Sunday, July 6, 2014

Your Feelings Matter

Two years ago, I had a very intense relationship with someone very special just before he died. By intense, I’m talking about the quality and level of our conversations. He knew he was going to die; he had been dealing with terminal cancer for a few years already and had already outlived the doctor’s predictions (the end still came sooner than we had expected, though). I learned a lot from him; even now I find myself remembering something he had said that at the time I may not have fully understood all the way through. I guess we were both aware that we were watching the clock, and this changed the dynamics of the things we spoke about. When you have a relationship with someone (any kind of relationship, romantic or friendship) you learn little details about the other person like favorite type of music, favorite color, personal hero, how they take their coffee, how they like their eggs, etc. Our conversations went beyond the little details; they were not going to matter because there wasn’t time. There are many things about him that I don’t know, because what we talked about surpassed all that. I did learn his favorite color, even though his favorite color was different for a car, or walls, or anything. And he did finally tell me what his middle name was, after much pushing (he hated it)!

--I just realized that I was smiling as I typed that. I’m glad for that. It was a long time before I could think about him without hurting. To be able to smile at a memory of him is a good thing.

As one can imagine, because of what he was going through and because the doctors gave his life an expiration date, he had a lot of time to think. This influenced all of our conversations. Every subject we talked about usually had a serious depth to it.

One of our conversations had to do with façades, the faces we show to other people. He asked me what was behind mine, and my answer was immediate: complete and utter insecurity. I grew up believing that I was worthless, stupid, fat, and a girl. I say it like that, “a girl,” because I grew up surrounded by chauvinism. Being a girl took away almost any credibility I had – or had left after all of my other failings. I believed that I wasn’t good enough for anyone or anything. I believed that if I ever managed to get into a romantic relationship, that it wasn’t going to last because I did not have enough to keep anyone’s attention for long. I felt that I always had to be “on,” and keep people entertained, because they would lose interest if they realized how boring and inconsequential I really was. So I hid who I was, and tried to be on all the time. I decided to teach my self confidence with a “fake it till you make it” attitude. I look back now and laugh at myself then, because I’m fairly certain I appeared quite arrogant, and I know for sure that I was very loud.

I’ve actually talked about that with a few people recently, about my being insecure, and found myself pleasantly surprised that they were surprised by that-- either my façade was that good, or I had actually dealt with that issue. I like to think that I dealt with it and got over it. For the most part, I had actually worked through it. I do still have moments, though, where some of the old insecurities come through. I get surprised by them, and hate them. Anyway, I do not consider myself now to be that person.

One of the things that that that type of insecurity can do to a person when they’re in a relationship is—obviously—make that person feel second-place in the relationship; that they, their hopes, their dreams, their thoughts, their job, their time, and their feelings take a backseat to the other person, the other person’s hopes, the other person’s dreams, the other person’s thoughts, the other person’s job, the other person's time, and of course the other person’s feelings. It means that you will walk on egg shells around a person, being very careful with how you approach anything, especially if the other person is not in a good mood. Even when their bad mood gets taken out on you, and even when their bad mood had nothing to do with you to begin with. Standing up for yourself and how you felt would always end up in an argument of some kind. And, if you did manage for one brief moment to get the other person to acknowledge how you felt, you weren’t allowed to bring it up again later, because you would be accused of trying to punish the other person or “holding something over their head.” I know this firsthand, because that is how I grew up and that was the pattern of my bigger relationships.

This is why it is very important to be happy with who you are first. I am not in any way saying that you deserve to be treated like shit, or that you cause it, if you are in a relationship like the one I just described. But if you are not happy with who you are, and if you are insecure like that, it will definitely set certain patterns in the relationship, and it could mean that you will put up with the situation you are unhappy in for a long period of time. And if you are aware of certain traits about yourself that you want to change, you will not only be fighting your own demons but you will be fighting the other person as well.

Back to my special friend. He hurt my feelings once, it was unintentional, but my feelings did get hurt. I told him about it, and we discussed it quite well (which I was surprised at, because I wasn’t used to that). A few days later something got brought up which made me realize that I was still hurt, and that I was not satisfied with how our previous conversation had resolved it, even though I was still happy that we had been able to talk about it. I think he saw the expression cross my face at that moment, and he had asked me what was wrong. I was hesitant to tell him. Previous experience had taught me that I was not allowed to bring things up more than once, especially if my feelings had already been acknowledged. But he pushed, and I told him that I was still hurt. And then he surprised me and asked why I didn’t want to tell him. I will never forget what he said to me after I told him why. He said:

“There may be times when I hurt you. If I step on your foot and hurt you, I want you to tell me. If you are still limping from it three days later, I want you to tell me, and we’ll talk about it.”

I have to be honest, that blew me away. I had never encountered such a welcoming and accepting attitude toward my feelings from any man--patriarchal, romantic, or otherwise.

(Two weeks after he passed, I remember telling my sister about it, and I remember seeing the tears in her eyes because I know that that was something she was not used to, either.)

The first thing I did was to ask him if he had always felt that way, if he had always been that fair. And he admitted that he hadn’t; that by not being given a lot of time to live, he ended up with a lot of time to think about how he lived.

That was one of those moments that hit home with me. At that point in my life, I was a much more secure-in-myself person. I had no problems—or so I thought—immediately standing up for myself. What that conversation showed me first was that even though I had come so far, I still had things to work on if I was hesitant to stand up for myself in certain situations. 

What it also showed me was that I was allowed to. At that point in time I was standing up for my feelings, but not always feeling like I was allowed to. He showed me that my feelings matter, just as much as the other person’s.

My feelings matter, just as much as the other person’s.

I should’ve known that already; I thought I did.

Your feelings matter. And they should matter to whoever you’re with, even if they think your feelings might be a little irrational or ridiculous (and even if they are!), because they are your feelings. And if you matter to someone, your feelings should, too. And you should always, always, be able to talk about them.

Since then, I have made a point to make sure to validate my own feelings. I don’t need anyone else to do it for me—although it is nice when they do! This does not always make me popular. But I will be forever grateful to my friend for that lesson. Because even though standing up for my feelings may not guarantee acceptance, friendship, or even love, standing up for my feelings—and showing myself some love, validation and respect—means that there is one less thing that I will be angry at myself for later. Because my feelings matter.

Everyone matters. How they feel matters. But we are all equal. Don’t put yourself above anyone else, but don’t put yourself below anyone else, either. Your feelings matter. Always stand up for how you feel, even if you are worried you may lose something by doing so—even if you do lose, and even if it hurts. Because what you lose inside yourself, when you don’t validate your own feelings and deny your own worth, hurts more and hurts longer.