I needed someone to fight for me.
(God, that’s embarrassing to say out loud.)
I admit I wanted that dramatic movie ending. [Chase me through an airport / down a flight of stairs / through rush-hour traffic], scream my name through an unsuspecting crowd, *queue random obstacle*, overcome, and love prevails (hurrah!) There’s always a great kiss to end it, and I’m a sucker for it all.
I wanted to be swept away. I thought I was supposed to be a prize, someone to be taken “off-the-market” as if a conquerable domain. Gah.
Because I’ve watched just enough love stories. When someone chases you, it’s actionable proof you are worth something.
So when you walked out the door, I believed the lie I heard myself breathe a hundred times before. I wasn’t enough. Pretty enough, skinny enough, interesting enough… Too much of this, and not enough of that. Those final words you cavalierly threw reverberated into my identity foundation with a force that took months to rebuild.
Through our relationship, I had allowed myself to shrink, to become less of myself and instead what I thought fit better.
To clarify, this was my doing, not yours.
I thought if I tried hard, if I shifted and squeezed myself enough, the love I wanted would become. I’d painfully learned I had exited quickly in previous relationships, without speaking my desires, my truth. I didn’t want to find myself in that same story again.
Because I was scared of being left, of being rejected, of having every criticism I already thought of myself be proven true. I was scared of being alone once you left the room. I was scared that no one else would find me lovable. Maybe I was all used up.
I was scared to sit in the silence of myself.
So when you gave up, regardless that I had already steeped in questioning and contemplated the inevitable end repeatedly (you knew there was something behind that sudden insomnia streak that was tattling my inner truths), all the rejection from every part of my past dredged up.
Old hurts, deeply-held insecurities, and self-judgment swirled around my head, taunting their familiar accusations.
Memories of other boys who didn’t fight for me, of hurtful words erupted, and of inadequate feelings pulsed through me.
A reminder of a marriage dissolved, and every failure and misstep flooded my consciousness.
For a period of time after, it was a painful space. Desperately empty. This vast openness wanted to swallow me whole. I’ll never forget just how loud the silence was.
Housing a million what-if questions, I whirled and steeped. Heaviness, tears, with intermittent numbness. I allowed it to wash over me, and then to eventually run through me. The feeling of being out of my own body, floating almost, was both poetic and terrible.
This torn-opened wound was an opportunity. I could put a plastic bandage over it, and let the scab form again. Or, I could look deep into it, find the truth this pain was revealing to me, and begin the work to heal.
Sure, I could numb. The easy out of surrounding myself with distractions would allow me to avoid the ugly confrontation. Filling every night with validating friends who could soothe me was just a few thumb-clicks away.
But this avoidance? This would get me around, but it would not get me through.
No, I did not want this to be my story anymore.
There was a narrative I absorbed long ago. One that told me in order to be valuable, someone else had to choose me.
Pick me, because another’s claim would prove that I was lovable, valuable, and special.
I let the chase dictate how desirable I was, as if a measuring stick. And “what was meant to be” would happen, right? Good things come to those who wait. A good man would find me someday. (Seriously, how many of these awful cliches are there?!)
I waited patiently to be chosen in a team line-up or for a job promotion. Sometimes this was hoping for a guy to make the move or hold feelings until he said “I love you” first, lest my vulnerability be exposed.
“Coach, put me in”, I silently pleaded. I waited to be discovered, to be told I was good.
So I sat back. Where was my big break? Where was my Prince Charming?
This excruciating self-examination begged the question: Why did I need someone else to fight for me in order to believe I was worthy myself?
Because this whole “loving yourself” business is hard stuff. We’re trained to focus on others, satisfy their needs, and let our own wants be a hasty afterthought.
We have a front row seat to all our shortcomings, our constant comparisons to what we deem as better, and what can sometimes be an ugly inner dialogue.
Witnessing your own imperfections so closely makes it harder to forgive yourself. And certainly to “love yourself”.
Here’s what I eventually found: If you really want to love someone well, it demands you fight for yourself first.
You have to fight to put your wants at the top of the priorities.
to not always serve yourself the smallest piece of cake (absent of the extra frosting)
to forgive yourself for messing up (even when it’s not the first time)
to speak your desires out loud
You fight to stand steady in a world that tells you what everything is supposed to look like. You fight for the courage to wear highlighter yellow when the crowd chooses black, after living a life of “normal” and begging to “fit in”.
You fight to rise above the “shoulds” and comparisons that make you question your off-course decisions and sometimes your sanity.
This ability to self love is the gift to the partner you choose. When they aren’t responsible to validate you and fulfill your every need, you remove the weight of crushing expectations and damaging insecurities.
When you don’t need them to be something they are not and can just love them just as they show up… You set them free. They can now go build magic and genius in the world, knowing you securely stand beside them.
You set the example for how to be treated and how to love you well. You show your acceptance of humanity and all its gorgeous flaws, again allowing them to be themselves.
I wanted my self-love, my security, my foundation to be the greatest gift I could give another.
All of this meant I had to put on the shiny boxing gloves and step into the ring.
I began by staring into the mirror until I could find something I loved (or at least something I didn’t cringe at). I drowned myself in a puddle of me-ness. It felt weird, and silly, and ridiculous.
I stared at a vintage photo of Baby Jean until I could separate her from me. I honored her innocence, her learnings, her mistakes with compassion. I worked to transition that kindness to how I viewed and looked at myself today.
I asked: What do I want to do? I prioritized self care. I challenged myself physically, alternately feeding my mind with inspiration until it spilled over into my soul. I read. I wrote. I accepted praise.
I indulged in every crumb of that red velvet cupcake. Damn, that was so good.
I danced to Taylor and Drake until I collapsed into an exhausted, heaving pile on my kitchen floor.
I ate alone at restaurants. I let Friday night be self-reflection time. I slept in the middle of the bed in a giant X and shamelessly got lost in Kardashian marathons.
And then slowly, more infrequent were the insomniac nights. Batted down were the swirling self-criticisms and feelings of inadequacy. I took a giant step forward (and only a small shuffle backward this time) in loving who I had become.
Somehow, through this active (and sometimes agonizing) work, I started to believe.
I realized I quite liked the company of myself. The once-avoided space became a luxury. My inner desires and answers began to become more vocal as I tuned in.
I could find a voice without forcefully trying to convince others because I was believing it myself. A powerful softness I never knew in me emerged, still strong but less harsh.
I can tell you this work is constant. It’s default to slip back, to wait for someone to prove something to you, to check your notifications and likes for the eleventh time that hour. It’s autopilot to watch every social media-declared love story swirling around around you and question your enough-ness.
It’s easy to attach yourself to the outcome of declaring your love to the “one that got away” and let the answer determine your worth [Side note: It does not.]
But each day is a little less difficult. The grooves get deeper to find my way back to me.
The memory of this old wound has a less visible scar, one I can honor for how it’s expanded me. The pain and the subsequent work were the necessary components to finding my next great love… And soon realizing that after all this time the wholeness and contentment could find me when I was willing to do the toughest, yet most important work to finding how to sit with myself.
Originally, this journey was to become a better partner for someone else, and in end, I found what was most needed for me to become a better me for me.