Recently my daughter, Chloe, got engaged. It’s been a happy time, getting to experience her excitement and joy as surprise after surprise unfolded. As a mother, there’s nothing better than seeing your child happy. Seeing a man who cherishes and adores my daughter bend on one knee and propose…well, let’s just say it was extra special. I was on a high for days, living vicariously through Chloe as she reported the details of their vacation in Charleston, South Carolina, the proposal, and the celebration of her thirtieth birthday.
After the fairy dust settled, I found myself reflecting on some of my own experiences, which were in stark contrast to the ones my daughter experienced. I could feel a cloud of sadness coming over me. “No, no, no! I don’t want to go down this path,” I thought. But then I remembered that, rather than push down negative emotions, it was better for me to feel them, let them come through, be healed, and transmuted.
So, I braced myself and hung on for the ride.
For as long as I could remember, I had a need to be chosen. Yes, I also had a need to be seen as many of us do, but it went deeper than that. I wanted to be the one who was picked, adored, cherished—the one who was so special that it was a forgone conclusion that she would be chosen. Whether it was a contest in grade school, a part in a school play, a solo in the chorus, or picked for a team in gym, if I wasn’t chosen, I immediately equated that to not being loved. As a highly sensitive child living in a world where people didn’t talk about things like highly sensitive children, I stood out as a “cry-baby”, a sore loser, or a drama queen.
My self-worth was completely tethered to the external.
As I got older, I internalized these feelings of “less than” and convinced myself that I was unlovable. Whenever I did get a “win,” like getting a lead in the school play, I was on a high. My self-worth was completely tethered to the external. Needless to say, when I asked a boy to our junior semi-formal and he turned me down, I was crushed. I can still remember what I wore that day. I remember how embarrassed I was. I remember how mad I was at myself for putting myself in that position. Mainly I remember willing myself not to cry until I got home. Later that day I found out another girl had asked him to the dance. He said yes to her. She was chosen. I was not. Therefore, I must be fat, ugly, gross, and utterly delusional for even thinking I had a chance.
A few years later, when I met who would later become my husband and Chloe’s father, I was struck by his attentiveness, but also, I sensed he felt lucky to be with me. As time went on, he would verbalize that very sentiment. That was music to my fragile ego’s ears. Not a day went by that he didn’t tell me I was beautiful. He happily introduced me to family and friends. I heard stories that he had been dating another girl, but that, when he met me, he broke up with her. I had a fleeting pang of pity for the “other” girl, but mainly I felt elated that he chose me.
This went on for four years, off and on, but mostly on. I was going to college and would see him on breaks or he would come visit me at school. My friends and family would often mention how devoted he was to me and how much in love we both looked. For the most part, it was a very happy time and it never occurred to me that it would change. He was my first serious relationship and although we had a series of break-ups and make-ups, I always assumed that ultimately, we’d be together.
Soon after I graduated college, we got an apartment. We were both very excited to have our own space and at first, it felt a little like “playing house.” For the first time, we could live by our own rules. But in a few short weeks, the illusion of domestic bliss was smashed into a gazillion pieces. A drug addiction which was easily concealed from me when we both lived at home, now became glaringly obvious. Money began to disappear. Valuables began to disappear. He became violent. My self-worth once again started slipping into the abyss. I had no idea how to navigate addiction and naturally (and wrongly) thought that if he really loved me, he would quit. He didn’t. He chose drugs, not me. And he made this choice over and over for years until one day, I was done.
I like the phrase “pick up the pieces” because, in truth, that’s what it feels like—gathering tiny shards of your heart and slowly and painfully putting them back in place. Other times it’s more like calling whisps of your Soul back home.
The pieces don’t come back all at once or on your timetable though. It’s a slow-motion mosaic and looks like a bit of a mess for quite a while.
When I finally dated again, I was scared. I didn’t want to be hurt again. I had become friends with the new guy at work. He was funny, smart, and charismatic. Everyone liked being around him, including me. Several of the women at work were interested in him. When I realized that he was interested in me romantically, my walls immediately went up. I didn’t want to date someone I worked with. Plus, he was several years younger than me. But after a time, I caved. Plus, he had his pick of many women and he chose me—my Achilles heel. At first, it was amazing. We had so much fun together. I had never imagined being in a “normal” relationship. That year was one of the happiest of my life.
But then, like a flick of a switch, his feelings for me changed. After a year of what I thought was a thriving relationship, he broke up with me and started secretly dating another woman at work—the one woman I didn’t get along with. For whatever reason, we never liked each other. Of all the women in the world for him to date, that’s who he chose. That’s what hurt the most. Soon after that, he was laid off. When that happened, he broke it off with her. Karma? I knew she was devastated and although I’m not proud of it, that gave me satisfaction. A few months later he reached out. We met up a few times but ultimately, I chose to end it. It was nice to take some of my power back.
The stories I just shared are over 20 and even 30 years old. But I shared them because these were the memories breaching the surface. Over the last week, I’ve been able to view them again from a higher perspective of knowing and understanding. I have compassion for these younger versions of myself and I can still feel their pain of not feeling cherished, adored, or chosen. They just didn’t realize that they were looking in all the wrong places. Feeling chosen is a lot closer to home.