Tonight I was reading the book "Cinderella" by Jenni James (side note: if you want an easy, clean series that is full of good morals, check out any of her Faerie Tale Collection stories. Wonderful). In this adaptation, there is no magic. There's no fairy godmother to make everything better. There's no lost slipper, no chase at midnight. It's about making your own magic. Toward the end of the book, the heroine Ella and her handsome prince are talking. Their conversation goes like this:
"But, Ella, dear, you cannot wish to be their servant forever."
"Why not?" She closed her eyes. "I cannot see how I am worth anything more than that. I tell myself I am, but I cannot imagine trying to rise above this. It is all I have known for so long-- what if I fail at the rest? What if I cannot do all that will be expected of me? Then what?"
"Then you fail."
"So you fail. It's alright. We all fail. Every single one of us."
"It is part of life, my dear. You just pick yourself back up and move forward again. You certainly do not have to be perfect the very first time you attempt something new. What would be the point of living if you did not learn, if you did not grow and seek and challenge yourself?" He pulled back to look at her. "We need to live life, all of it-- the ups and downs, failures and successes-- for us to truly know our worth." His hand came up to cradle the side of her head. "Ella, what I believe you need to sort out first is the value you place upon yourself."
What value? Glancing down she grimaced.
"Ella, do not look away. Once you see your true worth, once you know exactly what you were meant to be-- not what you believe you are -- no, think past that to your destiny. Until you embrace all the world has to offer, you will never be free within your own heart. You will always be trapped within yourself, reminding your soul that you are not worth what others have. Whether you fail or not is not the question here; you will most certainly fail at times. What you need to ask yourself is whether you are ready to become all you were destined to be."
How often do we feel like we are destined to fail... that we are never going to be good enough, that we are not deserving of the [fill in the blank] others have. The happiness, the success, the education, the house, the car, the love, the relationship, the children... the list goes on. We always find ourselves lacking some essential component that we believe others to have. Some mystical element that entitles them to so much more than we deserve.
The world loves to tell us that we really aren't perfect. Those distant sources have a way of hitting the heart... but how much harder is it when that's the message we've been given time and time again by people who claim to care about us? People who might even say they love us? In my dating years, I heard some very uplifting messages from boyfriends or ex-boyfriends. A few of my favorites:
"You're nothing but a used piece of garbage guys will sleep with but never marry."
"It's too difficult to continue to love you."
When I found out I was pregnant with O, an ex said "I wish the baby was mine because then [and only then] I would have a reason to stay with you."
"I will come to resent you for taking away my freedom; I have goals I haven't accomplished and I will blame you for that down the road."
"You'll never find someone as good for you as me."
"No one will ever love you like I do."
I could continue, but you get the idea. Time and time again I was told by various people, many of whom I deeply cared for, that I wasn't good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, funny enough, spiritual enough, sexy enough, caring enough, etc etc etc enough to date/be with/marry.
With constant messages like that, is it any wonder my self esteem, my very sense of self worth, was zero? We all define ourselves by what others think. It's a natural thing to compare, to evaluate, and to judge. When we are in those years of trying to decide who we really are, and all the messages we are getting are about how we aren't and never will be quite enough to meet perfection, it's hard to dispute that. It's hard to continue to tell yourself that you deserve better, when deep down, you hear all those voices telling you that you DON'T deserve better. In fact, you're already reaching for the stars with your less-than-amazing situation.
I've had conversations with two different friends about their dating experiences in the past month. Both of these amazing women had the same thing to say-- "He's so amazing. He's [handsome, smart, funny, a good guy, spiritual, etc]. He is way too good for me. There's no way he would ever want to date me."
How do you argue that thinking when you know that experience has taught these phenomenal women that they really don't deserve someone awesome, and that they really aren't worthy of love?
How do you prove to a lost, lonely, insecure 18 year old that relationships can actually be built on love and trust; they don't have to be built on sex, control, and manipulation?
One of the things that frustrates me most about my adoption experience has nothing to do with adoption. It's the relationships I had which led to dating D. Time and time again I dated guys who were not good for me. Guys who were manipulative, persuasive, possessive. Guys who would only invite me over if they knew I'd spend the night. Guys who would tell me they loved me, but only after I did what they wanted to do. I learned pretty quick that the easiest way to gain control over the relationship and to hear those magic words was to do what was expected, whatever that was. I'm not just talking sex here. I'm talking about calling "him" at the right time, sending "him" the flirty text first, making sure to not be seen talking with other guys on campus, spending time with "him" instead of my roommates, doing homework first or not at all so "he" didn't have to change his schedule around, going to the games, sitting in the right spot to be seen, adjusting my bedtime to fit "his". As soon as I changed who I was to be who he wanted me to be, then I'd hear the words that I was dying to hear: "I love you Katelyn."
This cheapened everything. If you would have asked me who I was, what I liked, how I spent my time.... I'm not sure I could have told you anything about "Katelyn". I could have told you everything about whomever it was I was convinced loved me, but nothing about myself. I had no identity outside of being so-and-so's girlfriend. I was trying to find myself, but in doing so, lost myself even more.
Now that I'm in a healthy relationship, there is a big part of me that wants to go back in time and question teenage Katelyn on just what she thinks she's doing. I think about the relationships, the months of heartache, the conversations that cut me down, and to this day, it still hurts. And honestly, when things get a little rough at home, I hear all of those voices right back again, telling me I'm not good enough to have such an amazing husband, I'm not pretty enough, smart enough, kind enough, sweet enough, considerate enough; I'm not worthy of the great life I'm now blessed with. Just this week, in a moment of guilt, I said to myself, "I don't know how to be a good wife. I don't deserve The Mister. He could do so much better than me."
It brings me back to Cinderella. Like most insecure humans, Ella questions what if she isn't good enough, smart enough, clever enough, strong enough? What if everything she's known thus far is as good as it gets and more than she deserves? What if she tries for greatness and fails?
I wish there were more Prince Charmings in the world. I wish there were more people who could look at us and say, "So what?" "So you failed? Oh well." "So you dated a jerk? Try again." "You can do so much better than this; no, you DESERVE so much better than this." "You are worth every struggle, every long night while you cry, every fight, every expense, every everything. You are worth so much more."
I'm lucky enough to have found my Prince Charming. He shakes his head when I cry about not being a good enough wife and mother, he holds me when I break down. He loves me unconditionally-- without manipulation, persuasion, or possession. He lifts me up so I can be a better person; he doesn't bring me down so he can stay in control.
And when those horrible little voices of boyfriends past rudely remind me that I'm not worth any of this, and it will never stick around, and I'm going to be left heartbroken and disenchanted, I imagine my love saying, much as Prince Charming did, "Whether you fail or not is not the question here; you will most certainly fail at times. What you need to ask yourself is whether you are ready to become all you were destined to be."
After years of honest soul searching, prayer, and self discovery, I can answer with sincerity, "Yes. I'm ready." Can you?