In her book Real Love, Sharon Salzberg writes that “you don’t have to love yourself unconditionally before you can give or receive love.”
Thank God for that, because this self-love project is taking forever! It will take a lifetime, and I think that’s just a result of growing up in Western culture. From what I hear, people in Eastern cultures don’t have the problems with self-loathing and negative self-talk that we have here in the US. I’m no expert on any culture but I know that I, for one, struggle with this.
Salzberg explains that you can practice self-love at the same time as loving others.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. She probably doesn’t mean to jump into a relationship asap, but I did pay for a subscription to eHarmony, and I ain’t paying for nothing, folks. Just saying.
Salzberg writes that “love enters our lives unpredictably, whether or not we’ve perfected self-love,” but that once love flows from one realm, it can become easier to spill into other realms, provided we stay open to compassion in the process.
What I want to know is, just exactly how does one exercise self-love? How am I not practicing self-love?
So I did what I do these days, and I consulted Pinterest. This article contains so many inspirational quotes, that I find myself just scrolling down the page and reading every one of them. Just reading these quotes gives me strength.
My therapist suggested online dating, and my AA sponsor agreed, though my CODA sponsor suggested I “learn how to be single.” I am single and I want my old life back. Minus the painful parts, lol. What I want is to rewind to the time that times were good between Steven and me, or better yet, fast-forward to a time that he comes back to me and we agree to do the hard work together and stay in this relationship and love each other, warts and all.
But wanting something you can’t have is a futile exercise that only leads to disappointment. It’s the opposite of being grateful for what you have.
Last night I stood in a crowded room while Jay and his girlfriend, Yvonne, stood a few feet away, talking to their friends. From my point of view, and my history, the story goes like this: I met Jay a couple years ago, had a crush on him, then found out he was in a committed relationship with Yvonne. Then I met Steven, who I fell hard for, and we had a passionate, loving relationship for a year and four months, and the last two months were devastatingly rocky (see my last post… or any of dozens of posts I’ve published in the past, lol), so it ended.
Then I run into Jay again, who tells me he and Yvonne have broken up, it’s over, done, caput. So Jay and I started seeing each other, and even though it’s nothing like it was with Steven, and I don’t fall crazy in love, I think, Maybe this is better. Maybe we’ll become friends and have a stronger relationship. Or maybe not, maybe this will just be a casual, convenient relationship, and I’ll find someone I connect with on a deeper level in the future. My big ego made an assumption that I was in control of the relationship, and I did not anticipate returning from spending time with my family in the Carolinas to find that Jay and Yvonne decided to try to work things out. They’d been together for seven years and have a history that includes the same social group, their dogs (her dogs), and he takes care of her. She has everything I want: a comfortable home, she’s provided for, they have the same friends, they have motorcycles and a boat, and all kinds of fun ways to spend their time.
From my point of view, it looks like I did not get chosen. It looks like a series of unfortunate events fell in my path.
But what if I were in her shoes?
First off, I’d feel very unhappy and uncomfortable knowing that my boyfriend slept with a woman standing a few feet away talking to my friends. I’d feel trapped, like I had nowhere to go, because I hadn’t done anything on my own. It’s hard to know how she feels, but I know that if it were me, I’d feel defeated, like I had to stay because I couldn’t afford to leave, that I’d built my life around this man, this town, these friends, and leaving him meant leaving all of that. I wasn’t just divorcing him, but I would be uprooted from the very community I “grew up” in, in AA. I’d be jealous of the other woman who was working on her master’s in nutrition, paying her own rent, making her own friends. I’d wonder if my relationship could really work, or if my partner would sleep with some other girl in a few years when times got tough, if we split again, or if he’d even just cheat on me while we were together. Once when I was in college I had a similar situation but the other girl wasn’t a love interest of my boyfriend’s. She was the widow of one of his close friends, and she came to visit us, and everyone loved her. They had a history of friendship, and her new husband, their friend, had died a year or so earlier in a freak accident in which he got hit by a delivery truck while he was standing outside on his smoke break at work. I was jealous of her, and then felt guilty for feeling jealous because her husband had died, and I couldn’t compete with that kind of grief, because to me at the time victimhood was a competition in which I had to win so that I’d be “loved” more than everyone else. The night she visited I tried to commit suicide I was so jealous and unhappy with my life. Thank God I’m not that girl anymore, though clearly I still have the grass-is-greener syndrome.
In his book, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood writes:
As a result, ‘You have two choices in life: You can stay single and be miserable or get married and wish you were dead,” as H.L. Mencken wrote with a flourish of wry, black humor. Reciting this line at relationship workshops always evokes peals of laughter as people feel the relief of naming this basic human dilemma. When under the spell of the mood of unlove, living alone is miserable because we feel bereft or abandoned. And yet marrying is no cure for this misery, since living with someone every day can further intensify the sense of unlove and make it feel even more hellish.
How to deal with this conundrum? That is the focus of his book, which I’ve just started, even while in the midst of Salzberg’s book, because this girl right here needs a lot of help.
My first practice has been to meditate on the phrase, “May I be happy,” as instructed by Salzberg in her book. Then last night I had an opportunity to be different, to smile and be polite and friendly to Jay and Yvonne, or at least in their general direction, since I couldn’t really look them in the eye just yet. It was my first time seeing them out since Jay broke it off with me a few weeks ago. I had an opportunity to exercise opening my heart, not to show anyone else I’m a badass or to prove anything, but to keep courage and strength, to have self-compassion. I did nothing wrong, and I am a good person. I have a lot going for me. I know that my higher power takes care of me. I am being taken care of.
There’s so much more I want to write, but I’m already running late for work. Just know that you, too, are being taken care of. Everything is going to work out. It’s already working out. Maybe I didn’t get what I thought I wanted, but I am getting what I need.