What will you bring to the table? he asked.
Me. I’ll bring me, I said, a little incredulous and very much baffled by his question.
You have an awfully high opinion of yourself, he smiled, settling back into his chair.
Which would have been insulting, if it wasn’t just more information.
It isn’t a business deal, I wanted to say. Instead I took a slow, measured breath. My eyes on the plate in front of me.
There is a third option, I said. There is a thing you’ve yet to experience which will render this question absurd.
Because that’s the thing about love. It’s the person. The whole of the person. The magnetics of affection not an equation, but an answer. I’m not even sure it’s the sum of the parts because one doesn’t necessarily take in the parts, they take in the whole. Tom said that to me once, that if I’m spending time too much time analyzing the parts of a person, then I don’t really like them.
There was once a guy who seemed to tick all the things on my list, who brought to the table exactly what I thought I wanted brought to the table. And he left me at an airport en route to Paris. So, you know...
It is a humbling thing to watch people around you build a life with a person when their love feels like an approximation, a shadow thing. Plato’s Cave.
It is a humbling because you are the beneficiary of their failures. What you want and what you need made ever more clear. A study in contrasts.
I do not know much, but this is what I believe:
Love is not a frenzied, desperate act.
And it is not something that bestows worth on a person. The worth must come first. And often, be mined on one’s own.
At nineteen I fell in love with a man that I’ll never speak ill of. He was blazingly smart and wickedly talented and the core of him, good. He was not my guy. Not my guy and not my life. But the thing about falling in love at nineteen--the blessing of that was that it created a very specific point of reference--a baseline of what to expect and what to demand. And while I’m sure there is a downside to not having spent significant chunks of time in mediocre relationships, I have never, not once, settled for an approximation of the thing. And more than that, I have never wondered--is this love or isn’t it?
Which meant I’d never be thirty-three asking the person across the table what they bring to it.
Last week I had a dream in which a man I adore, a man who unmoors me, held a baby in his arms (don’t even get me started on the archetype of that image). It wasn’t his baby. And it wasn’t mine. But for the afternoon, that child was in my charge. And that baby in his arms was...magic. He cradled it so carefully, was giddy with affection. But into that room walked a third person and told him he had to go, that he didn’t belong. I countered, No, no, he’s here for me. He’s here to see me. He’s here because I want him here. And he’s so good with the baby--can’t you see? He’s so good with the baby.
But he was told he had to go; and so he did.
I awoke the next morning both startled and tremendously at peace about the whole thing. It felt important and telling. And as the day wore on, I thought, what what does this feel like?--the truth of the dream packed somewhere into that.
And this is what I got.
That room--that room that we were in--that room was love and good things and all-that-is-coming. That room was an ever-after of sorts. And I was in that room, feet firmly planted, because I (finally) feel worthy of those things. Because I have looked the worst parts of myself in the eye and either changed them or embraced them. I have done the work.
The guy--the guy with the baby--he didn't have to leave. He only thought he did.
That's what struck me about the metaphor of the dream. That we enter and leave that room only by our own consent. No one can pull us in. And no one can push us out.
He left because he believed the person who said he was not welcome. Because he is in a struggle for his own worth. And I can't fight that battle for him. Or for anyone. But he is in the struggle. Aware of the struggle. And that is half the fight.
The more I thought about this dream, the more I realized it was something of a personal-revolution.And let me tell you why. I finally feel--in a body way--not in an intellectual way, that I do not need a man. That I will be fine without one. In my toast to Whitney at her wedding in November, I said to her, because you are tethered to this person, because they have chosen you and they love you, failure is laid waste to. You cannot fail. Well, what I've realized is, that because I believe I am worthy of love, at this, even this--this imperfect moment in my life (when people still ask what I’m bringing to the table)--if I am worthy of love now, I am worthy of love always, and so cannot fail. Which means I can (and must) risk more.
Which means faith. Faith in all that is yet to come.
The hardest part of my love story--the real struggle of it--is behind me. That was the bit where I dismantled the lies I told myself and called bullshit.
We don’t talk about that much do we? How we have to fight for ourselves and care for ourselves, and ultimately face ourselves? How the best and most courageous and most compelling thing we can do is cultivate self-love. How it’s not some pie-in-the-sky-new-age-prophecy, but a very real and very necessary investment. Because it is the source of empathy and honesty and love of a partner (if that’s your thing, and biology dictates that that’s mostly the case).
The best people I know are comfortable with failure. Willing to hang out in discomfort. Aren’t interested in looking cool. Or terribly concerned with fitting in. They understand the value of listening. Are willing to apologize, to admit wrong. And they are engaged in the very active thing that is fighting for the life you want, and fighting for the love you think you deserve.
And at the end of the day, when asked what they bring to the table, the answer is quite simple--but how they got there, very often not.
I don't know why it is, exactly, but the people with the healthiest self-esteem, are also the greatest at intimacy. I'm not talking about arrogant people. I'm talking about people who know they are both good and bad yet believe at the deepest level they are really good for people. | Donald Miller, Scary Close
photo by Lydia Baird