What, really, is “enough” anyhow? And why do I need to be it? Who’s standard am I trying to measure up to anyhow? And why should I want to fit myself into a box of someone else’s design?
I’ve spent so much of my life believing that if I could just achieve this ever-elusive “enoughness”, then I could be happy, respected, be loved and belong. There are several problems with this theory, not the least of which is defining what “enough” actually is. It is also problematic and exhausting trying to determine, when the focus is on finding respect, love or a sense of belonging, what it is that the other people involved expect of you and deem to be “enough”. Really, you end up with multiple sets of standards to live up to, which may or may not reflect your own or what you want for yourself outside of your relationships.
This is where the waters can get very murky, because if your desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself, whether that’s a professional role you might play in your organization, your interactions with your friends or social group or even withing a family or romantic relationship, if that desire becomes something you focus on intently, you run the risk of entirely setting aside your version of “enough” for someone else’s AND can even come to believe that their standards and expectations are, in fact, your own. Sometimes needing someone else is the biggest obstacle we can face in feeling like enough because we can give over control of our sense of self-worth to someone or something utterly outside of ourselves and who we experience ourselves to be. That’s too much power to just give away.
The past two years for me have been an exercise on discovering how I want to experience myself and my life. It began with the realization that my marriage was not healthy or sustainable and taking an honest look at myself, realizing that I was partly to blame for that because, for years and years, I had denied a part of myself that I had been raised to believe was completely unacceptable. I finally admitted fully, to myself and slowly to those around me,that I am gay, at 37 years old. After that discovery, my life morphed int o a whirlwind of leaving my husband of 17 years, exploring that aspect of myself by dating, moving out on my own for the first time in my life, leaving behind my teenage daughter (her choice) and daily role as a mom, and falling in love with a woman named B.
My mistake in that relationship, which ended rather recently and suddenly after nearly a year of quickly escalating emotions, was this: I equated my worth as a newly single person, and as a fresh-out-of-the-closet lesbian, with her view of me. Initially, this didn’t seem to be any reason for concern at all.In fact, I ate it up. She treated me way better than my husband or any other partner ever had, also regularly insisting that I deserved to be treated in such a way, despite what my experience had taught me. When she thought I was brilliant and talented and beautiful and told me so or when she promised to support me in achieving my goals, I felt grateful and whole and home in a way I never had in my life, completely accepted as who I am. However, when she began to assert her own sense of self through her habits, beliefs, etc. that were different than my own priorities or sometimes even in conflict with them, I quickly felt torn, unable to decide how to proceed in this new relationship that had become to mean so much to me. I found myself, on those occasions, quickly shifting into strategic mode and beginning to study her expectations of herself, of other people around us, and also of me. I began to research, although not intentionally or consciously at the time, how to fit inside a box that she would be comfortable with so that she would stay.
I began to eat like she did, out of convenience to her when we ate together or because she expressed concern about how my vegetarian diet might be impacting my health (although I felt better physically than I had ever before). I started reading and writing less, spending less time alone in my thoughts despite conversations we had about the importance of that being healthy and part of a good balance, because she liked to talk every day in the mornings and we texted throughout my day at work. When I was creative, all of my efforts were pointed in her direction, whether it was a gift I was working on for her, a poem about how I felt or just an email or photograph to share the beauty of an experience I was having or something I knew she would appreciate. I went places alone with her and in groups with her friends where I’d never have chosen to go on my own, and sometimes had fun, but would often be exhausted by the anxiety I felt in those environments or would really have just preferred one-on-one time but never asked. It’s not HER fault I did these things. It’s mine. But I wanted so badly to be accepted, both by her and, by extension, her family, friends, and the tiny shred of the lesbian community I had found myself a part of, that I completely lost sight of who I was and what made me happy as a separate person from her.
We have many common interests, so much of the time we spent together initially was doing things we had each previously enjoyed alone. At first, that felt okay, because it is nice to be with someone who enjoys what you do and to have the company. But there are many different ways to experience a hiking trail or a painting and, at the end, I found myself blowing by things that I would have wanted to explore more deeply before her and feeling hollow for it. Meanwhile, she had mentally moved on to wanting to be alone again, feeling stressed, she said, by not having enough time to nurture herself and there being too many demands on her at this stage in her life for her to feel healthy in a relationship. After weeks of insecurity and sensing something unsettled and unspoken in our relationship, in the above picture, I’d just found what I thought was relief from that anguish. She had taken me on a trip to visit several local places she knew I’d love the weekend before my birthday to celebrate. I remember thinking, when I took this photo, that surely someone who no longer loved me would not go through the trouble of planning and organizing such a surprise. One week later, two days after my actual birthday, I’d discover I was wrong and find myself suddenly plunged into a darkness where I was forced, once again, to relearn how to find and be my own light.
I write all this and share it not for sympathy about being dumped and not to blame or shame her for knowing that she needed to make this change for herself but to illustrate and explain this: now that she has left, there is a gaping hole where I kept in my heart the box I climbed inside to try and keep her. It’s not HER that is missing from my life, which I know because I feel less anxious when we don’t interact, despite being on friendly terms, it’s my own expression and understanding of myself, what it means to be me, and what I want my life to look like. Her rejection of me has left me painfully aware that I wasn’t, and never could be, “enough” to keep her, when that objective really shouldn’t have been where my focus was anyhow.
So now I get to revisit this notion of “enough” and try to determine the parameters of myself for myself without the need to be anything for anyone other than me. That’s a hard thing to do when you have never in your life had such freedom, when you have spent your life looking at it the wrong way, believing that compromise, self-sacrifice and avoiding conflict were keys to good relationships and that that is the expectation for how women should behave. Quite honestly, I’m not sure where to begin, other than to draw boundaries around when I feel like I am being disrespected, make my own choices about how to care for my body and mind, and choose for myself how I will spend my time, knowing that it is okay to be alone but that I don’t have to be because she chose to leave. I can pursue things I used to dream about before her with a renewed vigor and without concern, because I only need to answer to myself. She does not get to write my ending in this story.
I needed to write this because telling myself I am not “enough” is just bullshit, and selling myself out by changing who I am, believing that I can influence someone else’s decisions that will affect me is just naive, wrong and unkind to myself. I think we all often look outside ourselves for indicators of our worth, and that we also can even use ourselves (our bodies, net worth, habits and relationship status) to define what we think makes us worthwhile as people. This is especially easy to fall into in a world where we regularly are encouraged to set up camps of “us” vs “them” based on our differences, which we should celebrate, and demonize those that disagree with us. But when we look at ourselves and don’t like what we see or feel inadequate because someone else doesn’t recognize our worth and beauty, we have the option to stop. We can stop berating ourselves for not finishing our degrees, stop believing that if we made more money, made more friends, lost 20 pounds, just tried harder or were more disciplined, life would be easier. It won’t be. You’ll get there and realize you still feel like shit or get derailed by someone else’s choices and be completely lost, hopeless and confused.
What makes life better is being able to love and see worth inside our own and everyone else’s beautiful mess. It’s being kind to yourself, noticing where you made mistakes, and forgiving yourself for them, not just vowing to do better or punishing yourself for your stupidity. What makes life better is seeing things as they are, seeing ourselves as WE are, and being brave enough to own that, even and especially when it isn’t what someone else expects from you. And it’s also forgiving those who hurt you and genuinely being thankful to them for the lesson that made you stand up and take notice of the ways you made yourself not enough in your own eyes just to try and be enough in theirs. It’s being able to show up ONLY AS WE ARE in our relationships and expecting to be seen and heard on our own terms, always, and not settling for anything less, because we love ourselves enough to know we are worth it. Sometimes it is even letting yourself get pissed off when that line is crossed and sticking up for yourself so that you can protect your strong but fragile self from people who would try to deny you your choices.
We are, you and I. We are enough. Just because we breathe, we exist and our stories and experiences and viewpoints are unique to us. We are enough to deserve love, respect, belonging and happiness but we cannot expect others to give it to us or to help us keep it when we find it. We need to give that gift to ourselves first and, when we find ourselves in a dark place, whether by our own choices or someone else’s, we need to find and be our own light and be our own beacon of hope.
Write the end to your own story. Notice life and who you are. Be your own light. That is enough.