Belonging to Yourself: A Flame without Embers


By Faith McDermott ’20

I think relationships are kind of like hurricanes. There has to be the perfect culmination of timing and attraction and expectations and so the chances that everything aligns as it needs to is slim to none. And maybe I’ve been bruised so many times by small and big flames that turn to embers, but in this moment I can’t seem to fathom a fire that doesn’t run out of fuel.

When I met my ex-boyfriend I knew I was settling. Not because he wasn’t lovely, but because I knew from the beginning, even if I never said it, that he and I did not align. The timing was shit, the attraction was slow to build, and the expectations were hardly discussed. After he graduated we tried long distance for three weeks and a combination of poor compatibility as well as minimal effort on his part resulted in embers. In June he broke up with me over an eight-minute phone call, and even though a part of me didn’t even want him anymore, there was a larger part that wanted him to want me.   While I can marinate in the self-pity that comes with being broken up with, I should probably spend more time analyzing why it is I’m wanting to be wanted. 

I, like many women, tend to undervalue myself. I rarely discuss my own successes, I hesitate to accept a compliment, and when it comes to relationships I’m uncomfortable asking for more. At its core this stems from insecurity and low self-worth, and while we all have moments of self-doubt, some of us have more than others. I am one of those people, and I can say from personal experience that it wreaks havoc on your relationships.

When I started dating and hooking up in college I noticed the men I engaged with were often emotionally unavailable. They had issues with vulnerability, communication, and were often wary of commitment. Hindsight is 20/20, but in the moment their lack of emotional readiness brought out what I call “Middle School Girl Insecurities”. The type of low self-worth where someone’s poor behavior towards you makes you do anything to receive their kindness, affection, and approval. 

So that’s exactly what I did. Throughout all my romantic relationships with men I have become a version of myself that suits their fancy. I would go to their improv shows, and sports games, and for god’s sake I literally wrote a cover letter for one of them, and after a quick LinkedIn search it appears he got the job. For years now I have been going above and beyond to be their idea of “perfect”–and for what?

When your goal is to be wanted nothing else matters. You don’t care if they’re interesting, or cute, or funny, or compatible. All you care about is that the human you’re spending time with sees you as harboring value. However, that’s not a relationship, or if it is, it’s not a healthy one. 

And so for the foreseeable future the only fire I’ll be fueling is the one for me, myself, and I. No boyfriends, no dates, no hookups, no flings. I’m going completely cold turkey. When you struggle to define your own worth, and you remove the people who you had delegated for that role, it can feel as though you’re floundering. And while that can be positively terrifying, it’s a lot scarier to imagine a future full of my own embers. 


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