Love Like Her: Empathy

“Oh, it goes beyond sympathy. Sympathy is to understand what someone feels; empathy is to project your imagination so that you actually feel what the other person is feeling: you put yourself in the other person’s place. Do I make myself clear?”

Funny Face. Directed by Stanley Donen, Paramount Pictures, 1957.

If I could have any superpower I would sprout a field of flowers that would give people empathy once a flower is picked. Empathy is a selfless gift all people need to possess, yet most do not. It’s a social intelligence people should learn when they’re small: to treat people how you want to be treated

“I don’t want to have sex with someone, unless, they’re my boyfriend,” I’d tell him, “we don’t have to be in love. I just want to make sure it’s worth it, I guess.” It was a rule I made for myself when I decided I was ready, but it was a rule I let slip. Nearly a week later, he would write in the essay I was helping him with: “my girlfriend is annoying.” I decided to ignore it. People should vocalize the people they want? He kept it up though, he would suggest in little ways I was already his girlfriend without ever communicating it. Maybe he was afraid? Maybe, even though I vocalized that I wanted to be in a relationship with him, he was still insecure? I kept extending myself to him in that way, collecting more and more flowers. Perhaps, some part of him thought I would change my mind. I understood how scary that is and so I let him in. Once I did, he changed. I would always think of him in some capacity. I thought of how my every word, action, and mood would affect him. I wanted him to be happy and I wanted to make sure I was making him happy, that’s all. When that was not reciprocated, I could taste the way things would end before they did.

During the evening of my mother’s and father’s relationship, my dad was incarcerated, my brother was on his way, and my mom was tired. Before he went away, for what was the next five years of my life, there were no more blockbuster dates. My dad had his own apartment and my mom and I lived in the same house just a few floors higher. She went to work a lot and sometimes I’d even go with her. The clues of separation only come to me now. I saw my dad less and less, but after a long week, he was my weekend vacation. I was in sweet little kid bliss. Even when we all hung out separately everything was okay. When my dad was arrested I saw their closing come to a halt. Whatever happened between them was now in a back pocket. When my dad needed someone most he knew who was in his corner, despite everything.

I knew the boy stopped thinking of me when I was no longer something to have. It was as if we were no longer friends. He didn’t want to hang out and play video games, talk, or watch movies anymore. He would only come around for two things: sex and empathy. He would always make up excuses that were tailored in an effort to get what he wanted. I knew I would never let him feel the way he was making me feel, but I stayed. I couldn’t understand why the relationship was changing the way that it did. From there, we were on a rollercoaster that was just in for a loop when we decided to quarantine together those first covid months. He had nothing to prove when it was just us but he never stopped being apathetic. When he became so naturally codependent on me and I decided I would never allow myself to depend on someone like him. “I don’t need you,” I’d tell him in the kindest way possible. “I can take care of myself,” I’d remind him. “I just want you, not need” he had to remember. During our true finale, when I told him, “you always said such mean things to me, I didn’t deserve that.” He would respond with “and you did too.” When I asked him to name examples he’d bring up those old conversations of how I never needed him, how he did me, and how I told it to him.   

I learned that undoubtedly from all the women in my family, especially my mother. Caring comes naturally to a woman in a relationship otherwise she couldn’t call it her own. Regardless of herself, she is supposed to tend, water, feed, and love so fiercely. My mother, she showed enough care and love for both of them to exist as parents. She wrote letters and letters reminding him of how much love he had.  She couldn’t bear the thought of being taken away from her daughter’s first day of kindergarten and her son’s first day of life. She wrote all the things she wanted and would want to hear if her mistakes had pulled her away from the things she loved most. Her heart broke in all the ways she thought his heart was. She put so much time and energy into her empathy. Her only remedy for being taken for granted was to never need in return. To take care of herself second and to depend on no one because how awful would it feel to receive love the same amount of love you give for it to be taken away. 

When she was finally on the outside, having that free time she then thought of herself instead. Picking flowers and actually smelling them. He was so far away now taking up less space and there was finally room to breathe and become. To become someone who wasn’t a pile of everyone else’s feelings. That is when she learned to dance. 

I never believed that everything he did and said was what I did not deserve. I kept telling myself that I wasn’t good enough and that was the best excuse he wore. I was angry at myself all the time and when I wanted to be hurt I’d call him. I didn’t love him. I wouldn’t ever love him in that way even if we were happy. But, I knew then I thought that was the love I thought I deserved. I let him treat me the same way I treated myself and the way I have always been treated. 

If I could have any superpower I would sprout a field of flowers that would give people empathy once a flower is picked. Not only would they learn to treat others how they’d want to be treated, but they’d learn to have empathy for themselves. When I  take the time to understand my feelings and give myself room to feel those feelings without shame, that’s empathy. I am going to be stuck with myself for the rest of my life. And as I grow older I find I would never treat someone the way I do myself. I can be unkind, ruthless to my brain and body, and still push myself to do and be in situations that steal from my person. The first step toward receiving what I deserve from the world is by creating a blueprint. 

Edited by Jackson Bailey
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By Melodie Goncalves

Melodie Goncalves is a rising senior at Rhode Island College pursuing her degree in English/Creative Writing and Sociology. She has passions for reading, writing, caring for others, and music. Spending lots of her time with friends and family.

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