For the first time in my life, I understand the difference between admiration and love. It’s reframing everything for me, and all it took was one very powerful quote:
You have to be seen to be loved. You can be dressed up to be admired. But there is a chasm-wide difference between admired and loved. We think we have to earn everything, be fancy and dressed up and titled, and that’s why we’re not loved.
~ Glennon Doyle
As this new truth is sinking in, I’m struck by how tragic it is that most of us live our entire lives without this understanding.
I was an unusually perceptive kid. I’ve always picked up on things that others don’t necessarily intend to reveal, and this shaped me in ways I didn’t fully understand until I read Elaine N. Aron’s book, The Highly Sensitive Person.
Her work finally provided the explanation I’d been pursuing for why I am the way I am, and why my sensitivity causes me to interact with the world differently. This was as freeing as it was insightful.
I was labeled “shy” as a kid. This was long before articles about the value of introverts began to educate our extroverted society, and in elementary school, “shy” meant “different”. No kid wants to be that. Ever.
So, this began a life-long quest to blend in. Stay small. Be liked. Anything to feel “normal”.
A Dangerous Assumption
I learned early on that everyone likes the pretty girls. They don’t have to do anything or be anything. They are a magnet because of their appearance alone.
I was never considered one of those girls, but the second I understood the advantages of becoming one, it was instantly part of my quest. To me, this is what love looked like. And I never said the words out loud, so no one could ever correct this dangerous assumption.
Until today, I lived my life striving to be loved by being “pretty” and wondering why that felt so empty. Compliments always feel great in the moment, but that feeling doesn’t last or lead to love.
On one of the final days of my marriage, as everything was unraveling and we knew we were at the end, my then husband said to me with the saddest look in his eyes, “I’ll never have a wife who is as pretty as you.”
At first, I blindly took this as a compliment. I thought that maybe I had succeeded in this small, insignificant way. But I eventually began wondering if he meant that this was the only thing he valued and would miss about me.
Driven & Defined by a Damaging Belief
That comment wedged itself inside of me and became a driver. I allowed it to define me and reduce my value to the “pretty girl” because I felt that was safest. It was also one of the few things that felt familiar in my suddenly unfamiliar world. I figured that if at the end of a six-year marriage and ten-year relationship that was the only thing he’d miss, then that’s what I’d better be to find love again.
This never worked, of course, and I dated unsuccessfully for several years until I met someone who was different. After years of avoiding commitment because I was so afraid of being hurt again, I knew I was falling for him during our very first date. And then, after a few months, I began to drive myself crazy because he didn’t love me for what I look like.
One of the many reasons my marriage couldn’t last was my ingrained, fairytale vision of everything my Prince Charming Husband should be. I thought I’d properly adjusted that, but here it was again. The man I love “shouldn’t” be able to take his eyes off me. He “should” think no one else is prettier.
As an aside, whenever “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” come up, it’s a warning sign to fully examine those statements to make sure they’re true before they cause trouble… because more often than not, there’s no truth in them at all.
A Beautiful, Revealing Moment
I eventually “accepted” this as something that would never change, and then today happened. The moment during the podcast happened. And everything I’ve ever believed about appearance and value and love simply fell away. It was one of the most beautiful delayering moments I’ve ever experienced, and I can now be grateful for the first man in my life who truly loves me for who I am.
We are bombarded by “not good enough” messages all day long. Not smart enough, not funny enough, not friendly enough, not attractive enough, and the one I struggle with the most: not worthy. But we are enough.
All of us are more than enough, and we are worthy of love and belonging. And it’s in those vulnerable, imperfect moments when our makeup has been washed away, our hair is crazily piled on top of our heads, and our guard is down — that is when we can fully experience love.
Glennon says it best: “What brings you closer to other people is standing in front of them and saying, ‘This is me, and I’m scared and afraid no one is going to love me just like this’. And then you figure out that’s the only time anyone can love you. Because you have to be seen to be loved.”