I don’t think I’d fall short of the truth by starting out this post with, “everyone has the need to be loved.” You could even shorten that to, “everyone has needs.” We all have the need – want, desire – to be loved, appreciated and cared for. We all want to know, deep down inside, that we matter.
Children, especially, have that need. “Little things” are so vital to a child’s well being; as adults, we might not think those things are important at all. Have you ever noticed, just as a small example, how much more a child is willing to open up if you meet their eyes when they’re talking?
Too often, we parents are stuck in the “important” things – paying the bills, making sure mouths are fed and bellies don’t go empty, getting that final piece of work in before the deadline. How often do you actually stop what you’re doing and turn your full attention on your kids? Their whole being lights up. They become more animated in their speaking – more intense in their sharing.
It’s like lighting a candle in a completely dark room. For that moment, they’re the brightest light in the universe.
As tough as we adults are (and I speak for myself, as well), as jaded as we become in this too often harsh world, we’re not immune to attention. People, no matter what age, turn towards consideration much like a flower turns towards the sun – petals opening, basking in the warmth… blooming.
The feelings attention creates are so strong they can become addicting. There’s a level where a lack of attention and love (or a feeling of lack) can turn need into desperation. Desperation turns the desire to love (and be loved in return) into something dark, to the point where a person might very well sacrifice all they are to get even a glimpse of caring.
When Need Turns to Obsession – Through the Looking Glass
If I had to sum this post up, I’d say that it’s a reminder to me, and a warning to those who might be bordering on the same type of experiences I’ve gone through. If I had to sum it up, I’d say, “Don’t ever settle for the shadow of fulfillment.”
For me, I’m not sure how it happened. I was a pretty confident child; there was never a point (at least in memory) where I wondered whether my parents loved me. My parents named me Jahnelle because it means “precious gift of God”. Every time they tell someone what it means, they look at me with warmth in their eyes and say, “…and she is.”
As confident as I was, however, I was not immune to the affects of attention. Therefore, when the man who became my husband showed me attention, I did the whole flower thing – opening up, soaking in what I took to be love.
I said things like, “He must love me, because…”
I can’t count how many times I used that line to make things okay after we were married, when they so obviously weren’t. I told myself, “He must love me because he cried and told me he was sorry after he hit me.” I told myself, “He must love me because he always comes back home after sleeping with someone else.” When he told me I sang like a stepped on cat, or had no business trying to play a guitar or draw, I pulled that line up and swallowed it with gusto.
You see, it had to be true. It had to be true to make all the miserable moments worth living in. Because it wasn’t true and the miserable moments were still there, I buried myself in drugs and alcohol. Oh, sweet escape… but it really isn’t. It so, horribly, horribly isn’t.
I couldn’t admit, even to myself, that our marriage was a failure. That I’d failed, which was what I really thought. Shoulda, woulda, coulda – if I’d been a better wife, if I’d been a better person, if I’d only worked hard enough…
I never finished that sentence, even in the secret silence of my head. Because the end of that sentence was, “He would have loved me.” In other words, if he didn’t love me, it was because I wasn’t worth loving.
Never mind that my parents loved me. Never mind that my children loved me. My husband, who I’d promised to love, honor and obey, didn’t.
Down the Rabbit Hole, Round 2 and Obsession
Sadly, I didn’t learn my lesson the first time around. Five years later, I did the same thing with my daughter’s father.
We didn’t have the same problems; he wasn’t abusive, for one. With him, I could actually see him turn the caring off – like a switch. I didn’t know you could do that. He’d be warm and loving for a few days and then *switch*, turn into one of the coldest, uncaring people I’ve ever met.
The tantalizing part – the part that I held on to – was that momentary warmth. He’d smile softly and there I was again, that stupid flower, sucking up the rays of the sun after a long, hard winter. I pulled that old line out, dusted it off, and it was good as new. “He must love me because…”
I became obsessed with finding ways to get him to turn that switch back on. I was desperate to make sure that “I” didn’t have another failed relationship (as if I, wanting it so badly to work out, was enough). Not again, not another one, please God not again…
I was so obsessed, in fact, that when he said, “jump” I didn’t stop to ask how high. I jumped first and then looked to see if it was high enough. I became an extension of him – his wants, needs, desires, and thoughts. When I rebelled against the changes I was making inside, I did so filled with terror. “If I fight back, if I say something, if I speak out, he won’t…” …love me anymore.
The need for love far outweighed the need for self-preservation.
One of the many, many problems of giving so much of yourself is that, when the worst happens, you’re immediately lost. I’d spent five years rebuilding myself from the inside out to match what I thought he wanted. When he left, my world turned upside down. I didn’t know who I was anymore. The me I’d become was someone I didn’t recognize.
Why? Why did I change so drastically? So I’d be someone worth loving. Because I wanted so desperately for the man I loved to return that love.
Unreturned love is so horrible: so empty and emptying. So painful.
Settling and Change – The Other Side of the Looking Glass
Three years have gone by. Most of those three years have been spent rebuilding myself, yet again. This time, my foundation is based on truth, rather than a bunch of lies:
I am not strong – my endless supply of inner strength has long since run dry. I find myself as human as the next person, with my own frailties and weaknesses – and I’m okay with that.
I am scarred – no matter how much I want to say “I’ve dealt with my past and moved on”, there are some things you can’t forget. All you can do is forgive others… and yourself. Some scars heal slowly, and some never quite heal at all.
I am untrusting – it’s hard to trust, because trust is a vulnerability. To trust someone is to open yourself up to disappointment and, in some cases, pain. Yet, trust is also a relief, a joy, a pleasure. Being able to trust someone is… a gift. I’m working on that.
I am loved – if there were no other person on earth, I would still be loved by God.
The reality, for you, for me, is simple, but important.
Yes, we need love. We need attention. We all want to know that what we do matters, from the youngest to the oldest of us.
– BUT –
If you’ve ever, even once, thought, “I’m not worth loving,” or anything remotely similar, please, keep this in mind:
Love is not about worth. Worth is a monetary term. “What is this car worth?” –But we’re not cars. We’re not for sale. Each of us costs nothing… and everything. Love is a gift, given freely – like grace -, and if there is no “worth”, then love cannot be earned: only given.
If you’re in a relationship, whether it’s a friendship or closer, and you lie to yourself to make it okay, it is not okay. If you’re saying, “Oh, but they must love me because they…” you have settled for something much less, and much worse, than the natural desire to be loved. It isn’t love, but desperation that keeps you where you are – unhappy, hurting, in misery.
Unconditional Love and Final Thoughts
Unconditional love is just that – it’s unconditional. It means “no matter what”. It often means doing the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, because they go completely against “self”.
If you’re life is even remotely like mine was, and you’re wishing that things could change, you have to come to the understanding that the only way that change will happen is to first stop lying to yourself.
1. You can’t make someone love you, no matter how much you change, what you give up, or what you do. If they don’t love you for who you are, they don’t love you.
2. You can’t make someone happy and no one can make you happy; happiness comes from the inside and the way you view the world, not the way the world views you.
3. Love asks that you compromise, but never asks that you compromise yourself. For example, as talkative as I am, I can compromise and learn to deal with periods of silence, especially when that quiet is filled with love. I cannot, however, compromise on my family values, or the God that I have come to know and love so much.
Don’t ever settle for dark, empty desperation in exchange for the shadow of fulfillment. It isn’t love. There is nothing – even remotely – that’s worth it.