Notes on Love
I’ve found it interesting how quickly I look to grasp a sense of stability and control. Most actions I take are not evaluated in their momentary happening but instead in a week or longer frame of understanding.
In my relationships, this manifests in an interesting way. While it appears to me that most people go with the flow, I’ve found myself reading papers on relationship development and creating multi-page think sessions in which I try to understand what’s going on.
Camus has always encouraged me to embrace curiosity, choosing wonder over control. I can’t. And I’m not even sure I want to.
My behavior of looking for information to explain and optimize my current experience is anything but new. Frankly, it’s this feeling that is largely responsible for why I started a blog.
I’m not sure if I necessarily believe that my inclination to learn more about what I don’t understand is a bad thing. As long as I keep in mind why I am seeking out that information, it’s fine. But here’s the thing — we rarely think about our why.
Sure, maybe I can recognize that I’m feeling negative emotions and that’s why I am seeking out knowledge. However, when I turn the page and look deeper, it’s not unlikely that I find a more pernicious, unresolved fear.
Let’s talk self-improvement.
Am I enough?
I spend my time around a lot of motivated people. They are passionate, push themselves to succeed, and spend a good amount of time working to fulfill their goals.
I got on the self-development train in early high school. I loved the idea of improving myself, of pushing myself to my limits. I felt an obligation to be my best self.
But what did that even mean? It’s only in the past year that I think I realized: I believed I wasn’t enough and that I could solve that problem with ambition and hard work. Looking at my journal entries from this time, I believed that I was living my best life. I think I may have been living a delusioned life.
I thought that I discovered the way out. I had hope. If I just got a little bit better, worked a little bit harder, and achieved a little bit more, I would be able to say goodbye to my social anxiety and feel comfortable in myself.
This kept me going. I was the most motivated I had ever been in my life. I just kept doing. I wasn’t doing it for myself. I was doing it so I could earn approval. Brene Brown sums this part of my life up well:
Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval. Most perfectionists grew up being praised for achievement and performance (grades, manners, rule following, people pleasing, appearance, sports). Somewhere along the way, they adopted this dangerous and debilitating belief system: I am what I accomplish and how well I accomplish it. Please. Perform. Perfect. Prove.
For me, I wasn’t trying to improve myself to have an impact or simply be a better person for myself. It was an effort to gain control over the way people viewed me. I wanted to be liked, and I would desperately work to be liked.
3 years later, I found myself screaming over a cliff. Reading Emerson’s Self-Reliance, I realized I had anything but. The belief that I wasn’t enough for others led me to spend my life working to win that approval.
It was the only other day, while talking to a close friend, that I realized the driving fear behind this:
When people get to know the real me, I’ll be unlovable.
It’s kind of scary for me to put this out there. But I’ve felt lonely in this fear, and if I can help someone who feels similarly feel heard and not lonely, it’s worth it.
It’s this fear that caused me to keep up a mirage, carefully constructing a persona that was malleable to any belief I needed to grasp to. I was like Aaron Burr in Lin Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton — a terrified man who realized that the best way to “win” in a conflict was to believe nothing.
There’s still an Aaron Burr inside of me. It’s what’s kept me on this self-improvement path. This realization doesn’t mean that I won’t continue working to improve myself. But instead of arising from a belief that I’m not enough, I hope it will arise from a desire to help people. From a desire to practice compassion, creativity, and open-mindedness. To becoming the person I would want to have met and learned from in my life.
Am I Unlovable?
It’s kind of no wonder why my deepest fear has me turn to reading papers on relationship psychology. I’m in the battleground. The place where my deepest fears could feel true.
Rationally, I don’t think I’m unlovable. But it’s impossible to actually prove it. Even if someone did love me, I would be wondering if they really loved the real me or some version of myself that I showed them. While my primitive mind wants me to search for external answers, I think the only place I can look is inside.
I’m trying my best. I’ve thought about that for a while. I think we’re all trying our best. For some reason, though, I don’t feel like it’s good enough. I don’t feel like anything I’ve done has led me to deserve love, and I don’t feel like anything I can ever do will make me deserve it.
The real question may be why I feel like I need to deserve it. Love isn’t quite a gift — it’s not simply given out of good will. It’s something that, in at least some sense, you earn. You earn it through honesty, reliability, and kindness. In truth, maybe you earn it by being yourself.
Notes on Social Anxiety
For the socially anxious out there, you know that your efforts to put on a front and impress others can often make you less likable. Simply being yourself would probably make people like you more. But when you're yourself, you have no defenses, If someone criticizes you, you can’t point to circumstance or argue that it wasn’t really you. They’re criticizing YOU.
Vulnerability acts in a similar way. While necessary to develop love, it also leaves you open to be hurt. At this point in my life, I think that the only way to reach love is to be open to being hurt. To recognize that your happiness is partially in the power of someone else’s hands and to accept that.
We can hedge our emotions all we want — stopping ourselves from thinking too far into the future with our partner or protecting yourself by not confronting the feelings within ourselves — but this is all a futile attempt to avoid love.
Love is when you look at your deepest fear, understand that it’s not solvable, and choose to live anyway. It’s a revolt.
I choose revolt.