“U got it, u got it bad, when you’re on the phone… hang up and then you call right back…”
As I belted Usher while walking Emily on UTC’s campus, my mind drifted to the old pingpong table that my parents used to have. Like most things from childhood, I don’t know where we got it, but it was always there, sitting under the eaves of our pool house. We would pop in the Now That’s What I Call Music! 8 CD to the boom box and listen to Usher’s “U Got It Bad” on repeat while we battled it out in the never-ending pingpong tournament.
That “we” included James, of course. James and I were inseparable for the summers of my childhood. We played basketball; we rode bikes; we walked to the convenience store; we jumped off the roof into the pool.
What else could there possibly be in life?
In 2004, I turned 14 and realize what else.
My 13-year-old pudge had shifted to my chest. I had finally started my period (my grandmother was worried). And I was just starved enough of male attention after my first year at my all-girls’ middle school.
It was a perfect storm to transform all of my affection, care, and love for James into one, singular desire: He will be my boyfriend.
I spent the whole next year pining after James, wishing he’d get the memo that “Hey bub, I’m a sexually-PRIMED female.” But instead of gently enveloping me in his sinewy arms, James did what any 14-year-old boy does: He acted oblivious and talked about how hott (yes, with two t’s) all the other girls in town were.
Nonetheless, I would not be shaken. I was the rock of our young love. I remember playing over every conversation he and I had hundreds of times, looking for every clue that he just may love me in the ways that I so craved. Somewhere in my mind, I thought, “If only I’m patient/intuitive/interesting/cute enough, James will DEFINITELY have to love me.”
However there was also a paradox in my thinking, namely, that committed love was inevitable (“He’ll HAVE to love me!”), and yet also entirely undeserved. In my “If only I….” statements, I was really saying that by changing or emphasizing X in myself, I would, in turn, be loved. In other words, I didn’t feel enough as I was. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until this past summer that I recognized the dangerous formula I had been acting out of in my relationships.
14 year-old Hannah didn’t think too much of herself. And neither did 24 year-old Hannah.
I had the Groucho Marx syndrome when it came to relationships:
I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member.
I would intentionally, if subconsciously pick potential partners who were difficult. I sought out people who were closed off, emotionally vacant or stunted, or downright uninterested. If it wasn’t insanely difficult to earn my someone’s affection, I’d pass. “Why in the world would someone put themselves through that?” you ask. “It’s masochistic!”
I did it for the chase.
In chasing after these difficult partners, I was actually chasing after my own self-worth. When I got the take, finally earned (minimal) affection from my partner, my self esteem soared!
“This person looooooovvvvvveeeessssss meeeeeeeeee!” I wanted to run through the streets screaming.
As long as my partner’s affection lasted, I was up. Not just up, but flying. However, the people I invited into my life didn’t have healthy, consistent love to offer. Thus, my self-value rose and fell with their whims.
At least, that’s how it’s gone until now.
As the chorus continued through my earbuds (“U got it, u got it bad…”), I remembered my sister hounding me for details about the guy I was dating a few weekends ago. “Is he cute? Is he funny? What’s his job? Can I see a picture?”
Finally, she got right down to it: “Does he give you butterflies?” she asked with her head tilted expectantly. I thought for a minute, then said frankly, “No. He doesn’t.”
Over my past six months of grief, I’ve been relentless in my emotional learning. I have overturned every moldy, squirmy, untouchable thing. I’ve asked why I do the things I do. Why I love the people I love. Why I fail in the ways I fail. And why I keep hurting in the ways I hurt.
After all my questioning and answering, I’ve come to this: I’m tired.
I’m tired of the chase. I now know that I won’t find my worth in anyone but me. And whenever we accept behavior from others that is not life-affirming, we’re indicating our own value.
If we allow ourselves to be treated poorly, it means we don’t think we’re worth being treated well.
Let me throw some examples out there of poor behaviors that I’ve struggled with:
- Are you silent about the chronic lateness of the people around you? That doesn’t make you patient. That means you’re probably conflict-avoidant and you would rather swallow consistent inconsideration than risk the possibility that if you ask for consideration from those people, they may say, “No, you’re aren’t worth that to me.” We have to be bigger than that question. You are always worth consideration. You are a being with a soul. Know that deeply about yourself.
- Find yourself toning down your enthusiasm or excitement about great news around certain people? That’s not being cool. That’s being sad. You’re playing the high school game of too-cool-for-school and you’re allowing life’s light be wasted. Don’t waste light. There’s too much darkness in this world to ever spit on light.
- Feeling exhausted by your busyness and overwhelmed by what you think you need to accomplish? Fear is leading you to believe that your worth is the result of accomplishments. When you get that job, write that article, fund that Kickstarter, THEN love and affection and attention will come your way!
That’s false. We are deserving of attention right now. You never need to do another thing to be part of the light of this world. Pour attention and love into the world as you can. Fuck the rest.
Over these past months, I’ve come to think a lot of myself. Not in an arrogant way, but in the I-matter-in-my-own-life way. When I’m really struggling through a day, I remind myself of that worth, saying, “I get to take up space. I get to take up space.” And as I’ve started dating again, I’ve been putting that self-worth to work.
A few months ago, I joined OkCupid. I put in my profile that I was looking for a “whole person who takes care of themself and has the capacity to care for me as well.” Then, I found it. I met Greg.
He wasn’t hard to read. He didn’t play games. And he wasn’t hard to get. So, of course, my ego immediately labeled him as “boring.” I complained to a friend, “I can’t understand it! He’s considerate, kind, and goofy, but I don’t feel any butterflies!” And that’s how a girl’s supposed to know, right?!?
Because Greg possessed so many of the qualities I was looking for in a partner, I decided to be patient. My friend Neil pointed out to me that I’m not having to do the emotional work of two people anymore, so maybe that’s why I’m “bored.”
After sitting with my discomfort, I’ve come to know that butterflies for me do not equal attraction, healthy behaviors, nor dependable love. They equal Kraft Mac n’ Cheese. The powdered kind.
My friend Mike likens our comfortable, known patterns (however destructive they may be) to the shittiest comfort food you had as a kid. You know it’s terrible, but it feels so good.
What was happening was that my brain couldn’t figure out what to do with all my energy and time in a relationship if it wasn’t spent worrying, suppressing, dismissing, intuiting, and craving. I couldn’t cope with having my needs met.
My ego labeled Greg “boring” so that it wouldn’t have to label him “scary.” If I was the one afraid, then it would be me who would have to change! It would be me who would have to find the courage to be a grown-ass adult! To stare the intimacy being offered me in the face and open my arms to accept it!
But I am the scared one. My lack of butterflies said nothing about Greg. It said everything about the discomfort that comes with recalibrating my behavioral patterns.
Every step of my relationship with Greg has been intentional and terrifying: I’ve had to say my needs out loud; I’ve had to figure out and lay out my boundaries for self (This is Hannah and I’m not dismissing her!); I’ve had to learn to play a different role than the caregiver-victim that I’ve always played.
It’s all been hard, thank god.
If it had been easy, I would be exactly where I was a year ago: hurting and confused about how to have my needs met.
So, I’m grateful for this guy. I’m grateful for the courage his presence has pushed me to gain. He gives me something greater than butterflies. He gives me the space to become a person capable of receiving love.