"You know," he said, "the more accepting I am of my own imperfections, the more I can accept yours."
I’ll never forget the night he spoke these words to me. What he was saying was crystal clear to me.
And it was huge coming from him.
But it was what I had suspected for some time. It confirmed what I have long come to know.
These men we love, these men who hold so much potential, can only accept us for who we are as much as they can accept themselves.
Read that again to let this sink in.
In other words, when they’ve never been given a safe place to express their feelings, let alone understand them, they can hardly understand – much less even tolerate – ours!
Most of us struggle enough with this ourselves to understand how deep and far-reaching this problem is. We’ve had a taste of this by our own lack of acknowledgement from our families of origin when we expressed a feeling that wasn’t convenient for them or went against their own programming of what and how we should feel and thus who we should be.
We were labeled overly sensitive and emotional and not taken seriously, or worse, told either directly or indirectly that we didn’t know ourselves well enough to know what we feel.
It’s hard enough for us, as women, to overcome our view of ourselves and the world when we’ve been brought up like this, but at least as women, it’s culturally acceptable for us to talk about our feelings, to enlist therapists and counselors and coaches to work through these issues, and at the very least to express our emotions with friends as a regular practice.
Imagine what it would be like if you were born male, and not only were your feelings and the expression of them denied, but you were shamed and bullied by one or both parents, by your extended family, by teachers and coaches and the greater culture at large simply because it wasn’t socially acceptable for you as a boy to experience them.
What if then, in an attempt to reconcile who you were with all of your feelings, and what you were in no uncertain terms told was the way you needed to be instead – emotionless, without freedom of expression of anything resembling a more sensitive feeling kind of boy – you resolved to never let them see you cry because your tears would be laughed at and made fun of?
What if you were determined to never show yourself vulnerable, but instead adopted a hard outer shell that deflected blame rather than incur the shame of criticism for how much you disappointed someone who was supposed to love you unconditionally but instead only knew how to shame you?
Can you see it a little more clearly now?
Can you see how his acceptance of you or his lack of ability to see you and accept you for the feeling, caring, emotionally expressive woman you are has everything to do with where he’s come from and nothing really to do with you at all?
The irony is never lost that he chooses you BECAUSE of your capacity to feel, to love, to express the very emotions he’s never known how to get in touch with.
And yet because he’s never been in touch with those feelings, he’s never learned what to do with them in you. This is why he deflects your words back on you when you tell him how you feel in a way he can’t process except to hear the blame in them as a result of his deep programming.
This is why he projects the blame, the responsibility for things not going as planned, instead of looking deep within himself.
He can’t. He simply can’t.
He’s afraid of what he can’t see. He’s afraid of letting you down as well. He’s afraid of not being enough of a man for you. He’s afraid of what he knows you’ll find.
That he’s the one responsible. That he’s the one who’s not good at doing these relationships. That he’s the one who’s broken, wounded, scared. That he’s the one responsible for it all.
Sometimes he tells you this before you discover it for himself. It’s how he lets himself off the hook before you break his heart.
Ironically, if he could allow himself to be seen in this place where he’s only known shame, he’d see you have nothing but love for him. But the shame piece of his story runs far too deep to take a chance on trusting you.
Maybe you have one of the more open ones who admits he’s scared, who feels safe enough with you and by what he’s seen so far in you to share with you his fears and hopes and dreams. But more often then not, don’t be surprised if he pulls away as soon as he’s shared that part of his heart with you.
Remember, it runs deep.
And ironically, if he gives you this chance, he’ll need to see he can trust you to hold space for him and his imperfections, time and time again.
This is where we get lost. We start seeing real potential. And then nothing. Or even worse, it’s when we start to sense he’s already gone.
You know what it took for me to hear those words I heard that night from my husband? An open heart from him. A crack in his armor that let the light in.
And me, knowing not to take everything so personally so that we could even get to that point. And finally, it took me understanding what it means to love an imperfect man.
Not for the exterior. Not for my own motivations. Not through a lens that sees him in a way that doesn’t allow him to be vulnerable and imperfect and a mere mortal man.
But through a lens that sees and accepts the imperfect in me and sees and accept the imperfect in him. Not one that pays lip service to the idea of unconditional love, but one that accepts my own role as well.
You know something, Beautiful? You’re going to feel like you’ve been here a thousand times before.
Like you’ve been loving unconditionally your whole life and getting nothing more than crumbs in return.
Change that around. See how your love inspires. See how your love has the power to bring out more than you can imagine in this man who’s chooses you, who you’ve chosen, too.
See it through.
See it through as long as you need to until you can see if there’s an opening in his heart, a vulnerable crack in his armor that’s capable of opening enough to let you in along with all the love you hold in your heart.
You’ll know when it’s enough. You’ll know when it’s not going to open any further. You’ll feel it. You’ll sense it. You’ll know it’s time.
But not before I stayed far too long for what I now know. But I didn’t then. So don’t be so hard on yourself.
We can’t hear the words I finally heard until we’re with someone capable of seeing them first. Understand he may not ever be able to say them. Understand that whether he does or not in the end, can’t be solely up to you. Understand that from where he’s come from, a crack in his armor may be all you ever get.
But don’t be afraid of the truth.
If not him, there WILL be someone else.
You're never alone in what you're going through, Beautiful. I'd love to hear how this resonates with you. Share your thoughts in the comments below!