For the majority of my early and mid-20s, I was what you’d call an incurable romantic.
Before I married my now ex-wife, I was besotted. Each time she or I would visit, I’d read her a 10-page letter filled with flowery prose and deep confessions of unshakeable devotion. And, before one of us left, I’d read to her a list of promises along with all of the qualities I most loved about her.
At the time, I believed it all. I truly thought that the connection we shared was the most vibrant shade of love I could ever experience with another human being, regardless of any darker undertones.
If you had asked me then, I would have said that respect and adoration were mutually exclusive. In other words, I believed that in order to feel some level of adoration for someone, you would surely have to possess a basic amount of respect for them. However, time and further life experience have since taught me otherwise.
First and foremost, let me give you a brief synopsis of my romantic history. I’ve been in love four times. My first love was a person I’d never met. We were pen pals for a couple of years and we both had a talent for putting words together, coupled with a keen imagination. I was 15 and she was two years and four days younger than me.
When we first began our correspondence, I was questioning my sexual orientation, feeling scared and deeply alone. So, one day, I decided to reach out to her and tell her my deepest and darkest secret: that I was concerned that I liked women a little more than I wanted to and wondered how I’d live that way.
Sympathetic to my perceived plight, she quelled my fears and reassured me that nearly everyone felt that way, whether they admitted it or not. Then, several months later, she confessed to me that she was bisexual and had feelings for me.
What we had was a long-winded, passionate, and flirtatious exchange of energy through writing, but regardless of the logistics, we truly thought we were in love.
Over enough time, her communication with me became sparse and no longer was I receiving the usual chain of four or five messages throughout the day. Sometimes, I would even go several weeks without a word from her. So, one night, after I came home from a friend’s birthday party, I decided to write her an e-mail telling her that I had kissed someone—a lie I had contrived in an attempt to pull her strings and possibly make her jealous enough to want to keep tabs on me.
And, guess what? To my surprise, it worked. Furious, she shot back several messages telling me how livid she was that I had done that and that she could never fully trust me again.
In hindsight, I can see how manipulative that was of me to do—even if her withdrawal from me ignited a primal yet sophisticated fear of emotional abandonment. In fact, causing partners to feel jealous was not past me. If I felt insecure enough regarding the depth of their commitment to me, I would, at times, pull that trigger—not because I was Machiavellian and sadistically enjoyed hurting people, but because I felt compelled to test their desire for me. I was also, perhaps, too young and lacking in the deep self-awareness necessary to gracefully own up to, much less articulate, my fears.
Regardless of how much I believe I loved a person, whenever that manipulative tendency reared its ugly head, I lost myself to it in place of egoic desire. I can now clearly see that in those moments, I did not respect them, and respect and love, I’ve recently come to learn, can in fact be mutually exclusive after all.
Like many things we put out, I myself, have also been on the receiving end of what I perceive as disrespect from the same people who claimed to love and adore me. Since January of last year, I have been hoping to at least begin to establish myself as a writer on various platforms.
In that time, I have opened doors to reveal all kinds of things about myself that I never thought I would, allowing readers to glimpse some of the messiest and most perfectly imperfect rooms in my heart. Truthfully, I do not write in hopes to connect to others—if I do, great—but rather, to process my experience more powerfully and to piece together a fine work of literary art that will bring forth a sense of inner satisfaction and rekindle my zest for life.
Having said that, there was a part of me that wondered—or even outright expected—other people to respect me for my capacity to be vulnerable, raw, and real. As it turned out, this has not necessarily been the case—and most especially with romantic partners.
Let me tell you: whoever said that love is blind was absolutely correct—and that extends much further than we might expect. Beyond the most obvious and direct ways it can manifest, it can also be felt in what is not said, in the space between your words and their response—which, in this case, alludes to none.
Nonverbal cues are just as important as what is said, if not more so. There have been times I’ve politely asked partners not to infantilize me by calling me cute or sweet—two terms I find downright bland and devoid of any substantial value. Yet, shortly after the person haphazardly promised not to do so, the moment I stepped into their space after a week or so of absence, those two adoring adjectives were thrust on to me again like an assault.
Words are so important. They are the sum of their parts. Even though language conveys dualism and is intrinsically binary, words are our most efficient messengers. While we may not always feel equipped nor possess the capacity to name or describe our most poignant or moving experiences, it is important to accept, in that recognition of limitation, that words at least paint a general picture.
In addition, they also evoke sentiment. They denote and connote. When I hear the adjective cute in reference to me, I feel my stomach cringe. I feel like saying: in case you haven’t realized it, I am a grown woman who has a lot on her mind. I’m not cute. Thoughtful. Beautiful. A deep-thinker. You can call me any of those things. But, please, refrain from demoting me—inadvertently or not.
You might argue that I am hypersensitive or pedantic. I believe I am neither of those things. Words carry weight and as a writer, I not only hear them, I also feel their impact when I process them. In addition, I am also painstakingly perceptive, tuning in to all kinds of nuances in nonverbal cues. I am just as quick to size them up in reference to the context. Silence after a statement is uttered—unless it is the kind that elicits a look of searching—is flippant, especially when a sentence or question follows that does not address what had just been said.
As much as any person can claim to love you, do they really know love beyond all the culturally prescribed and pre-programmed beliefs they’ve unconsciously accumulated? Can they see through the rose-colored haze?
Love, as we know it, has an opposite. Hate is on the other end of the same continuum. What a person can feel as love one day can just as easily slide further along the spectrum, toward hatred, the next. Then, there are a myriad of emotional experiences in between those two dualities. Love, to me, is hollow without the depth that understanding lends it, and without the companionship of a close cousin called respect, isn’t even worthy of the name.
A hard pill for me to swallow is the fact that what most people call love is actually a lower manifestation of a higher, more collective experience that, ideally, should transcend, at best, an intense and ultimately fleeting emotion for any single person.
Whereas throughout my 20s and late teens, finding and sustaining love was high on the list of my priorities, it has now become secondary on that list.
Furthermore, as I ripen into the primordial tree of awareness, I realize that if love does not feel authentic, it is time for it to go.