You Don’t Deserve Love
It’s time we had this talk.
“Idon’t understand what I’m doing wrong,” my best friend said to me, after yet another of her false-start romances went poof in a cloud of codependency. I can’t entirely blame her for her frustration. She’s 34, gorgeous, kind, whip-smart, detailed, empathetic, whimsical, well-dressed and well-mannered. She has a decent job. She reads for fun. She’s a fucking catch.
Additionally, her parents still place an undue, incalculable pressure upon her to marry, and relentlessly ridicule her for not being married already. Most of her friends from high school and college are married, too — often with little ones in tow. So, she affixes her self-worth to how close she is to finding everlasting companionship, she’s conditioned to view each passing white knight as her one-way ticket out of the barren, lonely hell-scape of single-dom, and she exhaustively dates every suitor she’s even mildly attracted to, especially the manipulative or emotionally unavailable ones.
“Don’t I deserve love?” She asked, only semi-rhetorically.
No, baby. No you don’t. And you know what? Neither do the rest of you. Allow me to explain.
Over the past two decades, I’ve fallen in capital-L Love five times, with five different women. I’d like to tell you about each of them. (I’ll be brief.)
I met my first in high school, at a New York All-State Orchestra … thing. Over the next four years, she showed me levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship that I’d never experienced before in my life. I spontaneously broke up with her in August of 2001, while coming down off a Molly bender with the girl I’d leave her for (the girl was not named Molly, the drug was). I did not deserve her love.
I met my second Freshman Year at Syracuse University, getting high under a tree in an adjacent graveyard. Over the next year, she’d show me different levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship that I’d never experienced before. She broke up with me over the telephone because she’d met someone else she fell for harder. I did not deserve her love.
I met my third while high on cocaine at a bar in Buffalo, New York. For 27 months, she showed even different levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship than I’d never experienced before. After she became possessive and distrusting, I broke up with her by literally speeding away from her after she chased me down to a gas station because I told her at her house I couldn’t take any more. I did not deserve her love.
I met my fourth at a wedding in Ithaca, New York. For the next four years, she showed me still different levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship than I’d ever experienced before. After it became clear, though, that we had very intractable and incompatible expectations for what we wanted our lives to be, I left her. I did not deserve her love.
I met my fifth swimming in the San Marcos River. For 17 months, she showed me wildly different levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship than I’d ever experienced before. Yet when I surrendered my autonomy and dissolved all boundaries, she packed up her shit and dropped off the key without ever saying goodbye. I did not deserve her love.
Notice how in each instance, the word deserve carries a slightly different meaning based on context, and also based on what image and personal baggage you hold in your own head as you read each to yourself. You could assume maybe I wasn’t ready, or wasn’t worthy, or wasn’t giving myself enough credit, or wasn’t the right fit, or a litany of other reasons why I did not deserve love. And you’d be right — the problem with thinking you deservelove is in the word deserve itself. It’s problematic. I’ll tell you why.
Let’s first understand that all humans have fundamental worth, and we are all worth the same. Whether you’re black, East Asian, South Asian, latinx, Arab, white, man, woman, cis, trans, gay, lesbian, bi, queer, pan, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, agnostic, nihilist, polyamorous, rich, poor, able-bodied, disabled, or really, really fucking into Three Doors Down. Guess what: We are all worth one life. That one life is precious, valuable, ephemeral and beautiful. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a douche. (Douches are also still worth one life, but the neat thing about yourone life is you don’t have to be a part of theirs on an individual level. [There’s still inescapable systemic oppression most of us have to navigate, which is fucking bullshit, but that’s what happens when a bunch of fucking rich white dudes make an arbitrary set of rules back when we fucking thought the Earth was flat, and decided, “yup, these are pretty much going to be the rules forever.”] I digress.)
On top off that, there are things we can do to add to our incremental worth, to use somewhat exceptional examples, we could:
- Invent a revolutionary cure for a terminal disease
- Write a best-selling novel
- Cook a delicious, five-course meal for the homeless
- Develop a killer crossover dribble
- Create a carbon-negative community (shout-out to Bhutan!)
By cultivating and contributing our talents (or, to call back to another important piece, by being visibly excellent) in a net-positive way to those around us, we are accumulating incremental worth. This is something we should do! It makes the world a better place, makes us more interesting, and gives people lots of sweet shit to say about us when they’re peering over our casket.
Yet none of these things: fundamental worth, nor incremental worth, nor being gorgeous, kind, whip-smart, detailed, empathetic, whimsical, well-dressed and well-mannered, nor showing people levels of kindness, beauty, radiance, care, intelligence and friendship mean you deserve love. You don’t deserve love. Because the word “deserve” assumes there’s a certain threshold you reach as an individual which, upon reaching it, earns you the right to someone else’s time, attention, energy and affection. Life is not a casino. You do not redeem your chips at the window to collect your love — the more chips, the better the love. That’s the Just World Fallacy in action — you know, the one that says “what goes around, comes around” or “you reap what you sow.” Love is not a consequence you can attribute to the result of your actions — not a thing that restores some sort of moral balance to your universe. It’s not validation or certification that you are “lovable” or you were a “very good boy 13/10.” That’s not how life works, and that’s not how love works.
Solet me reiterate: you’re fundamentally worth one life. (And you are! Rock that shit proudly!) For the sake of argument, let’s say the threshold for deserving love is your basic fundamental worth. You exist, therefore, you are worthy of love, to which I have two words for you: Pol Pot. Did he deserve love? The mastermind of the Cambodian Genocide who systematically killed off one in four of his country’s citizenry by working them to death on collective farms? I mean, if that’s your thing, I have questions.
So perhaps then there must be a measurable amount of incremental worth you accumulate, and then you can deserve love that way? Is love something that once you visibly demonstrate how excellent you are, then you can receive it? If so, we’re assigning too much agency to the love seeker and not enough agency to the person (or people) they’d hypothetically be receiving love from. Love isn’t a magnetic field; you are not a magnet. That’s the definition of attraction, attraction is not love, and, if you’re accumulating incremental worth purely in the hopes of one day being “good enough” to “deserve” love, then that’s kind of manipulative, and I again have questions.
But we’ll table my questions about your affinity for genocidal dictators, or your performative desperation for now, and we’ll cut to the crux with this question instead: If you don’t deserve love, then, what do you deserve?
You Deserve Your Fundamental Worth
Your life has value. No matter where you are in your life, no matter what color or gender or religion or identity or ethnicity or income-bracket, your life has value. Do not let the people playing by an anachronistic set of rules set in stone by the same people who colonized the world, plundered an entire continent, and enslaved entire races of people tell you the fuck otherwise. You deserve to breathe, to be free, to be warmly accepted, to get a fair shake, to make amends for past wrongs, to have the opportunity for future rights.
You Deserve To “Own Your Awesome”
Former U.S. Women’s National Team soccer player and current ESPN soccer commentator Julie Foudy has a mantra, “Own Your Awesome.” Owning your awesome means being confident in your most charming quirks and best qualities. You deserve to be comfortable bringing your whole self to the table, you deserve — I’ll go farther — you owe it to yourself and to the world around you to proudly be the best possible version of yourself, to be the brightest lighthouse you can be, and to build the best sand castle you can every day. Do not let anyone dim your light, soften your edges, compromise your core principles, or throw shade on your shine. You have fundamental worth, and it is also your right to accumulate as much incremental worth as possible — as confidently and creatively as you want to. You deserve to be a fucking catch.
You Deserve To Master Your Mind
You know what mental health is? It’s the level of control you can exert over your thoughts and emotions on a consistent basis. I understand the litany of challenges and blockades that can prevent us from achieving this. I struggle regularly with anxiety and depression, and an abusive inner monologue. I know what kind of hard fucking work it can be to master your mind. But I’m refusing to give up the fight, because I am worth it — and so are you. Drink more water. Eat the right foods. Exercise. Meditate. Do yoga. Go to therapy. Lean into your insecurities. Conquer your fears. Question negative thought patterns. Write it out. Get help quitting drinking and smoking if you need to. All these things can help you lasso the runaway steers inside your mind that cause you pain, suffering and self-sabotage. You’re worth one life. That one life is precious, valuable, ephemeral and beautiful. You deserve to experience for yourself just how precious, valuable, ephemeral and beautiful it can be.
You Deserve To Love
That’s right, you do. Love is the one L worth holding. You deserve to pour yourself into other people, to be your authentic self around them, to be visibly excellent in front of them, and to master your mind so that other people feel safe, comfortable and warmly welcomed in your presence. You deserve to orbit the sun, and to ease into the orbits of others — not encircle or crash into them, that’s codependency, boothang. You deserve to show respect, compassion, humility, curiosity and empathy. You deserve to trust, and believe in other people.
Who knows? You do all those things … you might just find yourself on the receiving end of some love yourself. Not just from a romantic partner, but from your friends, their friends, your family, their family, the community, the world around you. And would be dope AF. I wish that for all of you. I want you to find love. I hope that you find love. I believe that you will find love. But you don’t deserve it.
You deserve your life. You deserve equal and ample opportunity to live it as fully as you can. You deserve to fight for your inner peace and pursuit of happiness. You deserve to reach down into your soul to breathe life into the souls of others. You’re absolutely fucking worth those things, and I hope like hell you get what you deserve.