Cubby Selby used to say that the reason cliches exist is because they’re often true. I think, maybe, we’ve learned that cliche = turn your brain off.
They say before you can love anyone else, you first need to love yourself. Which has always struck me as ridiculous. You can love someone else with a desperate ferocity without ever loving yourself: witness my mother’s absolute dedication to both my brother and me. She never, in her entire life, loved herself. I think she’s learning to, now. I think the cancer made her examine herself and what she wants more closely. If not love herself, I think she’s beginning to at least value herself.
I don’t think my father has ever really loved himself, either. But he loves my mother, my brother, me, Uncle Stan, the dogs. It’s a small group, but he would do almost anything for any one of us. I don’t know if he’s learning to love himself or not. It’s a bit harder to tell. But I think he’s learning to accept himself. He apologized to me for the way he treated me during my childhood. Completely on his own, he apologized to me.
To be able to look back and see that about himself, and then not only realize he wronged me, but to actually make the apology unprompted… That’s pretty amazing.
It’s no secret to those who love me that I’m not particularly fond of myself. Remember that sketch I posted of myself at seven? I picked that particular picture to draw because of how much hatred I felt towards that little girl.
Tonight, walking Ragnar, I was listening to the audio version of Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself (which is a pretty damned awesome book). Something Alda said at the end about knowing your own values struck me. I wish I knew what it was in particular that made it hit home. I’ve certainly heard plenty of variations of essentially the same advice. But something did strike me.
I tried to figure out what I valued. Family? Partnership? Dogs? Writing? Which did I spend the most time doing? Well, I spend the most time worrying about things and trying to come up with absolutely perfect solutions (yay OCD!). I don’t want that to be my value. But I was really startled that I didn’t know the hierarchy of the things I valued. And then it occurred to me, well, I don’t much value myself so why would I have even cared what things mattered to me? Of course I didn’t know. Because it didn’t matter.
No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. But that I’ve felt that way. And then that line of thought went even further. Each of those potential values I listed is a partnership: my parents, my boyfriend, my dog, my (possibly entirely imaginary) audience. In each case, I only value half of the equation. So why would I even care what happened to the other half–in this case–me?
The answer is I don’t. Or I didn’t. Gah. All this self actualization language is so imprecise… can I tell you how much I hate using lifecoach-y sounding terms? I hate it. Possibly as much as Gollum hated Samwise. Or maybe it was as much as Samwise hated Gollum…
Imagine you’re making a meal for two people. One, you care deeply about. The other, you don’t. In fact, the other you may even actively dislike. But you put up with that other because, after all, if they hadn’t shown up there wouldn’t be this dinner. Person A happens to love kale, and brownies, and pasta. Person B likes pasta, but isn’t so much into the dark leafy greens and doesn’t like chocolate (blasphemy!). So what do you make? Pasta, kale, brownies. Hey, Person A gets everything they want while Person B at least gets one thing they like!
(BTW, you’re Person B.)
Aside from this making you a bad host… the math is wrong. Person A isn’t getting what they want at all. Person A is here for dinner with Person B. How can Person A be happy if their friend is getting shortchanged?
Now let’s take away the theoretical dinner and go back to those values. If I value my family but I don’t value myself and take care of myself–my family won’t be happy. Same with my partner, or my dog (I would treat myself like shit, which would affect all of them), or my possibly imaginary audience (which, you know, might not be imaginary if I valued myself and therefore dedicated more time and focus to my writing. And, uhm, sent editors stories when they asked me for them…).
Both sides of the equation need to be considered. A + B isn’t equal to A. It’s impossible to have a relationship with someone who isn’t there, or is intermittently there. And it is impossible, as that person who self negates, to build anything lasting and healthy.
You can love someone else while not loving yourself, but you’re not going to do a very good job at it.