When I was nineteen, after a year that was not exactly a walk in the park, I learned something important — or rather, I decided something important. I decided that never again would I be the cause of irreparable damage to a healthy relationship with someone who mattered to me. If there was anything I could do to make things better, I’d at least always try. This wouldn’t, I knew, shield me from experiencing loss ever again, but it would at least make sure I wasn’t the cause of it, and that alone would help me sleep at night.
Sometimes it seems to me that the whole world wants us to learn lessons about “having pride” and “being dignified”. We’re told it’s an ugly and pathetic thing (especially if you’re a girl or woman, but that’s a story for another time) to be viewed as the person who cares the most, as the person who’s willing to put in the effort when the other party is not, as the person who always reaches out. If we’re rejected, we’re not supposed to go “Okay. I care as much as I always have, but I respect your choice”. We’re supposed to inflict some damage, to reject back, to tell the other person we never really wanted them in the first place. Or better yet, we’re supposed to reject pre-emptively as the best way to avoid any sort of blemish. That’s how you win — only this is not a sort of victory I particularly crave. The above is the all-out asshole version of this supposedly valuable life lesson, but there are other, gentler forms that still amount to “be stingy with your love”. We’re supposed to have enough “self-respect” to stop caring about people who fail to make us feel 100% secure in our need to be cared for in return — only who feels secure all the time, and where do you draw the line?
It’s hard, so hard, to be the sort of person who always allows themselves to be vulnerable. It takes a kind of strength I don’t always have to be relentlessly open-hearted and giving and patient and ever-welcoming in the face of all the uncertainties that are part of interpersonal relationships. It takes bone-deep generosity to tell people, not only in words but in deeds, that you always want them to come find you whenever life allows it. I don’t suppose anyone manages not to retreat from a position of such openness 100% of the time, but even 40% is still better than zero. I learned a decade ago that I don’t ever want to be miserly with my affection just because I’m afraid, but hey, learning is a process, and to this day I still try and often fail to live up to this decision. It’s a struggle, and it just might be the greatest and most important struggle of my life."