There's this thing that happens with me and members of the opposite sex where if I suddenly find one of them attractive and think there is even the sliver of a possibility that they might return the sentiment, I go into self-sabotage mode. I don't know what it is, other than a very basic fear response. In ninth grade I went to this same fear place. Put up walls, did my best to stay calm and not freak out. Halfway through the year when I finally got to know some of my classmates better they said, rather surprised, "Wow, Grace, you're actually kind of cool. We all thought you were stuck-up because you stayed by yourself all the time and hardly ever talked to us." I got over that with people in general (Confidence: some people are born with it, but in others - i.e. me - it takes time to grow), but something similar is rearing its head at this stage in my life. Here are some warning signs.
(1) All I can think about suddenly is how I must appear to other people. That's not necessarily a bad thing, to be aware of other people's potential perceptions (p-p-p... alliteration is fun!). But it is when you allow it to alter your mood and behavior.
(2) My flaws jump front and center, and all I can think about is how I hate myself, so obviously if I can't even stand myself I would never want to inflict that mess upon someone else. This is warped thinking. First, we all have flaws. Anyone who's going to love you will love you flaws and all. Second, yeah I'm working on the hating-myself thing. But the main problem here is not that necessarily, but that I'm stripping away any confidence I'd managed to build up in favor of a protective armor. Not having actually been in love yet it's difficult to say for certain, but from what I've heard love is a raw nerve ending, an exposed and fragile beating heart. When you gird that heart up with tough callouses instead, yes, you're protecting yourself, but you're also keeping people out. Third, the way I phrased that - "inflict that mess upon someone else" - sounds all self-congratulatory and selfless, but it's really just more fear. I've learned that if you imagine the worst possible outcome, if things actually do go bad it doesn't hit you quite as hard. This worst-case-scenario thinking is helpful when writing horror stories, but not so great in the realm of romance and healthy self perception.
(3) I forget to try to be better, choosing to wallow instead in all the things I am not. I don't know a thing about romance or love or sex. I've experienced none of the three. (Well, I've experienced the love of family and friends, but not the kind that seems to be the obsession of popular music, cinema and television, and whole libraries of books and plays and poetry over the vast centuries.) But I do know that romance has a tendency to addle the brain - instead of working toward positive change, trying to improve yourself, striving for a goal, etc., you tend to think of all the things you don't have. I don't have a boyfriend or a husband, so I don't have kids and the house with the white picket fence. Those things are great, but they aren't even the top of the list for me. My thoughts usually run along the lines of, "I wish I had someone to share the road with me in a great adventure." Well, guess what? I don't need someone else to seek that great adventure. I can do that on my own. But I forget to try, to look beyond myself. I'm so focused on the flaws that I completely ignore the potential that's there.
(4) I build up the other person, idealize them to unrealistic extremes, until a point when they (naturally) fail to meet my high expectations, and then I use this as the excuse I need to "be done with them." That's it. Crush over. So-and-so spends time playing soccer with his buddies instead of volunteering with blind dogs and orphans? He must be a terrible human being. Or there's the reverse: so-and-so spends time volunteering with blind dogs and orphans? He obviously belongs to some higher plane that I could never aspire to.
Oh my... the skewed logic. It's just ridiculous.
I realize these things later, sometimes only a few hours after the fact, other times after weeks of such idiotic behavior. I am not proud of it.
The only thing that gives me some hope is what it can teach me about myself and about what I will need to look for in any future significant other:
(1) I should care what they think of the things I do and the person I am, not the way I look or the superficial outer trappings. I won't feel the need to change myself to become "acceptable" in their eyes.
(2) I will be my flawed and messy self in front of them, and they will be their flawed and messy self in front of me, and we will both be the better for it, because we'll pretty much realize we can't imagine living life without each other, flaws and mess and all.
(3) When I am around this person, I will always want to be a better human being. I will care about my character and my actions and thoughts, not out of fear but because we're both hopefully trying to bring out the best in each other. Every life needs growth, change, challenges. We'll be there to encourage and help each other all along the way, and sometimes to provide that much-needed kick in the pants.
(4) Mind games and power plays won't have a place in our relationship. It won't be an issue of rank - better, worse - but an equal partnership.
So these are some realizations I've made in the past 24 hours or so. I thought it would be useful to actually record them for once, because sometimes these things get lost in the recesses of my brain, and the next time I find myself in such a situation I might completely forget these scraps of insight.
Hopefully I won't repeat these mistakes, but I'm pretty sure I will. If there's one more thing I know, both through my past behaviors and future hopes, it's this...
(5) Love will make fools of us all.