Posts in category "Thoughts"

aporia of faith

In recent years I’ve been rumi­nat­ing on the ques­tion of whether or not humans have inher­ent val­ue, per­haps because my sui­ci­dal ideation caus­es me to won­der whether life itself is worth­less. The sub­jec­tiv­i­ty of such a idea means I don’t ask any­one for an answer, but I do probe for opin­ions. My friends have all told me that they believe peo­ple are inher­ent­ly valu­able; or, at the very least, they know they’re valu­able because they val­ue them­selves, even if they can’t say the same about any­one else.

This sur­prised me at first; I can remem­ber believ­ing that each per­son is a bur­den on soci­ety who has to earn their place, as soon as I was old enough to under­stand such a con­cept1. But a few years ago when I told this to Jesse, he expressed dis­be­lief based on the way he’s observed my treat­ment of oth­ers.

Being chal­lenged about my views by a per­son I so high­ly respect­ed cer­tain­ly gave me pause to recon­sid­er. When I thought about a stranger I might meet on the street, I felt that that life would be a ben­e­fit to the world, that that per­son deserves to be loved, hap­py, safe, and healthy as much as any­one else sim­ply because they exist. Suddenly, I real­ized that it was myself whom I believed to be worth­less, and I extend­ed this belief to oth­ers to soothe any pains I had over such a thought. I did­n’t despair about my worth­less­ness if every­one else had just as lit­tle val­ue.

I can trace this warped world­view to my child­hood, when my par­ents treat­ed me sim­ply as an exten­sion of their lives. They made it clear that their love was pure­ly con­di­tion­al, based on my obe­di­ence, achieve­ments at school/work, friends, roman­tic part­ners, and how those all com­pared to oth­ers. I was always work­ing from a deficit of love, try­ing to earn their approval and affec­tion by doing the “right” thing, which was defined as what they want­ed2.

This is no more appar­ent than when try­ing to show myself com­pas­sion (or per­haps mag­na­nim­i­ty would be the bet­ter word). Imagining myself as anoth­er per­son before me, every time I say to him “You deserve to be hap­py”, my mind can’t help but fin­ish the sen­tence with “…as long as you…” as if that hap­pi­ness is con­tin­gent upon some lev­el of per­for­mance at a work­place.

Unfortunately, aware­ness does­n’t resolve the issue. Even though I had an epiphany that helped me under­stand the fal­la­cy of my world­view, try­ing to sud­den­ly believe that I have an inher­ent val­ue seems as implau­si­ble as find­ing a ran­dom peb­ble on the ground and believ­ing that it’s worth the same as a pol­ished gem­stone. No won­der the opin­ion I have of myself has been so great­ly influ­enced by oth­ers; I’ve been rely­ing on the approval of my peers to give me the val­ue I so des­per­ate­ly desire3.

So if the worth of a per­son is sub­jec­tive and there are no absolute truths, how is it pos­si­ble for me to gen­uine­ly believe that I have val­ue after a life­time of believ­ing that I don’t?

  1. I’m sure that grow­ing up in a cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that views any­one who does­n’t work (includ­ing seniors) as lazy and worth­less con­tributed to this belief. []
  2. Not only would this cause me to feel like I had to con­stant­ly earn my hap­pi­ness, this would also cause me to believe any dif­fi­cul­ties I faced were my fault — that I must be to blame if some­one did­n’t find me attrac­tive, or I must have deserved any­thing I suf­fered. []
  3. I even­tu­al­ly learn that exter­nal forms of val­i­da­tion like this are unre­li­able and gen­er­al­ly unhealthy. []

the beginning of me wanting myself

I had a date around this time last year. She was a teacher-turned-librar­i­an in her mid-40s with two kids, a pix­ie-cut, and thrift store style.

Before we for­mal­ly intro­duced our­selves, I rec­og­nized her from across the room and was imme­di­ate­ly struck by the way she car­ried her­self. There was a con­fi­dence when mov­ing about; clear­ing a table to sit at with­out a momen­t’s hes­i­ta­tion as to whether any­one would mind; inter­act­ing with the staff; bump­ing into an old acquain­tance. Something com­mon among par­ents and peo­ple in the edu­ca­tion sys­tem, lest they show weak­ness to a group of chil­dren (and the com­plete oppo­site of Heather, who’s shy and awk­ward and always tries to take up as lit­tle space as pos­si­ble).

We both under­stood how dif­fi­cult it can be to get to know some­one through a screen, and agreed it would be bet­ter to meet soon­er rather than lat­er. That meant I did­n’t know too much about her, aside from the details in her pro­file. I was com­fort­ed by the fact that she men­tioned All About Love by bell hooks under “A book every­one should read”, because Tiana hap­pened to rec­om­mend it to me ear­li­er that year and it became a big influ­ence on the way I approach my rela­tion­ships. Also by the fact that one of her needs was “under­stand­ing of sys­tems of oppres­sion”; as I drift fur­ther to the left on the polit­i­cal spec­trum, I’ve learned that I tend to get along bet­ter with peo­ple who have an aware­ness of social inequal­i­ty.

Continue read­ing “the begin­ning of me want­i­ng myself”…

projector

A while back, my ther­a­pist asked, “Do you think Heather will love you, regard­less of whether you’re active­ly con­tribut­ing to the rela­tion­ship?”. I told him I was­n’t sure, cause I was still try­ing to under­stand the con­cept of uncon­di­tion­al love. As a child, my par­ents told me they would­n’t love me if I was­n’t a good boy, and a good boy would do exact­ly what they want­ed. The affec­tion they doled out was direct­ly relat­ed to how well I did in school, or how much I impressed oth­er par­ents. They used it as a tool to con­trol me, and this dynam­ic has influ­enced my under­stand­ing of rela­tion­ships to the point that it feels like I con­stant­ly need to be mak­ing efforts in them (or they’ll decay).

So my ther­a­pist instead posed the ques­tion, “Do you think Heather will love you, no mat­ter what?”. My first reac­tion was one of con­fu­sion; I heard the same ques­tion as before. When I real­ized it had com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent impli­ca­tions — would Heather still love me if I was an axe mur­der­er; if I was racist; if I burned the house down; if I did­n’t love her back — it dawned on me that I was pro­ject­ing this mon­u­men­tal require­ment on myself to be con­stant­ly mak­ing efforts towards the rela­tion­ship. It was­n’t an expec­ta­tion Heather was bring­ing, but my own; one I pro­ject­ed on her due to my child­hood trau­ma.

To real­ize that I was doing this in such a spe­cif­ic and sig­nif­i­cant man­ner was a shock. My mind inad­ver­tent­ly made bounds in log­ic, and every time Heather said, “I’ll always love you”, I would hear, “I’ll always love you, as long as…1

Continue read­ing “pro­jec­tor”…

  1. It blows my mind to know that Heather’s love for me isn’t con­di­tion­al, that she loves me deep­er that I’m even able to under­stand at the moment. []

the purge

In the last few years, I’ve gained a sig­nif­i­cant amount of con­fi­dence in my actions and deci­sions, espe­cial­ly when it comes to rela­tion­ships. It took a lot of grow­ing, and two things helped most:

  1. hav­ing a bet­ter under­stand­ing of oth­er peo­ple’s expe­ri­ences in gen­er­al (i.e. I need­ed to gain more empa­thy)
  2. sur­viv­ing enough crises that con­flicts or dif­fi­cult con­ver­sa­tions — or even my own feel­ings — were no longer debil­i­tat­ing­ly scary

Even though I’m more com­fort­able with my social behav­iour, I still strug­gle with lone­li­ness. Being more social­ly capa­ble means I can pur­sue rela­tion­ships more pur­pose­ful­ly and with­out regrets; it does­n’t mean my world is imme­di­ate­ly filled with lov­ing, stim­u­lat­ing peo­ple and needs are sud­den­ly being met.

Continue read­ing “the purge”…

it's complicated

At the very least, theirs was a friend­ship of unusu­al ardor.

Terms like “acquain­tance”, “friend”, and “lover” tend to denote defined roles. This makes for con­ve­nient social con­structs, where we have an idea of the nature of the rela­tion­ship, even when not direct­ly involved. Responsibilities of one group — care, affec­tion, respect, com­mit­ment, trust, will to coop­er­ate — don’t often over­lap with anoth­er. When they do, terms like “work wife” or “friend with ben­e­fits” might be used; re-char­ac­ter­i­za­tions of pre­vi­ous terms for a lack of bet­ter ones1.

It took me longer than I’d like to admit before I real­ized how rarely rela­tion­ships can be so neat­ly labelled. Not every “friend” con­sid­ers it an hon­our to be trust­ed with the spare set of house keys (and would I real­ly con­sid­er them a friend if they’re not to be relied on in an emer­gency?). Not every roman­tic part­ner is inter­est­ed in exclu­siv­i­ty or com­mit­ment. Not every sex­u­al encounter goes as far as pen­e­tra­tion, or even con­tact (which is why it’s pos­si­ble to have an affair of the heart).

Suffering the loss of many impor­tant peo­ple has also taught me that rela­tion­ships often evolve, as we grow and cir­cum­stances change. Whether it was due to some break­ing point or sim­ply the pas­sage of time, most of my sig­nif­i­cant rela­tion­ships have come and gone. Now I can’t help but tread care­ful­ly when I’m about to invest my emo­tions in some­one, whether that means pri­or­i­tiz­ing them in my life, open­ing up with my secrets, or let­ting myself like them; that’s when I’m as scared of being hurt as I am of los­ing them.

  1. I’ve seen “meta­mour” defined as a per­son who’s in an inti­mate (roman­tic or sex­u­al) rela­tion­ship with an inti­mate part­ner of yours, but I like to use it as a catchall for any­one who falls between cat­e­gories. Perhaps if English was a rich­er lan­guage, there’d be less ostra­ciza­tion of uncon­ven­tion­al arrange­ments or needs. []