“In a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, my husband asked me last night, “Why do you love me?”. “Well, because you are You.” I easily answered. Crest-fallen, he humphed a sad, slumped-shouldered, “Oh..”. Recognising his disappointment, I reassured him, “That’s absolutely the best thing I could have said.”.”
In a moment of uncharacteristic vulnerability, my husband asked me last night, “Why do you love me?”. “Well, because you are You.” I easily answered. Crest-fallen, he humphed a sad, slumped-shouldered, “Oh..”. Recognising his disappointment, I reassured him, “That’s absolutely the best thing I could have said.”. I believe this to be true but it wasn’t what he was hoping for. I’m sure he really wanted evidence and reassurance.
Have you ever asked someone a similar question? I think we all have at some point. It’s likely the answer came to you in a list. The list likely included your greatest hits. Someone might have itemised your most attractive qualities and attributes. They might have recalled your most impactful achievements. They might have shared your most successful moments. Or perhaps they listed your kindnesses to other humans.
I have two problems with these list type responses.
Firstly, lists always end. It might be that your human, fulfilled their brief well and in listing all the glorious things you have been part of, they satisfied your need for validation. We humans are difficult beasts to please though. Our inner critics growl relentlessly and I bet lots of us have had moments where these reports have left us wanting. Maybe it felt there just weren’t enough things and we were left with a distinct feeling of ‘is that it?’. Maybe the other person noticed and was left awkwardly fishing in the depths of their memory, trying to bolster their list and our self-esteem. Maybe we ended up wishing that we hadn’t asked in the first place! If the list ends (and it always does), it unintentionally sends us the message that we are limited and small and wanting.
Secondly, and more importantly, these lists feed our vampiric ego and strengthen the fiction that we need to get our validation externally. They play into the narrative that to BE someone, we need to DO something. It is easy to regard the question-asker/list-creator’s interaction innocently. It seems on the face of it a straightforward way to feel better in a tender moment, but can a human actually be defined by the things they have done? If the answer is yes (and this feels untrue to me), then surely we must let all the things define us, not just those judged culturally worthy. Maybe this is another difficulty with the list concept, that however much our praises are sung, we know our shadow side is lurking unmentioned threatening to destabilise the entire construct.
When we try to define humans by their DOINGS, I believe we do them a disservice. I can remember many times when I have asked questions of my loved ones, asking them to define their reasons for loving me. I can honestly say that none of their reports, as kind and generous as they were, have ever really helped. I think often, I have been pretty suspicious of them and they set my mind picking holes in these presented truths. Were these things really ME? Is that it? Am I truly the sum of these reports, because it doesn’t feel like enough. I think now, that was my inner knowing telling me NO although I certainly didn’t listen back then.
Definitions of us as a sum of our productivity and impact also set us on a false path. They lead us to believe that the things we have demonstrated and done are the bits of us that other people feel are worth having. I can clearly see, for example, how in my childhood, the emphasis on success in academic achievement led me to be very successful academically. That is not to say that encouraging someone to be successful academically is a crime, in fact, having cheerleaders along the way is so necessary but, I subconsciously inferred that this was how I could be loveable. I became a master achiever because it provided the external validation I craved.
So, having chewed over all the musings outlined above, some months ago, I decided to challenge myself. I asked myself to watch carefully for the moments when my children reach out to me for validation. I decided that when this came up, I would consciously choose to bypass my cultural urges to reel off the bloody wonderful things about them (It wouldn’t be hard to do, this mother could fill libraries with their wonders!). What if I tried just telling them that the reason they were brilliant/enough/loved (fill in your own blank) was because they were them. Let them know they were special simply by virtue of their very being. My hypothesis was that in responding in this way, I wasn’t asking them to feel that they needed to provide me with anything other than their essence and their them-ness; that which they already were and could not be anything other than. My hope is that it will help them to stay true to themselves. So you see Sam Finnikin, when I said I loved you because you were You, there really was no higher compliment I could offer.