His heartache had aged him. In his slumping shoulders, his brow. and his timbre he held weight; and not the kind that makes you look heavier, the kind that feels heavier to everyone around you. He had been through the wringer, and he said to me what many men have said about young women for years: "they lie about who they are."
The pain in this statement reverberated throughout my nerves to my fingertips. I knew it well, but my response did not soothe him. "Of course they do." They have to. There is too much shame involved in admitting that they are a mess. There are too many stories, too many false fronts telling us who women should be. There is so much pressure to be together, beautiful, whole, and functional, that when biology, and society, and whatever else keeps us from being what our culture seems to expect, the only thing we can do is pretend, with spectacularly horrible results.
There is no room in our society for anything out of the ordinary. We have not created space for the deviant. We have the illogical and misguided belief that we are supposed to fit into the same boring-ass square box. Women are supoosed to be sweet, beautiful, smart, mysterious and sexy. Men are supposed to be strong, silent, rugged, and entirely self-sufficient. And any efforts we make are those of disguise and deception in order to live up to those unattainable standards.
Yes, of course we lie. We want to be that cool girl. We want to be that beautiful, together, happy woman that is the expectation. But even more, we want love, so we do what we can to twist ourselves into that. We bend and mold ourselves into the latest and most popular version of beauty, and we negate the real part of us that is broken so that when you do happen to fall, we will not be able to bring ourselves to believe you. No amount of attention, adoration or comfort that you try to provide for us will ever suffice, because we have twisted ourselves for you. We know that you have fallen for the lie, and that if we allow you to see the reality, if we provide you a peek behind the heavy velvet curtain, you will draw back. So we cling to the lie for as long as we possibly can. We play the role as if our lives depend on it. Then, at a certain point, we colllapse. Eventually we stop pretending out of sheer exhaustion and you wonder who the hell this person is that you are contractually bound to.
We expect altogether too much of ourselves, and forgive far too little. We are inordinately punishing when we fall short of expectation, and even harder on others when they disappoint us. There is so much fear about who we are and what that might mean, that there is no way to get comfortable with it because we are too ashamed to admit it. Too ashamed to admit that we feel pain at the wrong times, sadness in inconvenient moments, jealousy when we ourselves are guilty.
We are expecting logical behavior in a world that prescribes the insanity of a false paradigm. So the best we can do is find a way to forgive ourselves. Find a way to love what we perceive as our own ugliness. Embrace what is nerve-wrackingly uncomfortable, because there is no guarantee that we can get this from anyone else, and even if you are lucky enough to get love and forgiveness, if you don't believe you are loved, if you are incapable of feeling the love and the forgiveness that you hold for your own soul, you will never feel the love or forgiveness of others, no matter how great. You will never be filled if you cannot first feel the fullness and the greatness of your own appreciation.
So start now. Do not set your mind on fixing others. There is nothing to fix. Not in the way you think there is. The hardest work you ever do will not be in the struggle, it will be in the stillness. Your work will be finding a way to love yourself in the face of all the damning evidence that society presents as an argument against it. Do not believe, work toward or hold as a goal any level of false perfection because you will never, ever attain it, and you will never ever really know yourself.
Imagine being at the end of your life, looking back, and not being able to put a finger on who you are, who you came to be, and who, in the end, you let in your life. Don't look back and find that you could not be vulnerable after that heartbreak. Life is not made to have you move through it via efforts of protection, life is made to be messy, it is available so that we might have our hearts broken, so that we might glimpse our own greatness, so that we might grow past a point we had never dreamed possible.
But none of this is possible, not a bit of it, if we continue to deny our pain. If we continue to let our shame control us. If at some point, we close down entirely because we are afraid of trusting that someone won't lie to us.
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