As I sat pondering what I could write about for Valentine’s Day, my mind drifted over the sea of boys I liked before I met my husband.
I was a really shy, awkward teenager when it came to boys. I only had one good guy friend in high school, and it was because I wasn’t even remotely interested in him (probably because he was nice!). The first boy I dated seriously didn’t show up on the scene until my freshman year of college. We’ll call him Alex.
Alex was a good guy in a lot of ways — he was funny, easy-going, and could get along with pretty much anyone. But he treated me badly and I let him. He basically ignored me until he wanted someone to kiss (sorry if that’s a little more information than you wanted about my personal life, but it’s important!) or cuddle with, and even after we broke up, he still had so much power over me. We didn’t go to the same school, but he’d always call me when he was in the area and I’d drop whatever I was doing to go see him. We were still affectionate. But it was very clear to me that I was something he was using to bide his time until something better came along.
And sadly, I didn’t care because I loved him. I sought his approval desperately but never got it. I always felt like I couldn’t measure up to what he wanted me to be: I wasn’t pretty enough, funny enough, smart enough, anything enough. If only I could change myself — be better somehow — maybe he’d finally want me.
It never really sank in that he was the one who needed to change; that he was the one who made our relationship so discouraging and unfulfilling. I’ll never forget the time I told him over Skype, crying, that my stepmother had cancer, only for him to hang up on me because someone rang his doorbell. No explanation; he just hung up. When I confronted him about it later over text, he said he’d call me back. He never did. The worst part is that he did stuff like that all the time.
It took me three years from the time we met to realize that if we did end up together, which was a real possibility (or at least I think it was; he mentioned marriage several times), I’d spend my entire life miserably chasing his approval. It terrified me. After many nights of crying and praying, I did what I should’ve done a long time before: I cut Alex out of my life. I knew it was the only way I’d ever get over him.
To make a long story short, I did get over him even though Satan frequently whispered in my ear that I never would. I’m happily married now to the kindest, most loving man on the planet. But I wanted to share my story because I think so many people in the dating world share the same one: we think we can’t do better than someone who treats us badly.
True love — the kind of love we all deserve — doesn’t make you feel like you don’t measure up. It doesn’t make you feel like you’re constantly falling short and ruining everything you touch. It doesn’t make you feel like everything that goes wrong in the relationship is your fault. True love doesn’t make you feel bad about yourself.
Real love makes you feel like you’re a good person while simultaneously making you want to be better so that you can give the other person as much as they give you. It doesn’t point fingers; instead, it takes accountability for its mistakes. True love makes you feel good about yourself. It makes you happy.
I recently read a quote from Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that I wish I’d read when I was 19 and vulnerable, handing my love to someone who didn’t treat it with the sanctity it deserved:
“In a dating and courtship relationship, I would not have you spend five minutes with someone who belittles you, who is constantly critical of you, who is cruel at your expense and may even call it humor. Life is tough enough without having the person who is supposed to love you leading the assault on your self-esteem, your sense of dignity, your confidence, and your joy. In this person’s care you deserve to feel physically safe and emotionally secure” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee,” Ensign, October 2003).
We deserve to feel physically safe (thankfully that was never a problem for me, but it is a horrible reality in many relationships) and emotionally secure. Each one of us deserves to feel happy! No matter your past, no matter the mistakes you’ve made, you deserve to be treated well and to treat others well.
We are worth the world to our Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ. Please, please let go of anyone you may be dating who tries to make you feel like you’re less than that. It may feel like you’ll never do better or that you somehow merit such intense criticism, but you will and you don’t. I know from experience.
I believe that another quote by Elder Holland (of course) perfectly encapsulates what real love is and what each of us is worthy of:
“Of all the things in the world that are worth your whole soul and devotion, it should be your spouse and your children. Short of being in the very presence of God, literally, you will never be more proximate to divinity than you are in the presence of your spouse and children. They deserve godly loyalty. They deserve divine attention. Husbands, when your wife asks you to do better, she’s not talking about perfection. She’s not criticizing you. She’s saying, ‘I need you. I need you to be here. I need you to listen. I need you to be nearby.’ Wives, when your husbands are troubled or worried, and they will be because they would like to be perfect too, what they need you to say is, ‘You are OK now. You are all right now. We will work on perfection later. I love you like crazy right now, just the way you are.’”
YOU are worth someone’s whole soul and devotion. You deserve to have someone love you like crazy and treat you like gold! Don’t settle for less.
You’ll never regret waiting for someone who treats you with real, true love.
Author’s note: While this post is mainly about couples in the realm of dating, if you’re married and feeling unloved or insecure in your relationship, please seek any needed treatments, including but not limited to couple’s counseling and marriage therapy as well as meeting with an ecclesiastical leader.
Amy Carpenter is the site manager and editor for LDSBlogs.com. She served a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Denver, Colorado, where she learned to love mountains and despise snow. She has a passion for peanut butter, dancing badly, and most of all, the gospel.