“try new things!” ok give up everything old, ignore my boundaries for my own comfort
“enjoy it for the moment!” —> there is no such thing as any kind of temporal reality, or weight, or meaning, and all things end and become meaningless in ending, but are enjoyable in the moment.
“love is about giving!” ok, check mark, noted, will do, have done, and will also give up on receiving anything in the process
“no one is perfect!” ok, and settle for completely trashy awful people to date
“expect nothing” ok, i don’t expect to ever be liked. ever. by someone I also like. ever.
“be yourself/you’re fine as you are” —> ok i was, for a while, and didn’t improve myself
I wish I had been taught something… deeper like, how to…meet myself. How to know myself. How to meet myself, like I would meet a new person that I wanted to get to know. And the horrifying reality is that maybe I didn’t want to know myself until very recently. It generates a unique kind of empathy I think, this process of self-knowledge because the uncomfortable truth is that if I am going through this “meeting myself” stage, maybe others are too. At the very least, I have to believe anyone can, and therefore everyone can.
Once, an ex partner jokingly said, of himself “I’m a catch!” and I laughed and smiled and said pretty sincerely: “yeah you are.”
And then he looked at me and said, kind of half jokingly but something I needed to hear: “Hey. You know you’re a catch too, right.”
I have never actually internally like in my deep down heart soul mind feeling body Truth ever felt that about myself *that* way, not in the way I immediately and instinctively thought of him as capital G, tony the tiger levels of powdered sugar Great.
It shifted a lot of things for me. How could it not? Whatever esteem I held for him, he reflected back, at least partially, or at least opened my mind to the possibility that I… could be seen that way. That someone I respected and valued and liked could also feel something similar (even if not to the same extent) for me was an utterly new feeling.
In the moment it felt real and also not real. I instinctively believed him because I liked him because we were honest because we were kind and friendly but almost immediately my mouth dried up because because believing him would have meant believing something lovely about myself that I apparently, for all my rhetoric about self love and whatever else, have never been capable of.
not even a little bit.
not even close.
Not in the way I thought of him as very lovely.
In retrospect I did my very fancy and simple trick of saying ok well I believe he believed I was a catch. Or whatever. Even if it wasn’t totally true – (but this also felt like a super duper trick).
Believing him would have meant thinking of myself as Super Cool A+ Human Being in the way I felt…he was. Flaws and all. After all, no one is perfect. Why was it that his imperfections didn’t take away from his “Oh you are awesome” but I felt mine did take away from mine?
No one is perfect.
Believing him meant recognizing that while no one is in and of themselves a Super Cool A+ Human Being, they may hold that place of affection for a partner – and that if someone was my partner, I was theirs too. They could and would see me that way. And that maybe it was a teensy bit essential to a relationship to function. That who I was, was enough.
Being myself was fine.
And while I’ve imagined many times people appreciating my love and respect for them, or imagined many people people who did not really know me thinking highly of me, the idea of being understood by someone I liked and liked in return (not even loved! just liked!) literally blew my mind. I had to physically stop myself from saying “Why?! I’m not that special” not in a self pitying way, but in a genuinely startled “Wut. Why would you think this.” way.
Because if loving and liking is about giving, then clearly someone can “give” to me too.
It now occurs to me this is maybe some of how he must have felt. During another conversation, a month later, after we’d predictably ended, he brought up the old Groucho Marx quote: “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as its member”. The thing is, I don’t think he nor I am particularly self loathing. Or we are, but in the deeply average and mundane way in which all humans are self loathing. Occasionally I dip into the deep end of that pool with depression, but I certainly know myself well enough to understand the cognitive maze my mind likes to build and I identify it these days as a depressive reality. I did not feel any wave of self loathing or immediate dissatisfaction when he had said, simply, “Hey. You know you’re a catch too, right.” I didn’t feel the “oh this person likes me, I must immediately hate them/be repulsed by them” which many people experience. I simply had no idea what reciprocity looked like – not even a little bit. Reciprocity, even a little, is a weird and magical feeling. I still struggle with it. I am more inclined to believe romantic connections are a lie more than truth, are less real after they’re done, but a nice break from reality when they happen.
And I always believe at the end of things that if there was any serious quality in the relationship, I cared far more than the other person, and that they didn’t have any feelings for me, and that it was serious only for me. I was even ok with that reality; it was a reality I had made peace with because the alternative was such a brutal reality of being unliked and unloved that it would easily threaten to make pieces out of me. At the end of things, half formed memories, desires, feelings I had quickly disappeared into a memory fog, dissolved into the mundane. Eventually I took some peace in the idea of “well it was nice in the moment”, but with the sheer recognition that all beautiful moments are marked for not only death, that all kind thoughts about any future with anyone are not only destined for a stillbirth, but that… they ultimately held no meaning, no weight, that these moments did not matter outside my own mind, for the time that my mind could hold them as “True”.
Some moments of reciprocity refuse to undergo this transformation to the mundane. There is no sadness here – or if there is, it’s a purer kind than any I’ve known as yet. “It was nice for the moment” remains true.
But it was – and remains – also nice for the moments that follow, in the form of memories.
And that moment rippled in my life long after it was over. It forced a reckoning with my sense of self – that I am enough but also that I can always improve in becoming mySelf and these are not opposite ideals, or even ideals in tension.