“We accept the love we think we deserve” – Stephen Chbosky
Over 10 years ago , I remember reading this statement and thinking I truly understood its meaning. I remember hearing about friends, family or acquaintances who were in a relationship that did not bring that person joy and instead, made them feel worse about themselves. “What in the world would compel her to stay with him? Why doesn’t she just drop the jerk”? My friends would shrug in disbelief, without a satisfying answer.
Fast forward to my college years. Attending an All Women’s College (emphasis with CAPS) one would anticipate that my feelings of self worth would only grow larger- I would be stronger than any man could ever bring me down. In part, this was true. My brother was even afraid to visit me because he said, “people here look at me like I’m a guy“.
“Well Eric, you are a guy”..
“Yeah, but they look at me like that’s a bad thing”.
There was love to be found everywhere, and then again not at all. The male species was one endangered, but every now and then there was a sighting. I had two in my organic synthesis class and it was awesome. I don’t think I spoke more than two words to either of them.
So how does one meet a guy in college? College parties, of course. At my school the parties were such that a group of highly intelligent, to be successful women got completely trashed and danced like crazy on tables, on beds, on anything that they could find. We danced with one another, we danced with guys. If a guy wanted to make out, well of course we kissed him back because, well, I am woman, hear me roar. The theory was, we were completely in control of the situation when, in fact, we were not.
When I graduated college I decided to start taking prerequisite classes for graduate school while working at my local coffee shop. There, I met a manager in my district. Let’s call him G123. On presentation, G123 wasn’t exactly my type- maybe a bit heavier than I would like, and a smoker. But he asked me on a date very politely. So I went.
That first night, G123 proved to be charming. I didn’t even acknowledge the fact that he had at least four drinks. No big deal, he’s nervous. On date number two, we saw a play. Again, this grown man (10 years older than me at the time) got completely trashed. All in good fun, I thought. As time wore on, I found him to be entirely self destructive, and I was going down with him. His habits became my habits. I was drinking too much, eating too little nutrients, and barely showing up well for that which we call life. And then he threatened me. And I was scared. But did I leave him? Not only did I not leave him, but I did every thing that I would have formerly criticized in myself. I catered to him. I desired to be loved. When it finally ended, much damage had been done to my psyche and self esteem, though I didn’t understand that at the time.
Eventually, I made my way to graduate school. There, I met who I thought was the most amazing person in the world. On the outside, he was empathetic, driven and dedicated. Unfortunately, while all good qualities, he was unable to apply them to a relationship. So I worked harder to please- I made gift baskets, gave him excessively long blow jobs, literally WHATEVER it took. During that time, my father was quite sick and ended up in the cardiac ICU. The boyfriend, at the time, had just come back from Spain. He asked if I wanted to “hang out”.
“Well, I would love to but I can’t. I’m currently driving to Boston so I can see my father who has a mechanical device pumping his heart”.
“Oh that sucks. Okay call me later”.
I don’t think I have ever felt so sad and, at the same time, so passive. I think I remember saying to my mother that evening, “Well. At least I’ll still get laid”.
Prior to this moment, the concept of “friends with benefits” was never something I would have considered. But at this point, I had given up.
Two years later, I met a medical resident at the hospital where I worked. Our initial meeting consisted of him reading my badge and saying my name in a real sexy way (which is kind of hard to do because my name is so traditional). He took me out to dinner at a fancy restaurant near my house. Unfortunately for me, we didn’t even make it to the first course because one of his patients went into labor and he had to rush off (I confirmed later to make sure this was true… it was). I remember his kiss was perfect before he left. I went home seeing stars.
Our second date was much different. I believe it consisted of Panera, and then him promptly asking if he could come over. I felt annoyed, but I still let him over, and I still slept with him (even though I really didn’t want to and it really wasn’t that good). I kept repeating similar habits for the next 9 months. Essentially, I was his toy, and that is exactly the way my self esteem felt.
When this relationship finally came to a close I remember feeling relieved. But I still craved the closeness. I started sleeping with one of my friends from home, knowing very well the relationship wasn’t viable, but wanting it so badly anyways. When I moved out of town to leave this behind, the guy was already seeing someone else and I remember the sting.
Then I moved to Baltimore. My first year was spent mostly mucking around. My second year, I actually shared a three month relationship with someone who I retrospectively had nothing in common with, nor did I feel connected to him, nor was the sex good. I remember feeling like I could maintain it because it was easy. It was a horrible move. I quickly rebounded to someone for good sex and a whole lot of (unconscious) mental abuse. I tricked myself into thinking it was ok and that because the sex was amazing, nothing else mattered. Who had I become?
“We accept the love we think we deserve”. To this day, I still cannot figure out this quote. I still struggle with this concept of love and I sometimes wonder if it even exists. Am I accepting what I think I deserve? Or have I never known anything else? An interesting concept for sure. And if I have never known anything else than how am I to know to expect better.
I live in a male dominated world, where they want and they take and they don’t necessarily have to return. Of course, this is not every male but there is a large culture around it. Personally, I have often discussed with my friends the fact that I have a really hard time saying no to sex. Often times, it’s easier to get it over with so the guy leaves you alone. If you live in my century, I know you know what I’m talking about. Does this make me a bad person, or an antifeminist? Perhaps. But I think the bigger issue is, why can’t I just say no? Why do I feel expected to sleep with every guy that buys me a coffee or a drink? I absolutely should not feel that way, and yet I fall in trap every time. Why does it matter if that person likes me? Why am I seeking their approval so badly? In this world, it’s easier to be accepted than it is to be hated. And better to be loved some than not at all. Right?
I am slowly learning that my last statement was very, very wrong. It’s a viscious cycle and I am slowly trying to learn to hit the stop button. Be strong out there ladies, because someone always loves you! But the best love is one who loves all of you.