We all encounter those who express seething contempt for those with the audacity to like them. The subconscious impulse is obvious but still painful. If they have low self-regard, thinking well of them demonstrates bad taste at the absolute least. (Don't you think ill of people salivating over the person you despise?) Those who want nothing to do with them, those who run from them and spurn them, reaffirm what they think about themselves. "I am not worthy of affection from someone who cares about me. Being fond of me is a terminal character flaw. I can only gain self worth by winning over those who believe they are too good for me." They want who will hurt them, they want to be punished for imagined sins, they to be victimized in familiar ways.
It's all chase, proving oneself by catch and release. But no other person can grant wholeness. Reducing love - one of the most transcendent of all human experiences, the fodder for most poetry, that which most separates us from being animals - to a game with only losers makes one patently unworthy.
As a teenager, as desperate for love or validation as I evidently was, I cared more about how the girl on my arm made me look (not so much in their innate beauty as their presentation as brilliant outsider) than any other quality. I excelled at beginning relationships, but I faltered at maintaining because I was so insecure and searching. The girl in question couldn't be right because I could not find myself good enough (though I was not unaware of my virtues then, simply self-conscious). And maybe that is what teenagers are supposed to be - I honestly can't say, except to admit that I wish I could have gained my lessons without compromising the sanctity of my lips so often - but adults deserving the name should not.
As a teenager, I was not seeking out a wife. (I'm not Amish.) I wanted - and generally got - a cunning sylph whose quirks and lips could entertain me for a little while. They did not have to be devoted because I was not, though I would have insisted otherwise. They only needed to be exciting for however long they stuck around, and then turned into passably good friends so I did not feel too great of guilt in how things ended. I do not feel particularly bad about the ending of any cuddling prior to my being seventeen or so, as the stakes were so low. I could not feel I was breaking hearts, since they were barely formed. A few told me they loved me. Maybe I said it back, maybe I thought for a moment I might mean it (as much as a love-hungry, abandonment issue riddled teen can mean such a sentiment to a girl he has known less than a month), but I was looking for some satisfaction no girl could have then have given me because it was not theirs to give or mine to ask for. How could a perfect love exist when I knew how imperfect I was?
I don't dare guess how long my life was ruled by this insidiousness. My longest relationship thus far, that with Emily, no doubt had some of this at its core. When she initially "came on strong" (which is to say, was clear about actually finding me charming), my instinct was to pull away because there must have been something wrong with her if she wanted me. When she, near the end, began to emotionally check-out, I was crazy about her. It was sick, but I never loved her better than when I thought I was going to lose her.
Melanie, too, took on additional luster for a while because she - for reasons more to do with her own upbringing and psychology than our actual interactions - made me feel inadequate. She made me feel that she could do better than me, so I wanted to keep close, to prove her wrong by convincing her no one could be more deserving of her love. I wanted to goad her to the next relationship plateau and that after, because, on a subliminal level, each step that made me feel I was worth more in her eyes genuinely made me feel like a more complete person. I did improve, I did sort out much in my life that amounted to tacky souvenirs so as to be more capable of meshing with her life. I became a better man, in part, to measure up to some unspoken touchstone; to keep her, I could not cling to childish things. She is the one who, in part, let me finally see my abandonment issues, let me diagnose myself as a perpetrator of this feeling that I did not want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member.
But, whatever certain and positive impetus I derived from this, the work is on-going. There are times when Amber is fluttering with love for me I have done nothing to earn and I am just not prepared to deal with it all. I want her to be contrary and distant, I want her to be brooding and complex, and she persist in being none of these things. When we first got together, I expected her to be cutting and snobbish at times because that is what I was conditioned to find attractive: someone who did not make me feel desired full time. As ludicrous as this is to write, continuing to unambiguously care about me once I had gone to the trouble of "winning" her seemed like a bit of a turn off at first. I fought through it - generally by reminding myself that this was among the stupidest things I had ever thought - and more fully accepted I did not have to keep "winning" her because she wasn't a prize, but a woman who was happy to be by my side without reservation or gamesmanship. I become a better man because I want to, knowing that she will love me the same if I become a New York Times Bestselling author or lose my job and have to substitute teach for the rest of my life. Without this persistent background process of proving myself to my lover, I have the resources for genuine progress.
Soon in Xenology: Male friendships. Cupcakes.