This is a letter about love, but it’s not a love letter

anticipatory grief death divorce/breakups Jun 08, 2022

Dear 23 Year-Old Becki,

This is a letter about love, but it’s not a love letter.

I have some news for you: You don’t love yourself. Even though you’d describe yourself as a positive, loving person, deep down you’re scared you’re not good enough. Behind the layers of clothes and makeup, your outgoing personality, how hard you work, how hard you love others – it’s you that you don’t love.

I know you don’t believe me, so let me try to explain:

You love your job, but you don’t love yourself. You love being a teacher. You just finished your first year in the classroom teaching 24 kindergarteners how to read (in Spanish!) among other things. You are so proud, and you know you made a difference in the lives of your students. But you don’t feel like you’re doing enough. You’re going to spend the next 10 years pushing yourself to do more. You’re going to work in the highest levels of education and government to make a difference for millions of children. But that feeling deep down that you should be doing more? It’s never going away, no matter what title you have or the impact you’re making. The truth about that feeling is it’s rooted in a sense of powerlessness you felt as a child watching your mother die of brain cancer over the course of eight years. There was nothing you could do to help her as a five year old when she was diagnosed through the age of 13 when she died, so you focused on school and doing your best and being the best so no one had to worry about you. But you’ll learn little-by-little that performance can be self-destructive. In ten years, you will walk away from a job that once meant the world to you because you’ll want to work on loving yourself more and performing less.

You love your boyfriend, but you don’t love yourself. Boyfriends have always been your security blanket, masking your own sense of inadequacy by keeping a man by your side. You think you feel better when you’re wanted, but it’s just a band aid. You think this boyfriend is perfect for you because you feel seen by him. You feel like he understands you more than anyone else ever has. You have so much in common: you both know what the death of a parent feels like. You both put your heart into the work you do. You both know what it feels like to think you’re not enough. Sometimes he’s a great partner, but your partnership isn’t consistent—and you don’t want to admit it. You’ve already experienced things in this first year of your relationship that scared you, but you think you can work through it. You think if you just work harder, things will get better between the two of you. You have been and you will continue to try to help him because you love him. But you will stay with him because you don’t love yourself. On some level, you think you deserve the pain. Over the next ten years, you’ll get engaged, married, and then you’ll separate, because around year eight or nine, you’ll realize that you don’t deserve the pain. And you’ll realize that a marriage of two people who don’t love themselves is incredibly dangerous. You’ll finally draw up the courage to end the relationship – it’s the best decision you’ve ever made. You’ll start to feel the peace of loving yourself. 

You love your father, but you don’t love yourself. You know that your father, your only living parent, loves you unconditionally, but you still feel a pull to want to be more and do more because he’s invested so much in you. You want to make him proud. You think he is so proud of everything you do – but what you don’t know is he is so proud of who you are. He doesn’t understand the anxiety you feel inside because you haven’t told him. You didn’t want him to worry about you. In reality, he would want you to get help, and he would help you get help. Eight years from now, he’ll be dead. You’ll have no idea it’s coming. Your dad’s death will make you question everything in your life: from your job, to your marriage, to life, itself. And it is because of his death that you will actually start learning what it takes to love yourself: you’re finally getting the help you need.

Ten years from now, you do love yourself, but it’s a work-in-progress. Those ten years are going to be incredibly difficult. Some days will be hell. But you are growing into the best version of yourself because of the love you’ll learn for you.

At 33, you’ll want to write a love letter to yourself at 23. You’ll want to look back and tell yourself to go easier, be gentler, be kinder to you. And while the practical side of you knows you can’t go back in time to your former self, the “what if” side of you thinks maybe... So you’ll try, but it’s not quite a love letter. It’s a letter about love.

--33 Year-Old Becki


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