Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rewards Of Love

There's a cactus sitting on my windowsill, one of those classic-looking numbers that would not be out of place in a Roadrunner cartoon. It's obviously much smaller than that, but through my lackadaisical attentions, it's managed to spout a furry little tuft at its top. It's growing. This is somewhat of a victory for me, because I kill most of the plants I bring home. After you get sober, you're supposed to get a plant. If you can keep the plant alive for a year, you can get a pet. If the pet thrives for a year, you're officially allowed to be in a relationship. I've done all that shit backwards - boyfriend, whoopsy-daisy dog adventure, then plants. And the plants, at least, are thriving.

I went to a wedding last night, and, inexplicably, it made me feel blue. I know that weddings aren't supposed to be sad - "happiest day of your life," blah blah blah. "Celebration of love," et cetera. The couple was terrific: they had been together for six years, and so sure in their vows to each other they had eschewed the gold bands in favour of ring-finger tattoos. As they danced and ate and were feted by their families, I realized that, through every fault of my own, I've never had that kind of love.

My closest friends complain that I don't open up very often, and when I do, I get self-conscious about it and clam right back up. I can be difficult to love. My boyfriend, who is patient and who cares for me, has told me more than once that I'm hard to read, and he's right: I've put a lot of energy into protecting those around me from my thorny, horrible insides. I lie about how I feel when I feel sad. Systemic, long-term self-loathing makes it very hard to believe that anyone would care about me enough to listen, let alone love me. But, given the very presence of the boyfriend and the friends in my life, my brain is obviously whispering these mal mots because it's insane.

I have unwittingly sabotaged relationships of all kinds by being inflexible and suspicious. I'm bossy. I'm jealous. I'm easily hurt by being stood up or not invited. I feel unattractive most of the time. Like everyone, I have more likeable points as well: I'm smart, and I can usually see both sides. I like taking care of people. But the reason I felt sad last night was because the couple, who was so in love that they took the plunge and made it official, showed me things that I lack in my own life. Not the relationship - I have that, and even though it's hard work, I'm so grateful for it - but the evolution from dipshit teenager into fully-grown adult. The bride, at the ripe old age of 24, runs her own fashion design house, while her husband is a professional photographer. Their relationship has changed, too. At one point, the bride obliquely thanked her new husband for helping her get over some body-image issues, and I'll admit it. I got teary. That's some love right there, the kind that's borne of trusting the other person to take care of your shitty-feeling parts as well as your appealing parts.

I guess I still feel like I'm going to scare people off if I say, "Hey, I'm sad, or annoyed, or tired." I need to trust that my bossy, clamped-shut self can relax, just a little. And the rewards of deeper friendship and deeper love are worth every challenging moment of that. My spindly cacti are proof that effort brings growth.

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