough attention and energy to drain them of their willpower and put them back in a place that no longer threatened me.
And through it all, I became a master of victimizing myself, transforming into a needy, sad, and generally pitiful human being.
(I grew up in a house in which guilting was the dominant form of manipulation, so it’s no surprise this became a pattern in my relationships.)
So, now that we’ve laid that foundation, let’s get back to modern day, to my current relationship with the guy who does, in fact, intimidate me. He impresses me. He inspires me. And part of me despises him for it.
I imagine that part of myself as Zelda Fitzgerald, eager to keep my partner’s talents at bay so they never outshine mine. It’s a part of me I would willingly sacrifice if given the right spell for it, but for now, she exists. And she’s a real asshole.
So if I can’t get rid of her, I’ll have to learn to work with her, which starts with acknowledging her presence — something that fills me with a strong internal cringe and genuinely brings tears to my eyes to admit.
As I let her have her moment, throw her fit, entertain her petty and vindictive imaginings, I feel out how to create a space that allows her to speak her mind without letting her take the reins.
Muditā is a Buddhist word that translates to something along the lines of “sympathetic joy” — the ability to feel happy for somebody else, to genuinely share in their joy.
This is the energy I try to channel to offset the malicious attempts of Zelda, because although I do not deny her, I also do not nurture her.
Our society has done us a disservice in its total obsession with individual success — this lends itself to a sense of competition, comparison, envy, and all those other grody feelings. It makes us believe that another’s success is our failure.
But the thing is, when we believe in the interconnected nature of life, we recognize that the joy, success, and triumph of those around us are ours as well.
At least this is what I tell myself, because I do not want a partnership in which I am fighting for the spotlight, the attention, the admiration. I want to learn how to share in all parts of our lives without being threatened by them.
So this is where the cliche comes in:
I can’t love someone fully until I fully love myself first.
This has been a truth I’ve avoided with rigor, because loving myself felt impossible, especially considering that for most of my life, even liking myself was a tall order.
But I’ve found this nugget of wisdom to be true — the grace we offer ourselves extends outwards, allowing our capacity for compassion towards others to grow.
I am learning that caveats around love are counterproductive. Which is not the same as accepting abusive or problematic treatment from a partner or myself. It is the willingness to believe that my lovability is the baseline of my existence — that I am worthy, no matter what.
My initial fear is that this will lead to complacency, that my sense of unworthiness is a powerful force for growth and change. Or that it keeps me “in line.”
But on the other hand, my conditional self-love has also been the source of my most destructive inclinations, such as self-righteousness or shutting myself off from warmth, care, and affection.
So here’s to a new practice, one in which I give myself all the love and acceptance I can muster and from there, offer it outwards. ❤