I have a hundred arguments for why I’m unloveable. I can list my flaws and my mistakes–going back decades–more easily than I can list what I had for breakfast. When I’m sad or hurt or anxious, I settle into my own particular groove, a chorus my best friends know all too well: If anyone knew the real me, the me who isn’t trying to be what other people want, then no one–absolutely no one–would love me. And I’m talking all kinds of love here: familial, friendly, romantic. This is the voice I hear in my worst moments, the faux-logical voice that makes complete sense and comes to this conclusion despite everything I have read, thought, felt, heard, and tried to be.
On most of the bad days, I wish my miserable, pathetic inner voice said something else–anything else.
At a drive-in movie this summer, the fireflies speaking in light over the surrounding cornfields, I cried during the intermission. This was not a crying movie: it was The Lone Ranger, the reboot with Johnny Depp and that other guy. But I had stuff going on in my life, like we all do, and in my case it was stuff that involved a lot of uncertainty and change. I stood leaning against the car with an old friend who had already put up with a lot of my crying and worrying the previous month, and I couldn’t stop the damn tears, and I told him I realized, finally, that despite years of thinking I was a fairly balanced, fairly confident person, I really, truly feared that no one could ever love the real me.
“Welcome to being human,” he said, and he let me get tears and snot on his t-shirt, and then he said something that made me laugh, and then we watched the 2nd half of the movie.
In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown says some pretty scary stuff. Here’s the scariest: “We can only belong when we offer our most authentic selves and when we’re embraced for who we are.” WHAT? This seems to confirm my worst fears, to reinforce what my high school self knew in her core: I will never belong. Outsider forever. Get used to it, geeky girl who likes to read.
But of course, Brown’s book goes on. And eventually it gets to this: “If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”
Which, to me, reads like a version of Whitman: “…re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.” It also reads like an echo of Buddhism, suggesting that to live an authentic life–to seek enlightenment and understanding–is in itself the goal.
And these ideas comfort me. They do. Perhaps more comforting, however, is this thought: when I love someone (family, friend, lover), I love that person’s authentic self. For me, a big part of loving someone is wanting to get closer to that authentic self, to be privilege to someone’s fears and joys and inner contradictions.
My friends, I wish I had The Answer. If you’re having one of those days, if your miserable inner voice is whispering similar poisons to you, I can only advise you to try all your tricks–meditate, walk, exercise, watch dumb tv, beg someone to tell you something nice about yourself, eat that pint of ice cream–and don’t beat yourself up for trying them, even if they don’t work. Especially if they don’t work.
It’s terrifying, this thing we’re stuck doing, trying to live. Admitting to what you fear is also admitting to what you hope for. For me, after the tears, the sighing, the moping, the too much or too little sleeping, I try to remember the hope. We aren’t guaranteed, any of us, that we’ll get what we hope for. But then, we aren’t guaranteed that we won’t. (Take that, evil inner voice. Nothing is certain.)
Breathe. Keep breathing.