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Somewhere along the course of my life, I adopted the core belief that to be well-behaved means to be well-loved.
In fourth grade, I remember panicking and crying—shoulders rounding forward to protect my heart from shame—when I got a warning from the teacher (I cannot remember what for).
Most recently, on a bright Sunday morning, I was sitting on my couch in my bra and pajama bottoms drinking coffee, when a realtor welcomed himself into our lock-off apartment and furiously demanded why I was there. Embarrassed and confused, instead of holding my ground, I responded with a meek, “I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are, sir. But, I live here.”
A miscommunication with our landlord and the realtor (he was told no one would be home) had resulted in the weird encounter, but looking back, I wish I had stood up for myself, my home. But I was choked—like I often am—with the fear and unwavering desire to not make him feel bad.
I aim to please, and it is the bitter poison that kills me.
I comfort my weakness with a reassurance that we all are people-pleasers to some degree. We make cheeky lies to our bosses that we’d love to pick up an extra hour when we’d really rather drink a glass of red wine and read the next book on the list of Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club. We tell our mothers that we’d love to chat for an hour about our lives, ignoring the sinking dread in our bellies when she questions our finances, wedding plans, and life-choices.
But at what point are we sacrificing who we really are and what we really deserve to make life smoother for someone else?
At what point is the love we gather in likes, or compliments, or loyalty, or praise—real love?
At what point do we arrive at that dreaded place of being well-liked by everyone, but truly loved and accepted by few?
Most of my life, I have felt the “No” I desire to say boil heavy in the depths of my belly, flutter like wishes upon the rapid quickening of my heart, but I swallow it down with a “Yes, I can do that.” I will be what you need and desire.
I’ve always glued the label of kind, helpful, and sweet to my chest—but is it ever okay to—dare I say it—be a bitch? Is it okay to disagree?
When a man with orange skin and too-white teeth tells me, “Now that’s a good, beautiful smile,” with a wink as I pass him hiking on a trail, why can’t I respond back with a: “Don’t say that to me?” Why do I keep walking silently, feeling somehow naked and exposed?
Why is it that the people who boast or encourage—”be honest”—are the cruelest to respond when you are?
I have so many thoughts that toil and twirl in my head, but it requires the utmost courage to mutter them. And often, I feel like a dog with my tail tucked under her legs after I say what I truly think—because sometimes what really serves me is an inconvenience to someone else—and in the revelation of my honesty, their disapproval of my voice makes my darkest worries manifest: I am unlovable if I misbehave.
And at the end of the day, don’t we all wish to be loved and accepted as we are?
While being honest and doing what feels good for my heart requires my patience and practice, when I fail—and I fail miserably—at speaking my truth with conviction, faith, and well, good timing, I find solace in words.
These Walt Whitman quotes serve as a salve for the little girl within me who is afraid of being unlovable:
May they also serve as a salve for your cracked, wounded hearts.
“In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barelycorn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
And I know that I am solid and sound,
To me, the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow,
All are written to me, and I must get what the writing means.
I know that I am august,
I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or to be understood,
I see that the elementary laws never apologize,
I reckon I behave no prouder than the level I plant my house by after all.
I exist as I am, that is enough.
If no other in the world be aware I sit content,
And if each and all be aware I sit content.”
“Whatever satisfies the soul is truth.”
“Happiness, not in another place but this place…not for another hour, but this hour.”
“I am as bad as the worst, but, thank God, I am as good as the best. ”
“Clear and sweet is my soul…and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul.”
“What behaved well in the past or behaves well today is not such a wonder,
The wonder is always and always how there can be a mean man or an infidel.”
“Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him know he has enough.”
“To me, every hour of the day and night is an unspeakably perfect miracle.”
“Have you learned the lessons only of those who admired you, and were tender with you, and stood aside for you? Have you not learned great lessons from those who braced themselves against you, and disputed passage with you?”
“This is what you shall do,
Love the earth and sun and the animals,
give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy,
devote your income and labor to others,
hate tyrants, argue not concerning God,
have patience and indulgence toward the people,
take off your hat to nothing known or unknown
or to any man or number of men,
go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families,
read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life,
re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book,
dismiss whatever insults your own soul,
and your very flesh shall be a great poem
and have the richest fluency not only in its words
but in the silent lines of its lips and face
and between the lashes of your eyes
and in every motion and joint of your body.”
And because it needs to be read one more time:
“I exist as I am, that is enough.” ~ Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass.
And a little reminder for you—you are lovable just as you are.