A lot of my love comes from this sense of duty I have towards my people. It’s a very traditional and practical mode that I’ve both realized and come to terms with about myself. But then there’s the romantic in me that questions, “Do I love this person or do I feel obligated towards them?”
I didn’t realize this was a struggle of mine until fairly recently. How it makes sense the way I’ve been throughout my life. How dedicated and loyal I can be to people who I later understood were not good for me. And then as I became more and more self-aware, I learned how to create boundaries because as much as I felt this obligation towards them, I didn’t know if I loved them. And if I did, I didn’t know if they really loved me back.
It’s strange that I often find myself confusing both of these things, mostly because growing up, they came hand in hand for me. If I loved someone, I would care for them, I would sit into the night with their head on my shoulder and let them cry. I would wake up in dire hours of the night if they called to rant to me. I would bring medicine and soup if they were ill. I would support them through everything and give them all the love I had to offer. I pretty much tried to be everyone’s Lorelai Gilmore.
Here’s the problem with that: First, being that person for all of my friends and family is a big stretch of myself. Being young, I didn’t have much of an identity at that point. I never thought to look inside. And being a woman (because let’s be real, us women do this ALL the time), my identity then became a list of all the people I loved, and therefore, had an obligation towards. There was no self to uncover. I didn’t have time for that. I had duties to fulfill, people to heal.
You might guess why some of these relationships I had went south, really quickly. Well here’s the thing, when you do this for others, when you stretch your time for them and you do these small detailed things that often go unnoticed, the problem becomes that these gestures then become expected from you. When you are this person, you are then expected to always be this person and always make time to be this person for each and every person in your life. Sounds a tad exhausting, right? Especially because this is pre-self/spiritual discovery and taking out any toxic people from my life.
And another fun fact about me: I don’t like being told what to do. This part of me diluted a bit after my teenage years, but there still remains a part of me that rebels. I like doing these things for my people and though it was frustrating that over time, they became more and more unnoticed, I still felt this notion of duty that kept me going. It was the only when the expectations became more pronounced that led to this visceral reaction of mine.
What I didn’t like was when arguments were formed because I got busier with work or university. “Why aren’t you there for me anymore?” texts, followed by 10+ missed calls. It was getting ridiculous. But whose fault was this really? I mean, did I plant this on myself? Did giving all my time away to take care of everyone make them lose control when I wasn’t available as much as before? Or was I missing something about them that I was only perpetuating by babying them?
All these texts and calls from people who kept wanting things from me, but not one that ever really asked if I was doing okay. If I liked this new town I was living in. If I was enjoying university or what clubs I joined.
I don’t think these people are to blame. I mean, it’s always 50/50. In my past relationships, I avoided all talk about myself. I didn’t think I was interesting enough and then later, I was too much of a mess that I didn’t want to understand it. I didn’t even want to look at myself in the mirror.
But what happened when I became less available was that it gave me time to do just that, to look closely at myself. To realize that I was so broken and under a deep state of depression. That I was constantly anxious. That I was hurting everyone around me. That there was no way for me to be of help to others if I was so damaged myself.
And to those people in my life who needed me to give them more time, more love, more affection, more of myself, I hadn’t been helping them at all. I was merely a band-aid fix. I was helping them distract themselves from the root of the problem. I was trying to take everyone’s pain for myself so that I could deal with it and so that they didn’t have to. But by doing that, I was taking away what would indefinitely make them stronger and I was hiding from my own pain at the same time.
I don’t think my sense of duty is a bad thing. Actually, acts of service is just my love language. But for so long I had it all mixed up. I didn’t choose friends the right way. I felt obligated to everyone in my life even if they were toxic for me. I was hiding from my own pain and covering it up with everyone else’s. It was my own self-destruction as well as their’s. For a person who loves to problem solve and resolve things, it’s frustrating to know that I was just going in circles for so long.
As much as I want to be the superhero in everyone else’s lives, I understand now that I have to be the superhero of my own first. Everything you flourish into the world starts from within and I guess it took me a long time to learn that I can’t help anyone without helping myself. I can only love anyone as much as I love myself. And I can only heal others as much as I have healed me.