One of my all-time favorite songs by the great Anita Baker is her classic, “Giving You the Best That I Got.” I could write for days about the messages that are embedded within that song alone. But at this point in my life, one message resonates with me the most. That is the message of reciprocity. “Ain’t there something I can give you, in exchange for everything you give to me?”
Every time I hear Anita sing those first few words, I get overwhelmed with excitement at the thought of feeling that kind of love towards someone someday. I imagine myself having my first dance as a woman married to the love of my life, mouthing these very words. But that fantasy is always interrupted by conviction of knowing that I am in no place to wholeheartedly mean those words if I were to say them today. Honestly, how would I know if I’m ever at the place to truly give someone the best that I got? I concluded that it’s one of those “you’ll know” kind of things. What I do know is that I’m not ready now because I haven’t even given myself the best that I got. Thus, I don’t have it to give to anyone else.
It is so easy to get wrapped up in your status as a single person that we don’t consider our condition as a single person. Oftentimes, a goal of a single person is simply to get with someone and no longer be single. Not enough thought may have been given to whether you are actually ready to be in a relationship. Are you any good for someone right now? Should a relationship be a priority right now? These are the questions that I once faced. The answer to these questions revealed some harsh, yet necessary truths.
“…we don’t consider our condition as a single person.”
A few years ago, I stopped talking to the best guy I have probably known to this day. Let’s call him Jerome. It’s crazy how it happened because for years I was so in awe of this man. According my standards, Jerome was a good man. I met him in college, and we have really seen each other through some phases. There has been growth and development between us both. But we could never quite get on the same page to make it “official.” When that day finally came where we were right where I thought I always wanted us to be–no physical/emotional attachments to anyone else, a foreseeable future with each other, a mutual desire to be with one another; when all of these things finally aligned, I ended things. Why would I do such a thing? Well, I loved him. And I believe he loved me, too. But I did not love myself the way I wanted him to love me.
I don’t think it’s right to demand of someone something you cannot give; to expect someone to master things because you struggle with it. That was unfair because then I would be holding Jerome responsible for repairs that I needed to make within myself. I knew that I would be lashing out at him because of my own insecurities. And because Jerome loved me, he would try to do whatever he could to make things better when in actuality he didn’t do anything wrong. I would be projecting my own self-inflicted anger and disappointment on him. And like Ella Mai said, “He’d take the bullet trying to save me” from myself.
I recognized that where I was at that time, despite what I wanted, was not conducive to carry out the relationship that we both deserved. And I loved Jerome too much to put us in a situation that would soon become toxic. I had my own red flags that he couldn’t see. But they weren’t for him to see. They were for me. I had to be honest with myself about who I was and who I wanted to be. I had to be honest about the unhappiness I felt and take responsibility for that. After all, my happiness is ultimately my own responsibility. Of course, we want to be with someone who makes us happy, but we can also be in a mental or emotional place where nothing anyone can do will make you happy. That is when the cycle of damage or hurt begins.
“My happiness is ultimately my own responsibility.”
Ending things was the best thing I could have done for either of us in my opinion. I do understand that you can overcome some struggles while in a relationship if you are fortunate to have someone that will stand by you and “love you past your pain.” But for me, that was something that I wanted to have out of the way as much as possible before getting into a relationship. It was just my preference to deal with things on my own. I did not want to put this man through the storm just because he was willing to weather it with me. So, I remained single and did not place the burden of making myself happy on someone else.
Often it seems like some people want participation trophies just for being in a relationship without actually trying at it. We excuse the damaged selves that we present to others because it was the best we could do at the time. Shouldn’t I receive some credit for doing the best I could with what I had? Nope. We come to people as projects and hope that they will demonstrate their love for us by fixing us up and making us whole again. And if they can’t go the distance to mend a heart that they didn’t break, you assume it is because they never really loved you. You continue to convince yourself that you are a victim of bad relationships when you were never positioned to have a good relationship. It does not matter how much love someone pours into a heart that has a hole in it. You will always be empty and nothing anyone can do will ever be enough. Do the work to mend yourself. Patch up the holes in your own heart. It’s only fair to someone who has taken the time and done the work to heal themselves and love you right.
“People want participation trophies just for being in a relationship without actually trying at it.”
It is important that you spend the time with yourself to determine what you need to be in the place to give love and receive love. My realization was I needed two things before I could be the woman I desired to be for myself, first and foremost: Security and fulfillment. Security meant truly loving and being comfortable with myself. Fulfillment would come from pursuit of the things that I am passionate about and accomplishing goals. Then the real work began in each area.
Security was an area that I easily recognized needed work. For me, being insecure did not come in the traditional fashion of feeling less attractive than other women or fearing that Jerome would leave me for someone else. I would ask, “How come you never tell me I’m beautiful?” Now it is very meaningful for your significant other to acknowledge when you have changed your hair or put on a sexy dress. And sometimes, you just want to hear it! (My primary love language is Words of Affirmation.) But in my case, I know that I am beautiful. I don’t mean to sound vain, but I have been reassured in enough ways that I am attractive. So, I was able to recognize that when I asked Jerome why he never calls me beautiful, it was a loaded question. Truth is, I was insecure about my own looks at that time. And maybe in some way I wanted to know if he felt the way I felt about the person I was seeing in the mirror. I had gained a bit of weight. I was dealing with some form of dreadful adult acne. I still did not like the minor spacing I’d always had in my smile. None of this was Jerome’s problem. And no matter how many times he told me I was beautiful, in spite of what I saw, I didn’t believe him because I didn’t believe it. Guess who started exercising, changed their skincare regimen, and did Invisalign?
Fulfillment was (and still is) a much more difficult challenge. I was pursuing two Masters degrees at the time, and I was still unsure of what to do when I finished grad school. I had a desire to do something other than any major I declared in undergrad or graduate school. I was just going through the motions of school. And I was growing more frustrated as I saw other people pursue their dreams while I continued to bust my butt for the status quo. I had a clear vision of my dream and great ideas. I had the ability to make it happen, but not the courage. So, I would lash out. Mind you, there isn’t a question that I could ask that Jerome wouldn’t work diligently to find the answer to. There isn’t a goal that I have set my sights on that Jerome wouldn’t ask how he could help me get there. Yet, there I was, being mean to potentially my biggest supporter and best teammate because I was disappointed in myself. It is an ongoing process, but I have done a much better job of manifesting the dreams I’ve been harboring. I am actively working up the courage to do the things I want to do and be the person I want to be. It’s a leap that no one else could take for me.
“It’s a leap that no one else could take for me.”
Taking ownership of my own security and fulfillment has brought forth happiness that only I am responsible for. Of course, our mates have a responsibility to treat us well and enhance our lives through the relationship; but there is a portion of happiness that comes only from oneself. I have learned to accept the things that I cannot change and change the things that I cannot accept about myself, so that I won’t hold anyone hostage to my insecurities. I’ve immersed myself in my work and true passion while striving to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Most importantly, I did it alone. No one can say they gave it to me, and no one can take it away. In doing my part to ensure that I am happy and whole before entering a relationship, only then will I be ready to truly give someone the best that I got.