For someone who has endured chaotic, unreliable and unpredictable relationships, I ought to be disillusioned. These patterns have made me difficult and skeptical, but I have always longed to be loved in the ways that I need beneath all of the difficulty.
For years, I didn’t realize that I had the power to walk away from the cycles of unpredictability, chaos, melodrama I found myself caught in. I thought that I had to stay in relationships where I was being mistreated and misunderstood. I thought that this was my lot, that there was something wrong with me. I thought I had to be exceptional to be loved. I lacked the humility to realize that I don’t have the power to make people love me.
When I realized that “making people love me” didn’t work, I stepped up and tried to be assertive. When I loved myself enough to stand up for myself, I watched people who claimed to love me leave. Both manipulation and unconditional love… both make people leave, I concluded. So, I doubted all of the years that I worked on learning how to actually love. I let their leaving make me doubt my competence, my tenacity and my existence, until I realized that real love makes those leave who have yet to understand what difficult things love requires of us. Like self-control, self-accountability, self-compassion, emotional sobriety, courage and kindness, among other things. (Love does not demand perfection or exceptionality.)
As a Christian, you get told that “God loves because it is God’s nature”. What Christians are saying is that love is part of who God is and chooses to be. I’m not sure if I ever internalized this in a practical, embodied way earlier in life. (Sure, God is love, cool, got it). I didn’t really think about how that translates to personal relationships. A human being loves because it is part of who they are. They are filled with love, so they love. It is their choice, not something that I can control. It is not something that goes away or stays because of how good or bad I am. Love remains.
I have been relieved to realize that I can discover the tools and power in myself to walk away, and find people who want to love me because they choose to. When love is given freely and not dependent on myself, I feel more secure; I feel like I can love freely, without fear that I am being “used” or “robbed”. Love freely given is empowering.
There are people who I think about as “the loves of my life”. When I think about those people, I realize that what I experience a calm and peacefulness when we aren’t together. I don’t feel anxious and afraid. I realized that they have earned my trust and my mind and body are in agreement. My gut is not screaming. My mind is not tricking me. I am calm.
The loves of my life… I think about people who feel like my heart, my true self, outside of my body. The human qualities that are dismissed as “too good to be true”, like honesty, consistency, kindness, patience… and all those fruits of the holy spirit. And when I am loved by these people, I feel like anything is possible. I feel less silly and less ashamed for the kind of person that I want to be in the world. My heart is no longer dismissed and it brightens, expands. I am not just “naive” when I am with them. When I am with them, I know that love is something real that we must practice over and over again. Love is practice, a skill, as Esther Perel would say. I’ve learned that the “feeling” of love isn’t one — it can be joy and inner stillness, relief. Or when it is lost, grief.
When I think of how proud I am of myself, it is because I think about how I am growing to be like the people who have loved me well. I am learning their skill by being loved and by watching them be brave.
Being chosen to be in the lives of these people — no matter how long or short — is such a gift, such a honor. A dream come true. And it brings me a peace beyond what I knew was possible. The love they create, this commitment to create and practice, is evidence of those things unseen.