I did not see and accept myself as I am, in all my beauty, and so I sought to be seen and verified by others. My interactions with others- and by others, I mean mainly men- weren’t purely with “them” as they are. They were with them acting as a mirror. They, as they mirror, would reflect back to me what I hoped to see – my beauty, my intelligence, my strength, my value and more generally, my worth as a human.
There are many problems with relating to another human of the opposite sex in this fashion. But, the main flaw in this paradigm is that in each instance where what we had or could have had did not come to fruition the way I envisioned it, or they plain old treated me badly (hey, we have to learn how we want to be treated somehow), this reflected back to me that I was unattractive, unworthy and fundamentally unlovable.
As life would have it, I’ve lived just over a decade of unrequited love. The most common pattern seems to be one where there is interest from both parties, but then the man is emotionally unavailable for some reason, and although there is potential between us, it simply dies. As you could imagine, if you put a man in the position of being a mirror and you experience repeated “failures” in love, it is inevitable that you will internalize these experiences as reflections of your “not being enough”: not beautiful enough, smart enough or whatever enough.
And so in placing men in the position of being the mirror for most of my life, and experiencing a slew of half baked romantic situations, I came to believe that there was a problem with me. And the more acute that this problem became to be through more romantic “failures”, the more I wanted to fix it. Of course, the male being the mirror, the way to fix it – or so I thought- was to get a guy to be with me and to tell me how wonderful I am through his words and conduct.
Like a fish in water, I was unable to see that this was what I was doing, and that it was deeply flawed. The chips started to show after life brought me a repeat of emotionally unavailable men that resulted in my latest episode of unrequited love. The pain I felt was so pronounced and disproportionate to the situation that I knew that there was more than just sadness over what could have been. This latest episode was more than just depression over the Sunday mornings we’d never share, or the candle lit dinners that never materialized. It was the searing pain of my tattered and sullied self-concept being run over and backed over for the hundredth time. Years of looking at others to be your mirror will do that. I was walking around with a blindfold on, so I couldn’t clearly see myself. I was asking others to see for me.
They say that the point of change comes when the pain of engaging in a certain behavior becomes greater than its pay off. The pay-off of a compliment or two was no longer worth the months of agonizing over what was wrong with me, and so I decided to take the mirror out of their hands and put it in my own. I could reflect back to myself my own beauty, intelligence, lightness and adoration. I could be that source, and in doing so, I could keep my center and show up in a far more real and authentic way, as my worth was not at stake in every conversation and interaction.
I would cease wondering if you thought I was pretty. I would look in the mirror beyond my filters of judgement and ‘list of things to fix about myself’, and with eyes of acceptance and compassion, I would admire my beauty. I would cease pre-thinking what I would say so I could handcraft what I wanted you to think of me. I would just say what’s on my mind and be how I am. I would cease trying to be sexy and I would simply accept that I am sexy. I would cease seeking your attention as a sign that you cared about me. Instead, I would pay attention to myself with the understanding that since my attention is first and foremost on my relationship with myself, I am always cared for, and I will always be important, desired and worthy. I would cease imagining the times we would or could have had together. I would confirm to myself that I will have these moments with someone who is right for me. I would cease viewing their past relationships and lingering exes as a symbol of my inadequacy. I would confirm to myself that I am uniquely beautiful in my own way. I would cease looking at happy couples walking hand in hand as a reflection of my own unworthiness. I would choose to be happy for them and what they have, and trust in the inevitability that I would have the same. I would cease wondering what you were doing and who you were with. I would rejoice in the richness of my own life, and if I felt that richness wasn’t there, I would find it. I would cease viewing my lack of “successful” relationships with men as a signpost of my unattractiveness, unworthiness and unlovability. I would choose to accept this as what simply was and understand that the mirror is now in my hands, not theirs. I would effectively be an alchemist and transmute my pain into a never ending well of love for myself that would always be there, irrespective of the circumstances.
I am not suggesting that this task is easy. Change is never easy, but it begins in small ways.
It begins by walking down the street and noticing the demands you put on mere strangers walking past you. Do they think I’m [insert shallow judgement]? Gently remind yourself that it does not matter, because the mirror is in your hands.
It begins when you’re getting ready for a first date and wondering whether they will like what you’re wearing, or if you’ll meet their expectations. Gently ask yourself if you like what you’re wearing, and to look for whether they meet your expectations.
Does showing up in the world this way make you selfish? No, it makes you more real, more relatable, a better communicator, a better lover, and a better human because you can never have the full depth of the experience of being in this world and relating to another human when all of your interactions are set up just to be mirrors.
Remember, the mirror is in your hands.