The surprising advantage to being unlovable

unlovable

Unloveable

“People don’t like me.”

I say it the way I might tell someone that I’m allergic to cats.  Factual.  A bit of a bummer, but what are you going to do?

can of worms
Guess I’ll go eat worms

While I’ve learned to appear confident and easygoing on a superficial level, I am still petrified of situations involving new people – a new job, meeting close friends of my husband – even a new daycare.  Though I know I have learned somehow to come off a bit better when encountering new people, I also know it’s a carefully crafted facade.  Not that I’m acting, or not enjoying myself.  I’m just strictly editing.  I know I’m only one boneheaded comment away from people giving subtle glances to one another – the ones that mean “weird girl.”

In truth, yes.  I am a little weird.  I love to knit and drink frightening amounts of coffee, and my sense of humor can vary from absurd to Saharan levels of dry.  But I don’t know exactly what it is I do that sometimes puts people off.

Beats me

It’s easy for others to write this off as just my being self-indulgent, or having social anxiety.  But the thing is, it’s fairly rational.  More times than not, when I’ve entered a group of people, I didn’t quite fit.  Sometimes to the extent that people were just vaguely cool to me, or didn’t invite me to outings.  Other times I’ve had people outright ask that I be fired.  They couldn’t point out anything I said or did that was offensive.  They just didn’t like me.  Thankfully this is not a fireable offense, but it really doesn’t feel good.

I could rattle off incidents where this has been the case, but I’ll save that for my next fourth step.  The truth is, it’s happened less and less over the years, and I think it’s something that has had a snowball effect.  I’m incredibly embarrassed to admit that getting married helped a lot.  This definitely would not have been the case had I married a different type of person. It’s not about having a man.

It’s just when you see all your peers pairing off, it feels like you are the kid in class that no one wanted to be partners with.  No one wants to be that kid.  Scratching one of my biggest insecurities – that people would get close but never quite want to marry me – off the list lifted enough weight off my shoulders that I was able to straighten up a bit.  I could walk into a party and just not care as much, which is unfortunately, impossible to fake.

The Unlovables

I’m sure it sounds overdramatic to those who don’t experience this, but more than I had realized, a lot of people live this way; thinking that they are unlovable.  It’s usually left over from puberty or adolescence –  The way an 11-year-old can look awkward and uncomfortable just standing there.  Like their skin doesn’t fit right.

This sentiment comes up all the time in AA meetings.   “I never felt right.  I never fit in.”  That tells me there is something incredibly pervasive about this feeling, and that it is severe enough to make people turn to self-destructive behaviors.

Awkward teen
If the ground could swallow me up right now that would be great.

I have categorized us as “The Unlovables”.  Not because it’s at all true, but because it can sure feel that way. I have a number of friends who have acknowledged that they feel the same.  I look at them and can see that they are extraordinary.  These are whip-smart, funny, kind, interesting women.  For whatever reason, this is a combo that is not terribly well received in the world.  Some people say that others are intimidated, but something about that doesn’t ring quite true with me.  I think that some people’s hearts are just tuned to a slightly different frequency.  For those who don’t get it, it just comes through as static.

The Trap

Mouse trap
Oh hey, I love cheese!

One of the hardest things about feeling unlovable is that you tend to accept less than you’re worth.  In your career, during salary negotiations, and of course in love.  You feel grateful for scraps.  Every woman I know who feels this way has been in at least one relationship with someone who is emotionally abusive.  But it’s so hard to leave because the abuser reinforces the belief that there is something wrong with you, so you should appreciate what you can get.  They act as a mirror to the way you feel about yourself.  You think that if you leave, then you will be alone forever.

And then you do leave.  Because something in you knows that this just isn’t right.  And the shitty part is, you usually are alone for a while.  It feels exactly like what you feared is coming true.  Dating can be so incredibly soul-crushing and invalidating that it can make you miss the person who treated you badly.  Because at least they knew who you were and loved you, even if it wasn’t great all the time.

People don’t stay in these relationships because they are awful all the time.  There are inside jokes and shared histories.  There are movies that you’ve seen together and holidays past.  It’s just that the bad parts are SO bad.  And get closer and closer together.  But when you are staring down the barrel of another holiday season alone, it’s easy to regret leaving.  If you try and talk to your friends about this, no one will listen when you say you want to go back because all they can see is the abuse.  And they’re right, but it doesn’t feel that way yet.  Sometimes your friends play the role of your sanity when it’s on a break.  It’s good to have an understudy.

There is hope for us yet

Puzzle pieces
They all think they don’t fit anywhere

I was talking to a woman in the midst of this the other day, and I felt like she was reading a book I’d already finished.  “Oh oh!  I know this part!” I wanted to shout.  “Don’t worry.  It gets better!  There’s a plot twist in a couple of chapters that makes it all make sense.”

Because there is an upside to being one of us.  It’s not that no one loves us, it’s just that we aren’t for everyone.  But the people who do get us absolutely treasure us. We aren’t interchangeable with someone else.  We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Every woman I have known who has gone through this has ended up with an absolute gem of a partner.  The kind that was worth waiting for.  Who helps you with the dishes and the kids, and doesn’t yell at you.  And it feels really weird at first because it’s almost too easy.

And sex can seem strange.  It’s not that you aren’t attracted to them because you very much are.  But it’s more relaxed.  You don’t have that sense of “I’m going to fuck your brains out so you realize what a great catch I am! Ta-da!”  (Which doesn’t work particularly well anyway.)  It’s not performance art, it’s for real, which is scary until it’s not.  Because when you’re not busy twisting yourself into a pretzel to be impressive, you can actually focus on sensations and start having a good time yourself.

contortionist
No you’re trying too hard.

Friends Friends Friends

Of course, this isn’t just all about men.  Though I don’t always click with people at a party, or in whatever mom’s group I dip my toe into, over the years I have managed to collect my own little island of misfits. A good number of my friends have been in my life for ten to twenty years and I could tell them anything, no matter how weird.

The thing that strikes me about all of them, and all the other self-professed unlovables I’ve met, is that they are unusually kind.   They lack a killer instinct.  This admittedly has its drawbacks, but it’s beautiful and it’s rare.  These are the kind of people you can trust to hold a piece of your heart in their hand.

This world is full of so many different kinds of people.  If you’ve found connection in the past – be it a friend, a lover, or even a dog, the odds are overwhelmingly in your favor that you will again.

We aren't interchangeable with someone else. We are puzzle pieces rather than legos. Click To Tweet

Why you should ask for help from your partner

 

I don’t like to ask for help.  I practically have an allergy to it.   I never mind when someone else asks me to help them.  That seems justified.  But when I do it, I feel like it’s too ballsy to go around outsourcing things to people.  I should be able to handle my own life.  But what about my husband’s and my son’s lives?  I manage theirs too to different degrees.  It’s taken me time to realize that I can ask my husband for help and that he’ll gladly take on some of the 5,000 tasks constantly flying through my head.  But asking people to do things that they haven’t been handling previously can be tricky.

The concepts of The Mental Load and Emotional Labor have been getting a lot of press lately.  The gist is that the reason moms are always so exhausted is that they take on more work than others notice or appreciate.   We manage work, the household, and pretty much all the chores necessary to keep everything on track and where it needs to be. And we handle the laundry, the cooking, the bathing, the cleaning, but even if our partners help out with that stuff (and that’s a big if), we are still left with all the other intangibles.

We task ourselves with making sure everyone’s been to the doctor, buying presents, remembering birthdays, buying more clothes for the kids, planning family outings, and keeping the social calendar. It adds countless tasks to the day when we are already balancing taking care of the needs of others for about fifteen hours a day. That’s the approximate time per day spent where we AREN’T handling those things.   And then we try to cram all of those into the hour or two left in our day, and it’s no wonder our heads are perpetually about to explode.

A friend of mine put it this way: “I feel like I have all these plates I’m supposed to be spinning, and I have just figured out how to balance them all, but that’s when everything’s perfect. If one thing goes wrong in our lives, I’m going to drop it all.”

Oh shit, I have to sneeze

And God forbid you drop one. You forget to sell the PTA wrapping paper, or you tank a presentation at work. The kids are out of clean underwear, or you forgot to pay the credit card bill and now your interest rates resemble something you would expect from your friendly neighborhood loan shark. Some things you can afford to drop. Others you can’t. But when we are this fried, we don’t always get to choose what to drop, it just happens.

It’s clear here that something has got to give. Since the article on the mental load went viral, I have heard several of my friends say that they broached the topic with their husbands, and it did not go over well. They felt attacked, and confused. They were, after all, doing more than their fathers did! Hell, they would even pick up tampons at the store if you wanted them to, so feminist and egalitarian is their viewpoint!

The whole argument in the above articles is that “You should’ve asked” shouldn’t be the answer. That they should already see that if there are dishes in the sink, they should be washed and just DO it – because that’s the logical adult thing to do. It can feel like a slight when they SEE the dishes but don’t DO the dishes. We interpret it as their registering it and thinking, “Eh, she’ll take care of it.” But I don’t think that’s the case. They haven’t been taught to see it there and make the connection. If his mother always did the dishes, then his experience of a sink full of dishes is not to look at it as a task that needs to be completed. He’s not doing it to be a dick. It’s a blind spot.

I’m invisible!

Your partner has stresses too.  To imagine he is happily going about an easy life while you toil away is a recipe for resentment on both sides.  In AA one of the most useful (and uncomfortable) parts of the steps is learning to see your part in situations where you are feeling resentment. Your partner wants to make you happy.  They just need a roadmap sometimes.  Here are the things that sometimes keep me from asking for a hand.

I don’t ask for help.

Now I realize the point of the articles above is that we shouldn’t have to ask, but I can sit here on my high horse talking about how things should be in an ideal world, but that won’t poof it into existence. There are steps between our current society and our ideal. One of those is letting my partner know when something is bothering me.

And I want breakfast in bed every Sunday.

Sometimes I don’t ask because what is bugging me is kind of stupid.   Like when my husband leaves empty soda cans next to the sink. WHY!?! It remains a mystery. Does he intend to wash them out? Has he washed them out? Why not just throw them in the recycling? And then I realize I’ve been glaring at a can for fifteen seconds instead of just throwing it out. So my logic isn’t flawless either. And bottom line, he’s a great guy and this is a piece of tin we are talking about. I realize this means I will continue to have to throw out these cans but I’m not overly bothered by it.  (That said, if he puts it on top of the garbage instead of IN the garbage, then I’m going to say something because that is an act of war.) Ahem, I mean it bothers me. Honey.

It will be faster if I just do it myself

Technically it’s true, but it’s also incredibly short-sighted. Asking someone to do something that they don’t normally do, and then explaining how you’d like it done does take some time. And it won’t come out perfectly. So when you have a million plates spinning, it’s easy to say,

Today is not the day. I have too much going on for this.”

This sentence is the thing that bars us from what we want most in life. Yes, today. Do it today. Because even though it might cause some short-term annoyance or discomfort, or it might make you late, you are prioritizing something important – the happiness of your relationship. No one wants to be seething all the time, and in return, no one wants to feel like they can’t do anything right. Give a man a fish and he will expect dinner every night. Teach a man to fish and you might be surprised to find out he’s actually a really good cook. (You will probably also end up with 25 new cooking gadgets, but that’s a separate issue.)

If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done right

This is a corollary to the one above. The actual fact is that if you don’t do it, it doesn’t get done your way which is something else entirely. If you want other people to help out and do things, you have to let go of the idea of your definition of done “right”. If your husband cleans the bathroom and misses a corner of the shower, it’s okay to let it go. You’re a mom and your house isn’t going to be perfect anyway. If you are trying to get someone to do something for you consistently, telling them they suck at it is not a terribly effective way of doing it. If everything has to be to your standards, it will have to be you who does everything.

not impressed
Why aren’t you doing that thing you suck at???

 

If it’s something seriously wrong, and now all your clothes are pink, that is generally a mistake that does not get made twice. You have to leave some room for people to make mistakes and learn on their own.

You are asking someone to take responsibility for things they didn’t have to before. Unless they are two years old, most people don’t really want more responsibilities. They are doing this for you, as they should, but don’t expect them to do cartwheels the whole time over how great it is to do chores. I’m not saying they should be surly, just that everyone should try to take it easy and have a sense of humor in the beginning. Easier said than done, I know, but at least keep the idea in mind.

The F*!&ing Morning Routine


Not necessarily related to your partner, but one of the most insidious ways overdoing it can creep into our lives is through things that SOUND like they are designed to help us be more efficient. The “morning routine” is one such albatross. Apparently you are supposed to get up an hour before everyone else (in my house this would be 4 am) and do things like exercise and meditate and read and figure out your top 3 most important things for the day.  This is supposed to make you happier and more productive.   “Successful people” whoever they are, apparently all do this. The very thought of it makes me want to weep with exhaustion. As I’ve said before, I’m a fan of meditation and exercise. But instead of being a helpful tool, I feel like these have turned into things we use to scold ourselves. If you are unhappy, and you don’t exercise or meditate because you don’t want to, that doesn’t mean there is no hope for you, or that your unhappiness is your own fault. As much as Tom Cruise was mocked for saying Brooke Shields could have cured her postpartum depression with exercise and vitamins, our society still implies that if you are depressed, maybe you’re just not trying hard enough. This is bullshit. If you are a morning person and enjoy it, go for a morning routine. But we only have a finite amount of energy. You need to decide where you can spend it.

Taking on more than is necessary 

You saw the cutest birthday party on Pinterest and now you really think you could pull off the perfect afternoon tea party theme for your three-year-old.  Kids like crumpets, right?  Homemade ones?

ask for help
Totally doable!

You have recently heard of a capsule wardrobe and think it’s a great way to save money and finally become more stylish. This will require an entirely new wardrobe mind you, but you will somehow save money in the long run. This must be thoroughly researched. There should be a workbook involved.

You want to get involved in working with at-risk kids in your area through a local program.

Sometimes we take on more than we can handle. One of the tricky things about the mental load is that some of the things we genuinely enjoy doing. I love planning the holidays at my house and getting everything set up for it, and I like planning most of our weekends. But I also know that in seasons where I have a lot of this kind of planning and errands, I am going to have less patience for other minutiae. I would love to plan an elaborate birthday party, but I know that the level of detail involved is a recipe for me being VERY cranky at the end of the day for about a month, and honestly is probably not worth it. Toddlers are happy with invisible tea.

Even worthy causes like community service sound great, but only if you are able to manage it without going berserk. I have volunteered my whole life, but I realize that now, while I have a small child and a job, is not the season for it. I will get back to it. And neither the world nor my living room will fall apart if I am not personally holding it up.

Not saying thank you

You make my life better

I can already hear you thinking, “I shouldn’t have to thank him for picking up his goddam socks!” No, that might be a bit much. But recognizing what the other person does is good too. I thank my husband whenever he takes out the garbage. Why? Because I hate doing it. It’s heavy and smelly and I find it delightful that there is someone in my life who will consistently do it for me. He does the same for me when I make something for dinner or organize an event.

I think so much of this is about being seen and appreciated. I really don’t mind doing a lot of work if I’m recognized for it. It’s when it’s taken for granted that it’s easy to get resentful. Just like a gratitude list, what you appreciate appreciates. The more you say thank you, the more things you notice that are worth saying thank you for.

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