Aphrodite’s head on a stick stunned me.
In my imagination, the Goddess of Love and Beauty was more like Botticelli’s Venus: young and playful, pink-cheeked and fresh, rosebud lips plump for degustation, her body a tantalizing promise.
But the Aphrodite I met a few summers ago in the The Acropolis Museum was not this idealized creature.
The Greek Goddess of Love, Beauty and Pleasure had a tear-streaked face, a broken nose, her bottom lip—once plump and delicious—now seemingly bitten off. But her eyes… Her eyes, stained with running makeup, were staring at me with recognition and warning.
She was me. I was her.
The Goddess of Love was middle-aged, disappointed, with eyes full of sadness, heart a bloody pulp and cheeks permanently stained from an endless stream of tears. I saw broken promises, un-lived-up-to expectations, regret. I saw love that hurt, beauty wasted, pleasure consumed without thought. I saw life pitilessly speeding by toward nothingness.
The Goddess of Love.
I was raised to believe that love was a promise to which I was entitled. One day a hero would come and save me, heal my wounds, resolve all practical issues and love me better than my father did, like the brother I never had.
I was raised in a culture that venerated heroes, regular humans made larger-than-life through self-sacrifice. Love, to me, was synonymous with sacrifice of oneself for the other. The concepts of self-love and self-care were unknown to me.
I proceeded to devote my own life to sacrifice on the altar of love, my needs non-existent. Except I never became the hero; I never became larger-than-life. Over the years, I became more and more diminished, insignificant, until I disappeared altogether due to malnourishment of my needs.
As I was shriveling up from loving everyone but myself, I found myself completely alone.
None of the people whom I expected to save me were ready to sacrifice themselves for me. Everyone was struggling, living their own lives. Since I never instilled boundaries, no one knew, myself included, that I had needs. Since I never complained, no one knew that I was hurt. Since I was always the strong one, no one knew how to treat me when I was weak. No one knew, myself included, how to handle me when I needed attention.
I was left to my own devices.
Realizing that I am my own responsibility was a sobering moment in my life.
I expected more from love, until I understood that my expectations of love were illusions. Constructed from fairy tales and other people’s dreams, they had nothing to do with reality.
There was no one to save me—but myself. In a vacuum of solitude, I realized that the only constant in my life, the only one I can ever really count on is me. I realized that I must learn to love myself.
But who am I?
What am I without the love of another? Who am I without the admiration, reassurances and praise? Am I beautiful if no one says so? Am I worthy if no one speaks a compliment? If I do not get feedback, what am I?
What do I like? What used to make me happy? Before I drowned in other people’s needs, what were my needs?
I did not know where to start.
My quest took me to the beginning, to my childhood, uncovering all the hidden, unhealed and festering wounds. It was time to address the suppressed emotions, archaic fears. Inherited fears passed on to me from generations of my family, though family stories and cautionary tales. It was time to incorporate all the sides of me that were suppressed due to inconvenience, all the sides that did not fit into what was considered acceptable.
What I found when I cut through all the debris was me as a child. As innocent, as naïve, as confused, as lost. And I proceeded to teach myself all that I am, processing and integrating all of my own life’s observations, lessons and experiences.
I realized that none of the definitions and rules to which I enslaved myself for most of my life are true or valid. All was a matter of perception. When none of my precious beliefs held up to scrutiny, I had to redefine myself from zero.
A clear blank slate.
I was free to fill it with whatever notions made sense to me. Filtering what went in, deflecting what was no longer suitable. I became discerning, I began to see, and that brought freedom. I no longer viewed the world and other people’s behavior toward me from the perspective of a wounded child.
I was on my own, and the world seemed an empty room. And, little by little, from that place of void and nothingness, I began to reconstruct myself.
Strikingly, on that stark bare background of no expectations any kindness that came my way, any attention, any connection was felt as an incredible gift. I became humble—the opposite of entitled. When I understood that no one owed me anything, any little gesture of kindness from another caused in me an overwhelming sense of gratitude and a feeling of wonder.
I expected more from love.
But when I stopped expecting, love came from everywhere and in unexplainable ways. It was so exquisite in its generosity, so miraculous in its timing.
A smile from a passerby—unexpected and all-the-more-sweet: I exist.
A little token of attention from an old friend who reached out to see how I was: I matter.
A reader who wrote a comment thanking me for my point of view: I have something to contribute.
A lover who did not give me what I thought I wanted, but made me see myself in a light of objective truth: this is who I am.
A sparkly sea blinking at me when I sat down to rest on my walk: I am part of the Universe.
When my take on life was driven by expectations, nothing anyone could do was ever enough. When I stopped expecting anything, I was touched by endless miracles, a magnificent display of love and possibilities to connect from everywhere.
Each of us has the capacity to be the Goddess of Love. We just need to clean the slate of expectations and learn to receive with a fresh palate.
Expect Nothing. Appreciate everything.
Author: Galina Singer
Image: Courtesy of Author
Apprentice Editor: Lois Person; Editor: Toby Israel