Learning How to be Loved

I don’t think I ever really knew how to be loved. To put it plainly, my parents never married, so growing up I didn’t know what romantic love was supposed to look like. I spent a year and a half in a toxic relationship, with my mind convinced that love was hard and took time and care to last. This man, we’ll call him C, took advantage of my inexperience in love, although I’m not even sure he was doing it on purpose. C made me feel as though he could be my only friend and that any time spent on something other than our relationship was wasted time and a direct attack on him. I was also scared to see my friends, scared that they would be able to tell how unhappy he was making me.

            In hindsight I can see all the red flags clearly in front of me flashing neon bright. We fought all the time which I rationalized as me just being a hotheaded person creating chaos from little problems. C couldn’t hold down a job and expected me to try to make ends meet in our shared apartment on my part-time job while going to school. All the while he would tell me I didn’t work, because I didn’t have a “Man’s Job” and when he did have a job it was always a labor-intensive job. So, when I was tired from work and school, I was told I couldn’t be because I hadn’t done real work. I wasn’t allowed to complain or feel proud after a day full of work.

            It was April when we broke up. We were having an argument over an egg sandwich. We’d been heading towards breaking up for a month at this point, but for the sake of love we were giving it one last try. Because no matter how he treated me I believed he loved me. The egg sandwich was the tipping point; I was struggling to get C to understand if you take away one ingredient in a three-ingredient sandwich it was no longer the same sandwich, and he couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t eat them. After ten minutes of me explaining my opinion and begging him to understand me, I asked if he could just pretend to understand me. I needed to know that what I was saying wasn’t crazy, that I could have at least the perception of sanity.

We broke up and he left the next day while I was at work.

I did not want to repeat the experiences I had with C, so I consulted my grandmother with her sage advice. She told me to make a list of all the qualities I wanted in my next love. My necessities included: the ability to keep up with me intellectually, has a steady job, kind, has an opinion, loves animals, wants to be part of a team, has common interests with me, and doesn’t make me feel stupid. Then she told me to hide the list from myself to put it out of my mind, that way when I met the right person the list would make sense.

By September I had found a new love. Okay, found might be a little much. My best friends introduced us and while on a friend trip they had pushed us into going to a dinner together by ourselves. We bonded over Spider-Man and the Marvel Universe and I felt listened to, my opinions were considered and talked about.  

He showed me what love is, and how I should be treated. He is one of my biggest supporters. Instead of the resistance I’d been shown by C, where I felt as though he was rooting for my downfall, this man lifts me up, supporting not only my career, but also anything I say I want to do. If I want to join a club, he will encourage me to go and participate. He cares about my feelings and what is good for me and my life. He says he’s proud of me and that he knows I’m working hard. I’ve cried because in the past my hard work was never validated.

A few months into dating this man, I stumbled across my list while cleaning out a purse and, smiling, I hid it away again. This one checked all the boxes. I do not regret my time with C, he taught me many things. But mostly, C taught me what an unacceptable form of love is, and that love can’t be a justification for pain.

I have learned that when you’re with the right person, life can be hard, but loving them should never be.