As far back as I can remember I was considered ‘one of the guys.’ And my position there wasn’t something I ever actually wanted, nor gave any conscious effort to achieve. It just kind of happened. For some reason I often ended up as the trustworthy pal to any one of the individual boys in my group of friends, and for a long time I prided myself in that fact. There was a time that I was even flattered by the tendency of my guy friends to include me in their conversations and consider me a confidant. As I grew older, however, I came to see the unflattering truth that it was.
As one of the guys, I could never hope to be seen as anything beyond that. As a young woman, this led to many years of disappointment. As a woman on the less-optimistic side of her twenties, it’s clearer now just how much it has affected my adult life.
I can trace this trend all the way back to elementary school, where I was one part of a six-member group equally divided in genders. Even then I gravitated more toward the guys, though I counted another of the girls in the group as my best friend. As time went on and circumstances changed, our group of six dwindled to three at the start of junior high, and was further changed by the newly discovered feelings the other two had for one another. There is admittedly no such thing as dating in junior high, but the fundamental dynamics of the group shifted nonetheless. Suddenly I found myself the third wheel in what was once an equally balanced system. Worse than that was to realize I would be the one with whom they would each confide in respectively, on anything and everything regarding their adolescent romance. But the absolute worst part of it all was that I had discovered my feelings for this guy friend long before then.
My feelings had never been made known of course, so I had only myself to blame for the position I was stuck in for the better part of two years. I never said anything before, during, or after their ‘unlabeled mutual affection,’ not even when our group gradually disbanded into separate, but never quite as strong, friendships. I thought about confessing those feelings many times in the years that followed, eventually deciding that there was no point. Somewhere along the line I had settled for my role in the just friends category, consigning myself to this position on more than one occasion. I suppose it had become easier to occupy that state of mind than to hope for the day when someone would see me as more than a pal. But if it was hard for me to even imagine being the object of someone’s affection then I couldn’t expect anyone else to perceive me differently.
It was in this state of mind that I entered into the new friendships defining my high school years. This time I was the only girl in our unlikely trio, somehow bonding with the pair of outsiders after their respective court-ordered probation resulted in each of their mothers’ decision to switch schools. Despite our vast differences, I was quickly enamored by both of these boys, whose individual characters put them miles apart from each other. One was a free spirit, careless and infuriating, but could charm his way into any heart and out of any situation. The other was more careful and reflective, but had an unmatched sense of humor beyond the walls he often erected.
There was never a question of what we meant to each other – we were friends in the best sense of the word, and for a season I happily existed in that singular awareness. It would take years of painful retrospect for me to fully grasp the effect that this brief season had on my life as a whole. Thirteen years later and I’m still finding new areas of damage that time alone could not repair.
Yet even with this burden of knowledge on my shoulders I still cannot entirely regret those years, nor can I justly assign all the blame to those severed ties for my current damaged state.
There is not a singular moment that stands out as the root cause for my guarded nature. I was born into a happy home and was blessed with a loving family – no childhood trauma or abuse, no abandonment issues that resulted in my constructing walls out of self-preservation. Without any real or justifiable reason I became this untrusting and unreachable person. I hate it. I want to fix it. But like most things, it’s easier said than done, and even the ‘said’ part is a struggle for me.
Speaking has never come easy for me, and voicing my thoughts or feelings is nearly impossible. I was never able to tell my friends how I felt back in junior high, nor was I able to put into words the deeper level of attachment that grew unchecked in the years that followed. I kept it all inside, sometimes writing the words on paper before shredding the evidence, and always – always – denying the truth when guessed by anyone paying close enough attention. There is a barrier between the truth and verbal language for me, one that has been there too long.
A slightly out of focus image of my third grade self comes to mind. The poignant memory of shattered feelings in that moment are much clearer to recall, set apart as one of the only times I gathered enough courage to tell my crush that I wanted him to be my boyfriend. Using the standard ‘check yes or no’ note as my confession of love, I placed it along with a hand-made wrist band into his desk and waited for his reply. To my horror, I did not receive a note in return. Instead he would meet me in the hallway, note and bracelet in hand, and proceed to voice his confusion over the message since he had thought we were friends.
Yeah, we’re friends, definitely just friends, that’s what I meant, of course that’s what I meant, it’s a friendship bracelet, because we’re buds, duh.
I can laugh about it now – that friendship bracelet excuse was actually used – because it is pretty funny, but the amusement invariably comes with a twinge of sadness. When I relive the event in my vague memory looking through the eyes of that little girl, I can feel her point of view steadily diminishing as the gap of time widens between us. I know that someday I will have forgotten of her rejected first move and fumbled recovery entirely. Which I really should consider a good thing given how my mind likes to sneak attack me with the most humiliating of memories in its dossier right when I’m about to doze off at night, just so I can get a good taste of humility and self-loathing before the day’s end. But in this instance I can’t be glad of its riddance from my memory because it is the only event of its kind that I have to relive; the only time I liked a boy and made my feelings known.
I put my hopeful heart on the line that day in a way I never could again. I couldn’t risk making my feelings known, no matter how long they burned inside me. I couldn’t when that same boy went on to ask the girl who sat next to me to be his girlfriend so that they could hold hands and walk around the playground at recess for a whole week. Nor could I when the boy whom I liked from the fifth grade and all through junior high fell for my best friend. I wouldn’t be able to at the start of freshman year either, when I was crushing big time on my brother’s friend who amazingly seemed interested in me as well until later revealing his hope at getting closer with my cousin. And certainly not in high school when my two closest friends were determined to play the field with every available option except me. In a private school where the student body barely surpassed triple digits at its peak (there were eight of us in my graduating class), the choices to pursue were very limited. Yet somehow, even with those kind of odds in my favor, I was never anyone’s choice.
With that type of evidence, it’s hard to argue against the conclusion that I simply may not be desirable to the opposite sex. Even in desperate times and small populations I was neither an option, consolation prize, or a last resort. I didn’t have any more luck in college either. Despite losing some of my teenage awkwardness and most of the extra weight, the years in junior college and a larger university were spent with nary a passing glance of interest. It wasn’t that I was putting off some sort of unavailable vibes either, for I managed to muster up enough courage to “put myself out there” at one point in particular (though I’d left the directness of my approach in that third grade classroom).
He came at a vulnerable in-between stage in my life, just after losing all the weight but before regaining the confidence lost in years of unrequited devotion. He was tall and charming, intellectually intimidating and bold in a way I envied, but most attractive of all was the unapologetic way he expressed his Christian faith. In a mostly left-leaning liberal arts college, his presence was invaluable for me in a time where my own faith was flimsy at best. I was drawn to him for all of these reasons while being mindful of what caused me to recognize such characteristics, for I had very recently grieved – and had yet to fully recover from – the back to back losses of the most important relationships of my life to date. I was careful in my approach, disguising my interest as like-minded scholarly companionship until the semester ended and I was able to hide behind a computer screen to Facebook message an invite for “hanging out.” I tried to behave as a 21 year old college student should and not reveal the giddiness I felt at his positive response, but my naiveté was a constant hurdle in the efforts of getting to know each other. I experienced the best first date of my life with him, which holds true to this day. Instead of following up evening dinner with an awkward movie showing or hasty goodbye, he had timed the occasion on the day of an historic meteor shower and we watched the stars on a mound of pillows and blankets in my backyard, talking for hours about nothing and everything in between.
That evening was the first time I entertained the hope of a life without thoughts and emotions consumed by the disappointment of what was lost. For the first time I wanted something that seemed real and actually attainable. I listened and was completely enthralled by his opinions on literature, philosophy, politics and more. I listened and offered not much more than the occasional insight to my own less-developed conclusions, but he never needed more than that to carry a conversation. He revealed the deepest layers of his character in those few hours, holding nothing back as he told me of his long road back to God with all its struggles. He had no hesitation in confessing his battle with alcoholism and the pride that hindered his road to recovery. He laid it all out with a raw sort of honesty that I found both beautiful and intimidating. And as wonderful as the night was for me, that inability to match his honesty and express my feelings set the tone for our future conversations, in which I never managed to take down my cautious walls.
In this manner we would carry on many more conversations almost every night on the phone during our summer hiatus. We would talk for hours without ever needing to search for a topic. I opened up to him as much as my insecurities allowed, and only after he learned to ask direct questions in order to receive less filtered responses that sleepiness made possible. Guarded is the word he once used to describe me hours into his tireless attempts. I hated the way it sounded, but couldn’t deny the conclusion he’d reached. He said he’d never met anyone so guarded before and, though it was frustrating at times, he was intrigued by it as well. I hated this too when it was said and apologized. When he asked me point blank what my expectations for us were, I panicked. He was demanding the words I’d never been able to say out loud. He was forcing me to put my heart on the line, to risk everything I’d worked so hard to protect. He wanted me to speak, and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But the barrier was still too thick. I don’t have expectations, I confessed. I hope for a lot of things though. I hope I can let down those guards someday. But my greatest hope was left unsaid, that he’d be there when I was finally able.
Good, he replied before mercifully dropping the subject. We continued our nightly phone routine for a few more weeks until school resumed and just when my anticipation for his phone calls grew into an expectation of their eventuality, the phone stopped ringing. My first time initiating the call became my last attempt once it went to voicemail, and I accepted it then and there as the end to our almost romance. We maintained a casual friendship that any classmates in the same degree plan would share, catching up between classes, complaining about professors, and sharing snacks in the hall as we laughed at the Creative Writing majors that passed us by. I never asked him what changed or what led to his suddenly pulling away, eventually counting it as just another unknown in a long list of closure-lacking ends, all leading to the unavoidable conclusion that I am simply unlovable.
The amount of supporting logic confirms it as far more than a theory based on silly insecurities. Honestly, at this point how could I not believe that the problem is me? The last thing I want is for this to somehow come off as my fishing for reassurances or compliments. I don’t need anyone else to tell me who I am and what I have to offer. I know what I am, and I’m okay with it for the most part. I boast no extraordinary characteristics in talent, intellect or looks. I am on the average scale in just about every respect. And I’m content with being average, too. I’m not bold, but I’m not completely lacking confidence either. I have absolutely zero skill in the art of persuasion or flirtation, but I am hilarious (my sense of humor – in my oh so humble opinion – is undoubtedly my best quality). And I may not be classically beautiful or a size two, but I’m comfortable enough in my own skin to know I’m not exactly an ogre.
I could go on for pages listing the things I don’t have but wish I did, all that I am but wish I weren’t. Doing so wouldn’t bring me any closer to the answer of my confounded heart, with every beat echoing the same question: What makes me unlovable?
Rationally speaking, such a depressing thought is bordering the absurd when taken in consideration the actual amount of love I do have in my life. I am blessed to have the support of both parents, as well as the encouragement offered by my large extended family, all of whom I remain close with to this day. The value of their combined presence and genuine investment in my well-being goes without saying, but – and I’m sorry that this comes at the risk of sounding ungrateful – it’s just not the same. While their love is a constant source of strength for me to lean on, it comes as a byproduct to the ties in which we were bound at birth. I was literally born into this type of love – a preexisting condition that solidified our life-long connections to one another.
Simply put, my family has no choice in loving me. It always was and always will be. That fact makes it no less valuable, of course, but it does make it different. It’s wonderful, but it’s just not the same.
No one has ever chosen to love me. No one has ever linked their heart to mine without conditions or obligations.
Let it be known that I am grateful for the love of my family and of the few close friends that have stuck around; this love means more to me than anything. It cannot be questioned, nor can I doubt its strength even now that most all of them have married and started families of their own. I know I matter to them still. I know I am valued.
However, I also know that I am outside the boundaries defined in these units respectively. To occupy a space inside such a family unit is to be irreplaceable. It means you play a vital role that, if ever lost, can never be filled again. Where I stand now, my role would only leave a permanent void in this sense for one person: my mother. Many more would feel sadness, some might even grieve for a while, but only she would experience any type of brokenness. And no one would be more affected by the loss than she would. Those with whom I work on a daily basis would likely be the second most affected, though they would eventually adapt out of necessity.
Therefore my theory is neither absurd, nor unfounded. The reality is quite clear – situated where I am, the most significant role I occupy is at the job I’ve held for 9 years. From an operations standpoint, no matter how strong the bonds of my personal life are, I am not on the essential list. At work I have the title of Operations Manager; I am vital in that role, essential. I feel needed there and it’s a good feeling. Yet even that seat is replaceable. The need I currently fill will not suddenly vanish if I fail to show Monday morning, and eventually someone would pick up just where I left off. As someone once told me, a trained monkey could fill that position. I would’ve been more insulted if I didn’t somewhat agree with his assessment. It’s simply the nature of any job – if there’s an opening, it must be filled. And there are plenty of willing candidates to get on board and work until they feel necessary.
I’m sure I knew it already, but hearing that literally anyone could come in off the street and take over, could assume the role that often seems to be the only place in which my showing up truly matters, was the last piece of evidence I needed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the case building against me. It wasn’t insulting; it was a punch to the gut.
Where am I vital? In what area could I never be replaced? In what way has my existence on this earth truly and fundamentally mattered?
The long list of times where I thought to be making a difference is only an account of my failures. Circumstances may vary and the cast of characters change, but the theme is constant – an end was reached. Some were drawn out far too long, others occurring more swiftly, all were out of my control. The tragedy of my story found in the pathetic repetition of chapters:
I had hoped listening to his dreams for the future would make him see a place for me there, but he was gone from my life once he fixed his eyes on the road leading him out of town. I never told him how much I cared or how lonely I became in his absence.
I thought he was happy in his new life, this fresh start that came with a pair of best friends that tamed his wilder inclinations and humored his constant excitement. I loved every second he was with us and would choose his company over any other. I was his friend but he chose me two years in a row for his homecoming date, and I loved him for it. But when he was given the choice, he left us. He returned to his old life, his old friends. It would take one full year before he came back, but I felt even then that it was temporary. I couldn’t allow myself to hope he’d choose differently this time. And he died before I could tell him how desperately I wanted him to stay.
I believed he was too good to be true. I believed he was too good for me. I believed him when he said that I was special. I was drawn to his confidence and unapologetic faith; I fell for his mind and sense of humor. It was easy to believe that he had high hopes for where this would go. He urged me to keep guarding my heart in the meantime, and I didn’t listen. One quick side hug after graduation was our final farewell, his backward footsteps leading him further and further away from me while maintaining the crooked smile in my direction. I pressed my lips firmly shut until he turned around, trapping the question hanging on the tip of my tongue for a year. Why couldn’t you love me?
I gave him everything, wanting nothing but him in return. In a world full of people he was my first choice. Years of heartache and wasted time would reveal I was never even his last resort. He tortured me with the steady stream of disastrous flings, knowing I’d be there as the supporting friend to fall back on. It was only after he exhausted all else in his attempt to find happiness that he finally chose me. He promised that he’d wanted it all along. He claimed to finally be at peace. Seven years of peaks and valleys should have made me wiser than I was. I was his choice for barely a moment, he was mine long before and longer still after. It wouldn’t take long for him to realize that I wasn’t what he wanted. And I’ll never know what it was that led him to that decision. I would never get a goodbye or an explanation. I’ll never get the closure I once desperately needed. There was nothing I could ever do to change the simple fact that he didn’t love me enough to choose me. He just couldn’t love me at all.
None of them could.
I’ve got all the proof in the world against me. The outlook is admittedly bleak, and had I not the systems of belief and family in my corner to lean against, it might be impossible to see past it. The foundations of faith instilled in me throughout my childhood are still in place, as are the convictions and beliefs that developed later through my own pursuit of Truth.
But the truth can be a hard pill to swallow, especially in times when the lies are so much easier to believe.
The single most destructive lie we fall victim to is the one that says we don’t matter. That our very existence is inconsequential. That the individual roles we play in life are interchangeable, replaceable, and therefore unimportant. It is this lie that is whispered in our ears on those lonely Saturday nights where we find ourselves – yet again – without plans to fill our weekend. The lie we hear as the clock ticks closer to the end of another long work day, consuming our thoughts until we see the foolishness in anticipating such freedom at all when it so often means another set of long and empty hours. The lie perpetuated by endless Facebook and Instagram posts on our feed reminding us of everything we don’t have. The same lie that tells us that without a partner, without children or a family unit, our lives are comparatively meaningless to those who do; as such, our posts aren’t worthy enough to grace anyone else’s feed or timeline even if we had a status to update them on.
We hear this lie every day. We live this lie. We give the lie authority, so much so that to make plans or simply spend time with others for companionship instead only serves to confirm the despair.
We don’t matter, the lie whispers.
That place we once held with friends is replaceable, the lie shows us.
Our absence at family gatherings would go unnoticed anyway, the lie presumes.
Going or staying, joining in or standing aside – it makes no difference at all. We make no difference, breathes the lie.
The single most destructive thing we could do in life is to allow the lie to become our truth; to let our reality be the manifestation of our deepest fears and insecurities. In listening to the lie, we give it a voice strong enough to diminish our self-worth and loud enough to drown out that still, small voice of reason. We forget that the lie is only ever as strong as our willingness to listen, but the lie knows and buries itself into our subconscious so it can continue beyond our waking thoughts. The longer we let it speak, the louder it becomes, and the less satisfied it is with merely self-doubt. The lie wants more.
Once we surrender our situational contentment by comparing our lives to others, the lie has taken a foothold. Next it wants our time and energy. It wants our ambition. It wants our talents and confidence. It wants our personality and interests. It wants our thoughts, prayers, joy and peace.
The lie wants to take our individuality from us one piece at a time, until we have nothing left, until we can’t hope in our own ability to perceive it as a lie anymore.
The single most important thing we will ever learn is that there is a Truth far greater than any lie. A Truth that tells us we are not alone in this struggle. A Truth that regards us as important, noticed, and loved; deeming us worthy of that love. A Truth that places so much value on individual lives that even if it were an act for one, He still would have laid down His life in their place. A Truth that reminds us that we are more than our circumstances, more than our feelings – we are children of the most High. A Truth that is the only Way to peace. A Truth that is life.
A Truth declaring with unmatched authority that we are worth it all.
Where the lie whispers unwanted, the Truth says mine.
Where the lie whispers rejected, the Truth says mine.
Where the lie whispers unimportant, the Truth says mine.
The Truth says that we are known, each of us, and that we are called accordingly and individually. That we are valued both collectively and separately. The Truth promises a place, a purpose; it offers us peace and joy; it lends strength when we have none.
The Truth chooses me, cherishes me, and emboldens me.
The Truth calls me beloved.
This is the truth I cling to. Because the loneliness I feel may be very real, and the despair at the unanswered questions of my heart might be legitimate in its causes, but none of these feelings can lessen the weight of His promises. One of the beautiful things about surrendering our whole selves to the Creator is that He understands our human nature with all its faults and limitations better than we ever could, and instead of holding it against us or withholding His grace, He accepts these failings and covers them by His love along with all the rest. We need not be ashamed of the fickle nature of our untrustworthy emotions because He does not judge us by our shortcomings.
So while the condemnation in the question of my being unlovable is not absurd in reasoning, I can take comfort in the fact that my heart and such warring emotions must submit to a higher authority. For if our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our hearts and He knows all things.
As far as worldly definitions of romance are concerned, I have no experience or notion of its effects, but I do have something far greater. I have the unfailing love of a Savior. I am the object of His affection, the receiver of His devotion. The greatest power in existence – the Creator of existence itself – singles me out and pursues me without end. He has all things, holds the universe in His grasp and all its creatures at His disposal; He is wanting for nothing, yet He wants me still. He’s jealous for me.
He chooses me.