I’ve always been one to be painfully transparent about all my flaws and experiences as a human being, for better or worse. Sharing my stories can be incredibly embarrassing, especially when they relate to my social vices and character defects, but I felt that this was something that, although it took several weeks to process and self-assess, has helped me grow and have a clearer picture about what I want for myself in years to come within my interpersonal relationships, both romantic and non-romantic. So, here goes nothing.
As you read by the title of this article, I’m writing about my “validation” issues, but I need to preface it with a short bit about how I got myself into this mess in the first place, starting back to when I was just a kid.
I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t have a poor self-image. Really. I feel like for the majority of my time being a conscious, self-aware person I’ve been sort of awkward and embarrassed about who I am or how I look, especially. Of course, there were times when my confidence fluctuated between the you’re-not-totally-awful days of early elementary school to the don’t-leave-your-house-because-people-will-stare-at-your-acne days of middle school, and some of the best years of my life feeling like I would spend my life as a weird, dorky outcast that people hesitantly hung around.
Growing up this way led to me convince myself of a social dichotomy that had no grey area. All girls fit into one of two categories: the pretty girls, and the not pretty girls. Girls who got attention from boys and had more friends than they knew what to do with, and the ones who did not. I convinced myself in my early childhood that I was doomed to reside in the latter category forever with no chance of reinvention or blossoming into something more than what I was (or at least what I perceived myself to be.)
And yes, you’ve probably heard the ugly duckling to halfway-decent-looking girl transformation story a million times thanks to 90’s teen rom-coms and the ever-so-cliché coming-of-age dramedy genres, but because my transformation to SO LONG (at least, in my opinion) to manifest, my emotional state has yet to catch up to the physical state I’m in now, which, not to toot my own horn or anything, has come a pretty long way so far (and I’m damn proud of it.)
Anyway, to get back from that brief, self-loathing tangent, as much as was growing to love myself around a year ago during my groundbreaking discovery of makeup that I could use against my constant nagging skin problems that I haven’t seemed to grow out of yet, I still was struggling with an issue that I believe a lot of girl’s my age deal with: how do I get boys to look at me, and not just get the desperate creepy ones, but the ones I’m ACTUALLY attracted to.
At that point, I wasn’t thinking and didn’t know about how to create a sustainable relationship built on mutual support, patience and trust, I was primarily concerned with how I would feel in those relationships about myself. How can a man make me feel beautiful? How can a man give me the emotional support that I’ve craved after a lifetime of being ignored and feeling hideous? On the most basic level, I was preoccupied with how I wanted to feel, not how I could make someone else feel, and that was where my train of dating faux pas was conceived.
I’d always read stories about girls who learned to love themselves by their boyfriends encouraging and supporting them unconditionally, and I wanted that more than anything. So, I did as any thirsty 16-year-old would do and started slyly looking for guys, which was when I found the first person I had ever seriously crushed on in my entire life. Like the kind of crush where when you see them walk into a room you immediately feel like your gonna throw up from nerves kind of crush (very embarrassing and juvenile, I know.) I couldn’t pinpoint what exactly I found so enthralling about him, but I very much enjoyed the fact that he seemed to totally hate me. I liked the fact that he was challenging to be around and hard to be liked by, and in my secret completive spirit he was like a game that I wanted to win. I wanted the game to be difficult, and I loved that it was very likely that I would never win, but getting his attention was a goal that I always wanted to work for.
So, I worked. I made an effort to look good whenever we had a class together. I tried to adopt his interests and sense of humor and, although there were months where he didn’t even look at me, I still couldn’t get over how exciting our whole ordeal was. I was obsessed with the chase.
Finally, after months of pining for his attention, he asked me out at the beginning of the last school year. I couldn’t believe it. I beat the game. I won, and now, I could get that attention and validation that I so desperately wanted. I could belong to someone and be cared about. I would have someone who would go out of their way to call and text me, and I would finally be (or at least pretend to be) one of those girls who was in the “pretty” group that I always wanted to be when I was a kid.
And, as most pathetic high school relationships (I use the term relationship VERY lightly) go, our courtship ended after three weeks and completely blindsided me.
Now, a normal, healthy person who has been dumped would probably think “Hey, it’s disappointing that the person I like doesn’t like me, but I know that after I get through this slump I’ll be able to date and find someone else that will, and I’ll be okay!” but as we’ve learned over the course of this article, I was far from being a normal, healthy person. I felt utterly destroyed. I thought no one would ever like me again. I had beat my game and it didn’t amount to anything. Most importantly, my #1 source of validation was gone. Who would tell me I’m pretty and funny and interesting now? Not me, that’s for sure. And so, I spent the next several months in a self-esteem hibernation where it took immense effort to feel good about myself for anything.
Then, in spring, I met someone else. Someone who was a complete opposite of the first guy. I was excited to get back in the saddle and to get some of that sweet, sweet validation that I hadn’t had in over 8 months, and, for awhile, I did get that, just like when I dated the first person. Constant texting, constant laughing over dumb jokes, and again I felt that same old thought that I had the first time: do whatever you can to keep this guy in your life and make sure he doesn’t leave so he can stay here and validate you forever. And, I did put up with it. Even when I basically had to ask him to ask me out, and ask him to ask me out on all dates after that, and put up with him picking me up an hour late for two of our dates, and had to initiate all physical contact in the relationship, and had him completely blow me off on a holiday weekend without any consideration for my feelings. Even when we would go an entire week without a word from him, without a doubt I would be the first girl in line to text him and beg for forgiveness. Beg for attention; beg to be liked again.
It escalated to a point where any inconsistency in his behavior would lead to either a minor emotional meltdown or constant mood swings and second guessing myself because of how much I emotionally depended on him. It was beyond unhealthy, but even after all the crap I put up with, I stuck by it because he gave me my emotional validation. He was my bottle. I felt like I needed him to feel wanted. It was almost the same story as before. Both would often be incredibly rude in either their comments or behavior toward me, but I took it because in my mind, who else would be there for me? Who else is going to care about me and make me feel wanted?
I’ve spent these last few weeks in singlehood asking myself these questions. I’ve read, I’ve listened to cringy and motivational TED talks about having confidence, and I’ve looked at the world around me and at myself and realized all the amazing things I have in my life. I am happy. I am not ill. I have great friends who love and support me. I find inspiration in everything. I can look in the mirror and love what I see, flaws and all. I know this article is quickly spiraling into one of those cliché self-love books or an overextended Rupi Kaur poem, but I don’t care. Finding love for yourself and even falling in love with yourself in a healthy, unnarcissistic way is one of the greatest experiences I’ve had in my entire life. Every day I feel better about myself than the last, and it’s all because I realized that I was tired to constantly searching for this validation that I’ve wanted all my life. Feeling horrible about yourself is incredibly tiring, and I reached a point in my life where I got sick of being tired. I don’t want to look in the mirror and feel bad anymore. I want to move on, and that is exactly what I intend to do, so help me God.
I’m not relationship expert by any means, and I still have a lot to learn on my whole eat-pray-love type journey that I’m on right now, but if you are struggling with how you feel about yourself, the best way to do it is to not put too much focus on it. Take time to appreciate the aesthetics of life. Do what you love and be great at it. Remind yourself of your talents and accomplishments, and most importantly, don’t rush. You have your whole life to find love for yourself, and don’t feel like you have to have everything figured out right now. NEVER let your emotions depend on how someone else feels about you or treats you (because it’t total bs). Now, go listen to some Hannah Montana and make a smoothie or something.