I've been thinking for a while about publicly mapping out what it is I want from love and what I'm hoping for in a partner in a post like this, but it's embarrassing, you know? Admitting what you're hoping for, deep down in your heart, for everyone to see. I say hoping for, because I've never really been comfortable saying things like "I want." I've always sort of tiptoed around life, a fact I know most people would never guess about me, going, "Oh, excuse me. If it's okay, could I maybe possibly have this thing that I … I'd like … if it's okay with you. I promise I'll prove that I'm worth it." That's what co-dependents do. We walk on eggshells, trained in childhood to do so, and we grow up trying to please people, hoping that everyone will see how good we are. Please see me. Please recognize my work and my worth. We don't determine our own worth, we look to others to determine it for us.
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As you can imagine, it's a pretty difficult way to live. (For more on the implications of needing to be recognized by others, read this incredible post on The Awl.) And for many, many years, that's what I wanted "love" to do, too. I wanted love to show me myself, and I looked to romantic relationships or the interest of men to show me that I am worth being interested in. That I am pretty. That I am worth adoration. That I am special. American women have traditionally been taught that our value isn't inherent, but that it's determined by these outside voices of approval. We grow up knowing that it's only someone deciding to love us that proves we're worthy of love.
So I looked to love to heal me, to make me feel accepted, beautiful. I had marriage on the mind from the time I was a sophomore in college, because marriage was the salve I needed. If I could find my husband, I would be finding myself. When I was 25, I married a man I'd been dating since I was in college, and I thought for a while that I was happy. That I was loved. But eventually the signs that my husband didn't love me grew too big to ignore, and I filed for divorce. I didn't understand how this could have happened to me. I was such a good wife. I was loyal, faithful, caring to a fault. I gave and gave and gave and did so much work for that relationship, to make the relationship work. Hadn't I tried hard enough? Hadn't I proven my value? Why wasn't I good enough to love?
A few years after my divorce was final, I started going to therapy. I began to learn about how childhood dynamics play themselves out in adult relationships. You know, the psychological basics. I could see myself repeating patterns, being drawn to similar, familiar personalities. I bottomed out on love after a while, and I've been quite single ever since. It's been an interesting thing, feeling all of this space around me, and then just letting it be filled with the life that is the daily motion of being me and raising my daughter. It's been a quiet time. A tender time. Does that sound stupid? It always feels a little stupid to be so sincere in the culture of the Internet, to be intimate and really show yourself and bare your soul. But that's the thing - what I've learned during this quiet time, what I have finally, truly, totally understood is that that's what love really is. It's risking revelation. It's playing cards with an open hand. It's not pushy or loud or bossy or mean or about proving anything. Love is small and soft, but it's also broad and wide. It's all of the good things, the happiness and the joy. That's what I want out of love, and that's what I think love really is. It's everything we're afraid to say because we don't want to look weak. It's mutual respect, and caring, and appreciation, and tenderness, and affection, and warmth. It's cozy. It's sweet. It's friendly and nice. It likes you. It knows your worth, not because it sees your worth, but because your worth is a given. It wants to hold you, not hurt you. Love loves you. Love thinks you're funny and pretty because you are, not because you try to be. Love thinks your butt looks amazing in everything.
Every love I have ever known has felt like the repelling force between like magnetic poles. There's energy there, and tension, and it seems like there's an attraction there, but really each side is working hard to push the other one away. I spent a lot of years thinking that relationships like that would work, if only one of the magnets would turn around, but magnets don't turn when they're locked in battle like that. They push against each other until one of them falls away. What I want is an easy love that clicks. A north-south romance that is all pull. Maybe I'm delusional, maybe that doesn't exist. But I want a love that moves in and not out, that embraces rather than shoves, that is warm and stays warm, not one that starts hot and grows cold. I want to meet a guy who wants hugs as much as he wants sex, who is kind and generous, who feels things and isn't afraid of that, who smiles and means it. I want a man who loves to laugh, to play. A guy who loves music and children and all of the things that urge us to be better. Not because we have to prove anything, but because it's good to grow. It's the only thing. That's what we do: we come here and we're born and we grow and we die and maybe even then we grow. Who knows? I don't know. I don't know if any of this is possible, but I do know now that I'm finally willing to not try to make it happen, but instead to wait for it. I'm waiting here in this pause, in this quiet time, baring my soul and being vulnerable and knowing that's all that needs to be done.
Photo credit: Flickr user epSos .de
-By Carolyn Castiglia
For 13 tips for snagging a man (circa 1938), visit Babble!