The Love We Deserve

In the quintessential coming-of-age high school novel, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, the following exchange takes place:

    Bill smiled and continued asking me questions. Slowly, he got to “problems at home.” And I told him about the boy who made mix tapes hitting my sister because my sister only told me not to tell my mom or dad about it, so I figured I could tell Bill. He got this very serious look on his face after I told him, and he said something to me I don’t think I will forget this semester or ever.

    “Charlie, we accept the love we think we deserve”

    The Perks of Being a Wallflower, page 24

As students caught up within the hustle and bustle that comprises New York, there could be no truer sentiment. There is so much that we are consistently told we ought to be, whether it is by our parents, roommates, friends, bosses or more importantly, the media at large. New York is a glamorous city and the billboards and advertisements scream that attractive equals thin, utterly gorgeous women who are wasting away and whom we must all strive to look like. Yet the reason behind the urge to change oneself or otherwise undergo makeovers often has less to do with the simple desire to fit in and more to do with the simple craving, desire and need to be loved. The question, of course, then becomes: what does it mean to love or to to be loved? There is a sentiment expressed in C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce that it isn’t what we might imagine:

    You mean,” said the Tragedian, “you mean- you did not love me truly in the old days?”“Only in a poor sort of way,” she answered. “I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you.”

    “And now!” said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. “Now, you need me no more?”

    “But of course not!” said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.

    “What needs could I have,” she said, “now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no needfor one another now: we can begin to love truly.”

    But the Tragedian was still striking attitudes. “She needs me no more- no more. No more,” he said in a choking voice to no one in particular. “Would to God,” he continued, “but he was now pronouncing it Gud- “Would to Gud I had seen her lying dead at my feet before I heard those words. Lying dead at my feet. Lying dead at my feet.”

How to find love in New York City? The first, and perhaps the most difficult task, is to actually identify what love means. The craving to be loved and possessed, to live out the decadent but dark fairy-tale romances that appear in fantasy or fiction, doesn’t cut it. Struggling to identify love between the Edward-and-Bella, Blair-and-Chuck, Stefan-and-Elena images that we are consistently fed via television is difficult. Simply listen to the radio; women are consistently disrespected in the lyrics. I’m no feminist and I’m guilty of dancing to “Sexy Bitch” and enjoying it. I know all the words to 3OH!3’s song “Don’t Trust Me,” which blares from Z100 or 92.3 when I wake up in the morning. I intellectually know that there’s a problem with lyrics that reflect an attitude that disrespects woman and totally objectifies and sexualizes them, but in my party mode, I rationalize it away. The problem occurs when the pressure of school, work, parents, friends and the media all combine to create an unhealthy cocktail where we determine that acquiring a boyfriend/ girlfriend and via that person, love and status, is worth the ultimate sacrifice on our part. By this I don’t reference any groom running from bride-wielding-ball-and-chains type of scenario, but rather the danger there is of entering into verbally, emotionally or God forbid, physically abusive relationships simply due to the desire to feel less alone within The City That Never Sleeps.

I recently read a fantastic book entitled Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity written by Kerry Cohen. She beautifully and movingly explains exactly how it can be that a woman desirous of being loved can become promiscuous, thinking to herself that the men she’s sleeping with care about her:

    What statistics can’t get at are the feelings of uncertainty and confusion that surround a young girl’s sexual behavior. They don’t get at how easy it is for a girl to use sex for attention. A boy once said to me, “Boys have to put forth real effort to get laid, while all you have to do is stand braless in the wind.” It’s true. What’s easier for a girl than to get noticed for her body? Using my sex appeal was default behavior. To not do so would have required more effort. Add to this the fact that I was desperate for attention- any attention-and men’s interest in my body was the easiest avenue to being noticed. Of course, I confused their base interest with love. I needed to believe it meant something. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t see myself as entirely innocent. My story is also about addiction. Addiction to power, to the attempt to control others through my body. It is about how desperate I was to feel loved, less alone, and how, misguided by all those cultural mixed messages, I tried to fill my need with male attention and sex. How, as with most addictions, I managed to push most everyone away, foiling my greatest intentions. And finally, how I learned to stop.

    ~Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen, page 3

One of the most disturbing things I noticed in college was the plethora of bright, talented and otherwise creative and attractive young women who themselves did not feel as though they were worth anything. Male attention, especially sexual, made them feel noticed and better about themselves. They would seek it out and enter into relationships in which they were dominated and controlled by their partner, often not realizing the extent to which this had happened. It was almost impossible for them to voluntarily extricate themselves from these emotionally abusive relationships because they loved simply in terms of need and the need to be needed or craved. And as Bill says in ‘Perks,’ we accept the love we think we deserve.

Love is a great, complex, complicated and grand adventure, but it is something which requires work and commitment in order to thrive. Anyone who hurts, disrespects or abuses his/her partner in any way is feeding into a false belief which they firmly espouse: namely, that they don’t deserve to be loved, respected or thought of as worthwhile. The reason I know this is because I was once such a girl.

-Oliva W

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