When I first met my future husband, Joe, I thought that being truly loved meant that all my faults and insecurities would become small and insignificant. The right man might even find them endearing, I thought. I may not have been entirely conscious of it at the time, but deep down, my heart yearned for the man who would love me “just as you are,” à la Bridget Jones’ Mr. Darcy.
What I have begun to realize, however, is that love isn’t quite as blind as all that.
Now, don’t get me wrong, my fiancé certainly loves me despite my many shortcomings, but he definitely doesn’t pretend they are not there.
I will never forget the first time Joe pointed out something he didn’t love about me. That is, he pointed out one of my mistakes in the hope that I would want to do better next time.
I was animatedly telling a story to a large group of people, recounting my recent run-in with an annoying and—in my mind—silly person. I had captured my audience, and everyone was gasping in horror and rolling their eyes in agreement. I was feeling rather content with myself.
Later that night, though, Joe came to me in private and told me that he was surprised at me. Speaking ungenerously about someone to a group of people—no matter how ridiculous—was not something he expected me to do. Although never explicitly verbalized, the implication was clear: The trash talking was unattractive.
At the time I felt hurt, betrayed even. Shouldn’t I be able to be my ungracious-for-the-sake-of-entertainment, notoriously tardy, overly sensitive self and still be loved? Why would a man who truly loves me want me to be different?
Love is about helping each other improve.
Despite my wounded pride, I saw his point, and I did want to do better. With each passing day, as I strive to better myself, Joe shows me how “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:7) But nobody ever said anything about being content with all things.
Love that sappily gushes over everything we do and everything we are is stagnant. Being truly loved means that you are lovable despite your weaknesses and because of your goodness. But part of our goodness is our desire to grow as human beings. The person who loves you is going to want to support you in that, too.
Now, this kind of wide-eyed acceptance of the other person requires endurance. Ideally, over time both people will become more comfortable and let each other see their vulnerabilities. The goal in any relationship is to feel safe—to have an environment of mutual self-betterment. What made my fiancé’s little correction all the more loving was that I knew he would humbly take the same kind of correction from me.
Don’t trick yourself into thinking that love means being accepted without question and never being asked to improve. This is part of what makes love scary. We are meant to extend and refine ourselves—not just for our own sake—but also for the sake of our partner. What a hardship it would be to have a relationship with someone who demands our love without making any efforts toward improving himself or herself.
Having someone who cares is a gift, not an insult.
I see this mistaken thinking quite often in the dating world, and Kara, Verily’s editor in chief and cofounder, talks about it in one of her articles, too. So often we fixate on pointing out the issues with everyone else in the dating pool. We forget that we have things that make us rather unattractive at times, too.
Sure, it’s easy to write a guy off with a dismissive “his loss” if he is not interested, and that may very well be. But it could also be your loss, if one of your foibles got in the way of making a good first impression. Good for the man who looks beyond our flaws and sees our good intentions, but shame on us if we don’t seek to be the best versions of ourselves.
I know that most of us don’t actually think we are perfect, but sometimes we can slip into thinking that the man who loves us should. I can’t expect my fiancé to love me for my gnarly side any more than he can expect me to go gaga over him when he is being a butthead (yes, I said butthead).
Being loved just as I am but with faith that I can do better is a gift my fiancé gives me as I develop personally. I know that my man will be there cheering me on as I strive to improve, and he will be the first to remind me to be gentle with myself when I fail.
Let’s stop thinking of Mr. Right as the man who makes us feel perfect. Instead, we should look for someone who will love us despite our “wobbly bits,” as Bridget Jones put it, and challenge us, in the most loving way, to be better.