"...I am learning that the more I love myself, the less desperate I become. The inner voice I hear when I am alone tells me I am worth loving. No longer will I drown that inner voice with music, alcohol, or semen...I am having that longed-for love affair with myself at last..." - Jalal, in the essay "Looking for Love" from the book Fighting Words: Personal Essays by Black Gay Men
What if loving him was simply my way of avoiding having to love myself?
It's October of 2013, and I am in Boston, preparing to speak to a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer students of color for the Hispanic-Black Gay Coalition's Youth Empowerment Conference, hosted at Harvard University.
I was dually excited: it's the first time I visited Boston and my first time speaking at an Ivy League. This was also the first time I presented my workshop, "Embracing Yourself, Embracing Your Potential," a defining moment in my career as an activist and speaker.
During the workshop, I recall saying:
It's easier to love someone else because we don't know all of their darkness. But with ourselves, we know ourselves too well. We know the dark secrets that we suppress, we know about the things we've done that no one else knows. We know what we hide and sometimes what we hide is hard to love and embrace and that's why it's easier to love someone else. It's about learning to embrace your imperfections and every aspect of who you are. Now embracing something doesn't mean you have to like it, but embrace the fact that you've lived it, that you've made mistakes and you've learned from them, that you've changed and you've moved on.
You know the cliché, "easier said than done"? If I'm being completely honest, it applies here. I was fabulously speaking in front of various audiences, suggesting that they learn to embrace themselves so they may embrace their potential. Professionally, I was doing that--I was embracing the parts of myself that was easiest for me to manage, my professional self. In many ways, I find comfort in the work I do because it's an area I have a lot of control in.
On a personal level, I was struggling to embrace my imperfections and even worse, I was struggling to accept the failures of past relationships. After James (read about him here: On Loving Men Beyond the Erection), and I stopped dating, I found myself spending more time with my first love and one of my best friends, Adam. Despite the fact that Adam and I had moved on to date other people, we never fully cut each other out of our lives. We kept insisting that we could just be friends. When it came to my career, he was one of my greatest supporters. However, I would soon come to realize that he and I were never going to be able to just be friends.
Recently I had to accept a difficult reality: the friendship with Adam was doing me more harm than good. Throughout the last six years, Adam and I would break up then make up. No matter how hard we both tried to cut one another from our lives, our connection proved to be impossible to break. I am assuming it has been so difficult for us because our connection is not one tainted with malicious intent. While it has not been perfect, it isn't the kind of connection that folks warn you to walk away from. We are not abusive to one another. He still manages to make me laugh. I still manage to make him smile, even if I annoy him. So what's the harm in all of that?
When circumstances and dreams force two people to be miles away from each other, in order for the connection to last, both people must be willing to invest in the process. However, Adam struggles to be vulnerable. Perhaps there's a part of him that thinks he can let our connection fall to the wayside because I have proven time and time again that I will be there for him no matter what. I thought he was my forever man. His inability to step into the arena with me made me feel like it was my fault. That despite how much we care for each other, I was not enough. My love was not enough for him to show up and fully be seen. Shame coated every thought and Adam's actions made me feel unworthy. This is why our friendship was harmful to me--I had to accept that once again I shared a passionate connection with another man, and no matter how amazing these men thought I was, they were unwilling and unable to show up and be fully seen.
It's 3:22 a.m. and I had just finished reading Jennifer Lopez's book, True Love, as soon as I read the final sentence of the book, I knew what I had to do--I needed to accept a difficult reality: my friendship with Adam was doing me more harm than good. While reading, I realized that while I was constantly doing the work on myself, I still struggled to love myself. The truth is that I was so focused on loving James and then on loving Adam again that I was not focusing on loving myself.
When it came to love, I sucked at sticking up for myself. In trying to make it work, I began to settle for being treated in ways that did not reflect my true worth. I tolerated the mistreatment because I was also not treating myself in accordance to my full worth. I was not setting the standard for how I should be loved because there was still the little boy in me who believed he didn't deserve love from another man because his own father never showed him love. I was not remaining true to myself or being a person of integrity. I was so afraid of losing my connection with Adam that I never stopped to think: "I s this a connection that I need to disconnect from?"
During a time when a lot more of my friends are getting into relationships, engaged, married, and expecting their own children, I am getting back to loving myself. No matter how much my weight fluctuates, or how much time passes since I've gone on an actual date, or how much I struggle to embrace my imperfections, beyond all of those things, there's one truth I am learning to accept: I am worthy and deserving of loving myself wholeheartedly.