I’ve always asserted that I’ve known what love is. To love and to be loved in return. However, I’ve recently come to the conclusion that my understanding, of this broad but complex emotion, is a little off. Fresh off the back of some emotional trauma (self-inflicted) I turned the looking glass inward.
It wasn’t easy for me to admit that through my perceived righteousness I’d become the monster. Looking back across a decade at all my past “loves” I can only pinpoint a handful of individuals of whom I’d convinced myself I loved wholeheartedly. To those I’ve loved before, I’m truly sorry. I never loved you selflessly or put you first. You supported me. You kept me aloft. You kept me sane. But mostly, you kept me from having to look at myself.
But I did just that. I looked at myself. My own Picture of Dorian Gray. It was distressing. But I do not wish to make a sympathizer of the reader here. I am no victim. I’m a soon-to-be 30 year old man. I should know better. Frankly I do know better or rather, I did know better. I just didn’t recognise my actions for their toxicity at the time.
The core of it though is that I’ve loved selfishly. I always have. Not to assign blame but rather to look for where it began, I looked at my childhood. My parents divorced when I was quite young. I had fleeting and infrequent contact with my dad over the years. Mum spent a great deal of time not at home. Mum did her best to support us and get things done. I’ll never truly know how hard she had it but I suspect she did what she did to a) work to support us and b) it was very hard on her and it was easier to be distracted elsewhere and if she worked hard enough, she’d make up for it later.
Being the youngest of four, that left me at the end of a line of people that were all looking up. Looking up for validation, love, guidance and accolades. It wasn’t a bad scenario. I’m not crying neglect. Looking back I don’t feel neglect, it just was. But despite the relative normality of not being subjected to excessive parenting, it still left a part of me gnawing for more. I was a child. I had friends. I had friends who’s parents adulated their achievements or school marks. I saw the way I thought things should be.
The hardest thing for me as a young man after having left school and trying to find my place was figuring out who I was doing it for. I never did anything for myself. Even to this day the only time I will do something for myself is if I can frame it through the lens of how my actions improve someone else’s life. So that they will recognise what I’ve done and in turn praise me for it. I create an expectation of praise – this is what is dangerous.
And herein lay my dark and damaging demons. I am emotionally handicapped. I am dependent. I depended on you. If I ever encouraged you to exercise its because I wanted you to do the same to me. When I asked about your day or wished you well it’s only because I wanted you to do the same to me. I loved you because I needed you to love me. I needed you to love me because I couldn’t or rather, I was never taught how. But it wasn’t that I was never taught, I also willfully remained ignorant. It was easier to paint the sob story and play victim than it was to stop and stare down the monster in the mirror.
I’m sorry that I placed you upon a pedestal without ever giving any regard as to whether you even wanted to be there. I’m sorry I tried to occupy as much space in your life that I could so that I felt relevant. I’m sorry if I ever mined sympathy from you to cultivate connection in order to derive value. I’m sorry I misguided you. I’m sorry that I made not living up to my expectations your problem. I’m sorry for creating drama when there was never any need for it.
Thank you, for who I am today and who I hope to be tomorrow. I know the way forward. May the next person I love be for the right reasons. I hope in time you’ll forgive me.