“Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” – Brené Brown
Sometimes I read things on the internet and social media. Most of the time I should know better. Recently, I scanned the comments section of a post sharing how various people discovered their partners had been unfaithful, how they dealt with finding out or apocryphal stories of sweet, sweet revenge. Rather than bite the clickbait, I looked at the comments. I am more interested in the ways people process infidelity and how we, as Western society, discuss it, than I am in the “once a cheater, always a cheater” rants, which I believe is false or the “kick him/her to the curb” chorus, which I believe is short-sighted. One young woman was absolutely 100% sure that if your partner loved you enough, he wouldn’t cheat. It’s that simple, she said. And she got into a long comment war with people who questioned that, stating over and over her premise, that where there is enough love aimed at you, there will not be cheating.
And I found myself, with a not small degree of jaded superiority, shaking my head and thinking, Honey, you have nooooo idea what you are talking about. And I hope you never get to have your theory proven wrong. “Short sighted.” “Naïve.” Her comment stayed with me for a few days, under my skin a bit, until I realized that it bugged me so much because I used to believe it too, but with this twist: that if I had somehow been more lovable, that if I had been “enough” then my partner would not have cheated. There was a lot I didn’t know at d-day. One is that his cheating was never about me. Two is that I have always been lovable and always been enough. Three is that I am not responsible for other people’s crap, emotional or otherwise. Four is that I can take what comes (I’ve got a 100% success rate so far) and be OK. Five is that when I am kind to myself, the whole world is kind to me too. The list goes on (#36 is that I am permitted to take naps). But most importantly, it was never about whether or not my partner loved me “enough.”
Where I finally landed was that we were both close to the truth, this commenter and I. The idea that people cheat when there is not enough love is quite accurate. But it’s not that our partners and spouses didn’t love us enough, or that we weren’t lovable: it’s that they didn’t love themselves enough. In many cases, (where they are not a sociopathic narcissist) they were running from themselves, medicating long buried pain or otherwise responding to a deeply rooted unease that they are not quite as lovable as they ought to be.
I believe this to be true because I grew up without the strong sense of love and belonging that operates in people with healthy self-esteem. My being lovable was conditional, often depending on how sober my mom was and if I did my caretaker job as required. I grew up and became an adult (sort of) with this ravenous black hole of doubt and self-loathing inside me. I was responsible for making everyone happy (an impossible job). Until I looked those childhood wounds in the face, I was going to keep repeating them. (I always picture the computer W.O.P.R. from the 1980s movie War Games – where it keeps playing tic tac toe and then war simulations over and over, virtually destroying the planet thousands of times, until it learns to do something different – in this case that nobody wins at tic tac toe so you just don’t play the game anymore. We keep re-enacting our childhood wounds until we wake up and realize we don’t need to play those games anymore either.)
It wasn’t a long time after d-day that I arrived at this realization: no one is ever going to love me enough until I love myself. No one else is ever going to make me feel enough: only I can do that for myself by recognizing that it is true right now, right this second. Until I accepted myself and all my imperfections, I was never going to feel whole. It was my job and my job alone to do that work. Scary.
So many of us wash up here at BWC in the middle of the storm, dripping in family and relationship dysfunction. We don’t even recognize that the beach we are standing on is one where we need to start drawing some lines in the sand. We are lost, dizzy, sick and bewildered. Please remember that each of us is already enough exactly as we are. Each of us deserves love and respect based on the simple, beautiful fact of our existence. Start loving yourself. Be your own cheerleader. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it for you. You have so much more power than you ever knew. Each of us is infinitely lovable and infinitely worthy of belonging.