For Valentine’s Day I was going to post “A Recipe for Married Life” by Anthony Coniaris that a reader recently sent me. Its wise bits include:
- An exhaustive study of police records showed that no woman ever shot her husband while he was doing the dishes. Learn to serve each other in humility and love.
- Shakespeare said, “He does not love who does not show love.” Always let the other person know each day he/she is loved and appreciated.
- Consider the words of Dr. Carl Rogers: “When I walk on the beach to watch the sunset, I do not call out, ‘A little more orange to the right, please,’ or ‘Would you mind giving us less purpose in the back?’ No, I enjoy the always different sunsets as they are. We would do well to do the same with the people we love.”
However, after watching a moving Tedx Talk last night by Tracy McMillian, I decided to dedicate my Valentine’s Day post to a kind of love everyone can benefit from, whether you are single or married. Once you master this sort of love, you don’t have to work so hard in any of your other relationships.
You (Self) Complete Me
Divorced three times, Tracy tells the audience that her biggest mistake was marrying the wrong person. After a period of painful introspection after her third marriage dissolved, she realized that she was expecting the other person to “complete” her, the famous sentiments uttered by Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise) to Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger) in the 1996 flick “Jerry Maguire.” That mistake is all too common, influenced largely by a Hollywood version of true love.
She poses the question: What if we could complete ourselves without another person? What if the right partner didn’t matter as much as coming to feel ok with ourselves as we are? What if we were able to fill up our love tank independent of a job or person? What we came to love ourselves in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad? What if we embraced “the glorious mess that we are,” in the words of Elizabeth Gilbert, and loved that person ferociously?
Say “I Do” Over and Over Again
Walk in front of a mirror and you will find the person you need to marry. He or she is staring back at you, on one knee, an engagement ring in hand.
“The thing that has transformed my life and love is this idea of marrying yourself,” says Tracy. It’s when all the dead ends of her past were understood against a backdrop of childhood trauma, when she could finally absorb the debris of her broken relationships and chart a new path to peace and wholeness.
However, she’s clear about the work involved in a marriage to yourself. Like a committed partnership to another person, it’s not always comfortable and there are no short cuts. According to Tracy, in order to marry yourself you have to get painfully honest with what you’ve done and where you’ve been. For me that has required identifying old tapes of fear and choosing to love and commit to myself and to my husband despite those deep-seated messages of panic.
Vows are not easy, she says. “In sickness and in health” means wrapping your arms around yourself not only in those moments when you feel like you can conquer the world, but also on the days where you’re crippled by depression or anxiety and can’t stop crying. “In good times and in bad” means forgiving yourself for something that you deeply regret, resisting the urge to beat yourself up for months on end. “Until death do us part” means choosing self-love over and over again, especially when it seems counterintuitive, when you hate everything about yourself.
Love After Love
Tracy’s talk reminded me of the following poem by Derek Walcott. Whenever I take my (self-marriage) ring off, his words help me recommit and put it back on my finger. It’s a process, he explains, and we don’t have to get it right the first time.
The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Will You Marry Me?
What endeared me to Tracy was her ability to learn from her failures and give from her place of pain. I loved her response to people who question why they would take relationship advice from a woman who has been divorced three times. She humbly says, “The places you have the biggest challenges in your life are the places you have the most to give.” I suppose that’s why I have recently been writing more about my humanity – my struggle to love and forgive myself – than I have about mental health. Like Tracy, I’m hoping that my painful passage from self-loathing to self-acceptance might inspire others to embrace the journey to self-compassion, to recognize where they can be a little kinder to themselves.
Go ahead and pop the question.
Will you marry me?