Loving People and Being Loved

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“Love is like riding or speaking French. If you don’t get the trick when you’re young, it’s hard to master later on.”
(Downton Abby)

One of the hardest things about being a teenager is that you can’t see how big the world is yet. This is even more challenging when you are a teenager being raised in a fairly strict conservative Christian home, being homeschooled and having parents who are trying their absolute best to keep you from being damaged by the terrifying world outside the door. It’s very hard to be in that situation and to understand the absolute fact that not everyone lives this way. It’s hard to internalize an incredibly important, incredibly simple truth

Things will not always be like this.

Everything in high school lasts forever.  Being in love, depression, fights with your best friends, all the best and worst parts of your life are the most intense they will ever be and they seem to matter more. When you are growing up in a deeply unhealthy or abusive home, it’s hard to understand that the whole world doesn’t look like this. Make no mistake – love is a learned behavior. When we are raised in an emotionally unstable environment, that’s what we learn. When we’re taught that love isn’t a stable force and isn’t something to be relied on, that’s what we internalize. The most important thing I ever learned was that there was a different world out there somewhere and that possibly I didn’t always have to live the way I did growing up.

My brother and I went to go see a movie last week called The Way Way Back. It was an excellent movie and it was primarily about exactly this. A young boy in a bad situation. He has a shitty soon to be stepfather who makes him feel bad (played really fantastically by the wonderful Steve Carrell). It’s not exactly abuse but it’s a bad situation and he’s watching his mother walk into this really terrible relationship and he can’t do anything and he is frustrated and overwhelmed. What does love look like? Does it look like this? And through a series of dumb coincidences he ends up finding his place at a breaking down water park, run by a happy-go-lucky sort of fellow who takes an interest in him and cares about him. That’s it. He cares about him. Mostly they joke around, he does his job. They don’t have a lot of serious conversations but you can see him start to realize this very important lesson.

There are places he can belong.

I grew up not really understanding what it meant to love somebody or to be loved. I knew those words and I knew they were important and I knew I was fighting for it all of the time but I didn’t know what it looked like. I knew that it was really hard work and sometimes that’s true. But it’s not as hard as I thought. It’s not the constant bleeding that I thought it was. The truth is that there are really amazing, fucked up, imperfect people out there (because that’s all of us one way or another), who love freely and openly and who take you in on your best or worst days. There are so many families and so many homes. There are so many people willing to be on your side. That’s what changed everything for me and it still does on a sometimes daily basis. Wherever I am now, even if it sucks (and there are days that it does), this isn’t where I stay. It is harder to learn what love is like, giving and receiving, as a grown-up than I think it would have been as a kid. I’m pretty sure that’s a true thing and I struggle with it more days than I like to admit. But there are so many people I can look at and see that they love me and each other, so many people I’m able to love. I’m okay with that.

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