This week during my conversation with my spiritual director, I had a major aha about my relationships with other people. I realized that one of the reasons that the letter last weekend from my ex was upsetting to me was that it was clear that this person, who had been a major player in my young adulthood, neither loved nor admired me. Maybe he did at one time. Certainly he desired me. Possibly he admired me. I don't know that he ever loved me. But the fact that his letter was full of evidence that at this juncture he does neither felt very painful.
I grew up desperately unsure of my mother's love. And by 6 or 7, I had learned to confuse or perhaps substitute her admiration for her love. She was happy with me when I get gold stars on my papers and good reports from the teacher. She wasn't happy with me when I got sent into the hallway for being disruptive or to the principal's office for talking too much in class. So if I was a good girl, an exceptional girl, an admirable girl, she would love me.
The crux of the matter, I realized in Anna's office, was that I learned I could do things to get people to admire me. I could be smart or funny or clever. I could get good grades or into a good college or work efficiently or solve problems or write books. But I learned or decided that I couldn't do anything, not easily it seemed to me, to get people to love me. They did (like my dad) or they didn't (like my mother). I could make them un-love me by being cruel or unkind but I couldn't make someone love me.
So in that odd and magical way we do, I moved into adulthood and found a succession of men who desired me and admired me but didn't love me. This confirmed my beliefs. Funny how we do that to ourselves. We find just the right people, as if by magic, who make the stories we've made up about life truer than true.
And I came to believe that I didn't care if they didn't love me as long as they admired me. That admiration was enough. And here I am, 65, and deciding that that isn't true.