You know, the older I get, the more I realize that
the more you know, the more you realize you don’t know.
For example, I wrote a poem for last year’s National Poetry Writing Month in April called “too much credit“. In it, I tried to explain that because I had been loved, truly loved, by others, I thought myself capable of doing the same. As time passes, I realize that accepting love and loving are different muscles. You have to flex much more for one than the other.
And not only flex, but learn, and compromise (not give up, or give in), and grow as a human being. It is easy to love perfect people. It is easy to love as a “perfect person”.
It is a much more arduous, but also more human task to love imperfect people in your imperfect ways: people who hurt you, who fuck up (constantly), who forget, who give up in a million little ways every day, whose spirit you have to seek out, who ask and ask and ask and forget to give, who disappoint.
I credited myself
for thinking I was strong,
good in relationships.
Dependable woman. Excellent at loving.
It is easy to believe that because people are kind to you, that you must be a good person. You feel like a good person, even, for a while. And being loved is a wonderful thing. When people meet your expectations of how you should be treated – that’s a beautiful, satisfying moment. And yes, everyone deserves good treatment, but they do not always get treated well. That is the brunt of it.
Lately I’ve been thinking about this North American rhetoric involved with “deserving love”. In general, I like it. I think it’s a fabulous ego boost and a strong (and very convincing) call to individualism, self-love, self-dependency and even feminism. The unfortunate reality that I’ve been trying to face is multilayered, and it has made me reevaluate a lot about the way I approach people.
- Life is not fair. Everyone that deserves love does not obtain it just because they “deserve” it. You do not earn love through actions and you do not have to be great to be loved. People are loved because people are loved. Sometimes fairly, sometimes not enough, sometimes too much for who it appears they are as a person. Try to not let this kill you.
- Deserving love is a false premise. You must be ready to receive no love and still hold love in your heart for others. That is (I believe) when love will arrive. I have struggled with too-high expectations for others my entire life. Everyone had to live up to some sort of magical fairy godmother standard, and yet even my fairy godmother has let me down countless, countless times. What then? Do you give up? Give in? When the illusion of your parents crumbles, do you give up? Do you give in? Or do you accept the complexity of human nature and attempt to understand their intention? Do you find kindness when you come up against disappointment?
- I have known people who have met a lack of love with a newfound hardness. This was not something I was ever able to cultivate in myself, even though many nights I wished for it. “How do they just stop caring?” I asked, over and over. I have instead discovered how to use anger, how to feel anger, how to see the injustice for what it is, and realize that giving love when it is not deserved is not a fault on my end, but sometimes can be a blessing for others.
- You also are not a good person just because others have been good to you. (This has been hard for me to accept). That does not mean you have “deserved” it more than others. This does not automatically mean everything you do is good for others. You have been palpably lucky and you should never take that for granted. You should live up to it in the best way you can.
Note that the reverse of this is also deeply true: you are not a bad person because others have been bad to you.
- There is only a strong correlation between you being loved well, and you loving others well when you put conscious thought into giving back and understanding other people. When you undertake empathy as a key part of your love, but also when you understand and treat healthy boundaries with the respect they deserve.
- Loving is a muscle that takes flexing because being loved can sometimes fool us into believing that we are perfect, we are great, we are amazing! This is okay – “love lifts us up where we belong,” etc, but we are not perfect. We fall incredibly short of perfect – this is also okay. In order to love others well, we have to be able to acknowledge and accept that we do not always love well. We have to acknowledge our weakness, but also our humanity, and simultaneously accept both and strive to improve them.
- We have to be humble enough to improve, and hungry enough to acknowledge what’s on our plate and not get distressed by the road ahead. We have to be strong enough to create boundaries between love that hurts – because love is not a measure of a person’s impact on our lives, nor how well they treat us, unfortunately. It is also okay to love people imperfectly.
- You do not have to be great to be loved. But. Be great anyway. Find love, anyway. Give love, anyway. When love comes, accept it despite your fear. Despite knowing that you did nothing to deserve this. Accept it as part of the universe that we do not understand. It is okay to feel scared that you do not deserve it. You don’t.
- But how lucky are you to receive it? Use your luck by loving someone else so fiercely that it inspires them to do the same. Accept the love. Accept the love. Accept the love because it can be so rare and so nonsensical that this is all we can do with it.
Now, read one of my favourite poems of all time, Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese”, who I have just thought of after writing this post for months and months and months and who has clearly invaded my entire conscience.