When I’m single, I’m pretty good at living my best life. I take good care of myself, do things I love, pursue my passions, connect with everyone around me. It’s fantastic. But the moment someone is super into me, a little voice in my head says, “Don’t just stand there, do something! We can’t mess this up!”
I’ve always had a tendency to hustle for my worth. To earn my keep. Prove that I’m good enough. I’ll show you how lovable I am! (they call this anxious attachment style, by the way).
The problem is, in order to do this performance and do it well, I’ve got to abandon myself. I mean, sure, it’s completely dishonest and manipulative to put on this whole Broadway musical about how wonderful I am, but that’s not even the worst part. Self-abandonment is simultaneously the thing I’m inclined to do to preserve connection and the very thing that undermines authentic human relationships.
Be Who They Fell In Love With
After enough failed relationships, I started to notice a pattern. Tap dancing for snuggles is certainly exciting in the beginning and feels a lot like getting my needs met. But behind closed doors, a Faustian bargain takes place. Some scared little part of me offers up my soul in exchange for companionship and validation. And while some ostensibly important needs are being met, vital parts of myself are amputated.
And this is why my relationships kept failing — I could not have a healthy relationship if I was not a whole person.
Eventually, I figured out that when someone shows me that they like me, I should believe them. When someone falls in love with me, it’s safe to assume that they’re not just pretending to love me so that I’ll do more stuff for them. And if that is the case, they can kindly fuck all the way off because I don’t want people like that in my life anyway.
In short, I had to remind myself to simply be who they fell in love with. That’s all.
Doing Counterintuitive Things
Just being myself in a relationship was completely foreign to me because I didn’t experience my childhood that way. I had some judgmental, critical, and abusive family members that went to great lengths to constantly remind me that I wasn’t good enough and deserved to be treated like shit unless I could somehow do something really valuable for them.
The experience of learning to be myself in relationships was very similar to learning to scuba dive. When I just started to practice breathing underwater, I would start above the water, pop the regulator in my mouth, and breathe nice and calmly. Then, as soon as I descended to a depth of three centimeters, I would start panic-breathing and hyperventilating and have to pull my head out of the water. It was nuts!
My rational mind completely understood that I had an oxygen tube in my mouth and could breathe normally underwater without a problem. But every instinct in my body shouted, “YOU ARE DYING!” It took me ten or fifteen minutes of practice before I could breathe normally underwater without having a complete panic attack.
Similarly, it took me ten or fifteen years before I could breathe normally in a relationship.
It’s quite remarkable just how difficult it is for some people to literally just be. It seems like being yourself would be the easiest and most natural thing one could do. However, when authenticity jeopardizes the love and connection you might receive from the people in your life, self-abandonment, denial, and suppression are virtually automatic responses.
Know yourself. Love yourself. Be yourself. And if anyone leaves your life because of that, let them. Their performance evaluation of you is an insult to your inherent worth. The conditional validation they give you is a prison compared to the freedom of fearlessly embracing your authentic self.
Yes, this can be very difficult. Trust me, I know.
But living a lie is not living at all.