The heart can endure painful experiences and make room for joyful ones
Happy Valentine’s Day! Or not, depending on how you feel about it. Love is certainly not a given for everyone at all times. It would be glib to consider love to be a joyous and wondrous thing that fills people with joy and lifelong contentment. It is actually more than just a thing, or a feeling, or a desire even. For me, it has been above all else a lesson.
On my first day back on campus this January, one of my young classmates was telling me about how the person she was seeing in the fall suddenly stopped contacting her in the middle of December—a behaviour called ghosting. She made excuses for this; it was exam season, people were trying to work extra Christmas shifts, the holidays are a busy time. These were all excuses I have made before. Eventually, the young man texted her saying, “I am not looking for a girlfriend right now, sorry to waste your time.” It is a story familiar to many people: a relationship seemingly going well and suddenly the other person changes their mind. And often this story does not have an apology connected to it.
Painful and heartbreaking though they may be, these experiences teach us important lessons such as how to see the signs of someone who is not interested in us and not to waste our time on people who don’t see our value.
Love is not an easy lesson. When I was young, I thought it was the easiest thing in the world to love someone, but what I did not know was that love has a lot to do with reciprocity, not just feeling. Many times I gave too much of myself in relationships, allowing myself to be mistreated, disrespected, and neglected. It was an important lesson that taught me I deserve to have my needs met and that it is never worth the loss in self-esteem or energy to give that much to someone without them giving equally in return.
These were not easy lessons. They were painful, embarrassing, and exhausting. There were times when I thought I was truly unlovable and unworthy. But I dug down deep and remembered that I am my own most valuable asset, and I was able to learn from these experiences and believe in what I truly deserved.
I am now with a partner for the past seven years and he is someone who is a true partner in every word. Sometimes messy, sometimes boring, sometimes annoying, but always trustworthy and always willing to do the work when I am unhappy. I want to say something cliche like you need to learn to love yourself first before you can have a good relationship, which is partially true, but attachment theory (the dynamics between short-term and long-term relationships) has found that actually allowing someone stable to truly love us allows us to heal and become a stronger person. OK, so maybe you need a bit of both—to love yourself and let another good person love you. Perhaps. Either way, the confusion, the grief, and the outright pain of love are all things I wish to never go through again, but I am glad for what they have taught me.
Featured Image: Author Nicola Daker with partner Mark Parsons, who she has been together with for seven years. | Supplied