I can remember as a teenage girl longing to be loved by a boy. It started when I hit puberty, of course, because that’s when all the sh*t hits the fan. I had these romantic fantasies of what love was and what it meant. It was all storybook – Cinderella and Knights on White Horses. I remember when the book Love Story came out, I wanted to read it so bad. Momma forbid it because I was too young. My first act of rebellion was checking it out of the library and reading it in secret. I so wanted that. I wanted the fantasy of love means never having to say you’re sorry. I would spend the next 25 years looking for that kind of storybook love. After two failed marriages, I finally accepted the fact that maybe love like that was a fantasy. What I really believed from all that was that I was unlovable.
My greatest fear after both of my divorces was being alone. What if I really was unlovable? What if I had some flaw where I just couldn’t be in a romantic relationship? It terrified me. I thought love came from men. I dated both of my husbands for a very short period of time. I know now that subconsciously I was afraid that, if they really got to know me, they’d discover what everybody else had already discovered. I was unlovable. When God finally ripped me out of my second marriage amidst the destruction of everything that I knew about myself, I was TERRIFIED of being alone. But, I had become even more terrified of staying the way I was.
I read somewhere that there were many kinds of love. Romantic love is only one kind of love, and, it’s the one that is most difficult to navigate. The most dangerous thing to do is to start desperate dating. I not only dated desperately, I married desperately. I wasn’t cognizant of this. I didn’t know any better, and it felt right. I’m not stupid. But, when I go out to find love and my love tank is empty, I’ll go with just about anything that looks good to fill it up. As part of my rebuilding process after my divorce, I told myself everyday that there are many kinds of love, and I’m not looking for romantic love right now. I took two years off dating. It was the best thing I ever did.
I am single, and my life is filled with more love than I have ever had. It blows me away to think about how little I had of that precious gift when I was married. Not only were the men I married incapable of truly loving because of their own issues, but I was only going to one outlet for love. I had friends, but I didn’t really show up with them. We hung out. We did fun things together. But, I only shared me with the men in my life. It was a dangerous situation. Romantic love can go away because of so many different reasons, none of which have anything to do with whether I’m lovable or not. If that’s my only love source, I’m left high and dry when I really need it.
I had to learn how to love. Love is an action. In my desperation to keep love around me, I loved to get my own needs met. Love is loving someone else. I have to be a separate person and not desire a certain outcome from loving someone. I love Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled. That book taught me so much about love and what it means to love someone. He says love is about caring about someone else enough to be present with them and support them in their own life journey. I couldn’t love like that! What if it meant they wanted to leave? Love, in my limited experience, was a transaction. That was my big failure in my marriages, and it was a huge one. I had nothing to give, and love was a manipulation to get my own needs met. I wanted to love like Dr. Peck suggested, but, being empty and needy, I just couldn’t.
I was lonelier in marriage than I have ever been single. Being single, I have to work at building community, finding love, being a friend and loving others. I have to be vulnerable. I have to let others be vulnerable. I have to show up even when I don’t want to. I have all kinds of love in my life now. I have the love of good friends. I have the love of family. I have the love of people on the same spiritual path. And, yes, I even have romantic love. It’s not in the form of a marriage, but it ebbs and flows in my life. And, I let it ebb and flow. I no longer have to grasp at it and try to hold it because I have a variety of love sources.
The most important love I have discovered in my journey back to my self is self-love. Initially, I can remember wanting to be comforted when I was hurting by my missing husband. I had to mentally redirect my thinking. I would remind myself that I didn’t need someone else to comfort me. I knew exactly what I needed, and I could comfort myself. I used to think that if I had to comfort myself because I was alone then something was lacking. What I know now is that comfort is comfort. I can never lack for comfort and love as long as I love myself. If I needed a hug to feel safe, I found ways to hug myself. There’s nothing more huggy than a cat, or a warm blanket with hot chocolate. If I need to feel supported, I can call my list of friends. If I need a foot rub, I can call a friend or I can go get a massage. Damn! It is so easy! And, it is so much less complicated and frustrating than getting it from somebody else who is busy with their own needs. Learning to provide love to myself was the greatest lesson of all. If I have the power within me to comfort and love myself, I don’t have to hold onto anybody. I can let them be who they are. Love is no longer a transaction. It is a gift. I wasn’t unlovable at all. I just simply didn’t know how to do it.