We are left with more than an attic of antiques at the end of the day
I’ve been thinking a lot about the ways in which I love, and the ways in which the way I was loved affects the way I love. Still with me?
They say that nearly all of our relationships are influenced by the way we were raised. That the love we either received or were deprived of as children continues to affect the way we love and relate to others. It makes sense, but it’s also striking just how deep those lessons run.
Dangerously, if you were the victim of abuse or an unhealthy home life you can internalize that disfunction into the manner in which you understand and accept love as an adult. We know these things intellectually about abusive relationships, but could there also be fault lines within even seemingly healthy upbringings?
I was loved dearly, I am lucky to say. I am my mom’s only child and the youngest of six on my dad’s side. I was constantly encouraged, my education was prioritized, I was positively affirmed, and even though my dad tried to “keep my ego in check” I developed a very secure sense of self.
My parents were never married. They were, and continue to be, good friends, but my beginnings started more as a mutual arrangement between two adults and sometimes lovers.
When my parents were dating my dad already had five kids. My mom saw what a great dad he was, and desperately wanting to be a mother herself, asked my dad would he have a baby with her.
Dad was very much a rolling stone. A “free spirit.” Lots of girlfriends, lots of babies, no exclusive commitments. His approach to dating was…sure I like you well enough, but I also like her, and what’s wrong with that?
I should say that in no way were my parents polygamous. It’s not like everyone was in one big relationship together. But my dad was charming and, most importantly, honest. If you wanted to hang around, that’s cool enough, but don’t expect to be the only one. My mom also dated a bit when I was younger, but nothing too serious and nothing that lasted. She never felt like a husband was a necessary thing.
This attitude was directly passed down to me. My approach to dating was nearly an exact mirror to my dad’s. I really cared about the guys I got involved with, I just didn’t ever want anything extremely serious. While I did have boyfriends in high school, college, and beyond, they tended to veer in and out of on-again-off-again situations that allowed me to also entertain other individuals. If someone wasn’t immediately really into me then I completely lost interest. I never competed for a guy, and I never felt any real need or desire to get married.
What I observed between my parents was the healthiest relationship out of any parents I knew growing up. They got along, my dad was very involved in my life and I felt very loved and cared for. My friend’s parents, on the other hand, were married, but they were so unhappy. From where I stood, marriage was something that made everyone miserable.
I grew up in a way where love was constant, enduring, but freeing. It didn’t constrict my movemements, it didn’t place demands on me. The love I witnessed between my parents was one of mutual respect; where two people came together with extremely clear heads and a shared objective. There was no fighting, there was no venting and complaining about the other. What I saw and what I felt was that love is something that is simply present in your life, it’s not something that requires work.
(This, you can imagine, is where the trouble begins.)
Love for me is something I was able to take advantage of. My baseline norm was to be adored and loved for exactly who I was. Maybe that is what has attracted so much love into my life.
I’m accustomed to being loved the way Nordic people are used to cold weather; it’s a continuous fact of life. Nothing to necessarily write home about.
What this means is that I can be very selfish in love. I never observed the dynamic between two people where one is sacrificing what he or she wants for another person. My mom did whatever she wanted, my dad did whatever he wanted, and I did whatever I wanted. There was very little compromise occurring because there was very little compromise needed, it all sort of worked out.
I’m unpracticed at putting someone else first in love. And that, I’m finding out, is really what a huge part of love is – putting someone else’s well-being ahead of your own. I’ve come to understand that I interpret even a minor disagreement as the total devastation of a relationship. My tolerance for tension and arguments is quite low. I always assume a fight means it’s the end, because I didn’t deal with much of that growing up. I didn’t observe disagreement and the eventual resolution of those disagreements. I assume that if someone isn’t giving me exactly what I want that they must not love me enough, and that I should probably leave.
In fact, it’s a fear I have around having kids. I’m afraid I won’t know how to love them in the way that I should; in a way where all of their wants and needs become more important than my own.
My love inheritance served me very well growing up, in that I didn’t find myself in the dramatic and unfortunate situations where I liked someone who didn’t like me back. I have experienced very little unrequited love. I’ve had a love life where I am very much in control. But that also has come to mean that I’m very uncomfortable with vulnerability.
I’ve had a love life where I am very much in control. But that also has come to mean that I’m very uncomfortable with vulnerability.
There’s no real perfect ending here except to say that the relationship I’m in now is definitely the healthiest one of my life (probably why we’re getting married). I am practicing the art of compromise, patience, and understanding. For the first time I am really considering another person and his happiness – not instead of my own, but in addition to it.
Hey, it’s a start.
P.S. There’s More
- Get to know more about us
- How to be good in a bad world
- Esther Perel on how parents shape our stories