During a girl-talk session the other day, a friend asked me whether Stanley and I speak openly and honestly with each other as a couple. “Are you guys totally honest about what you don’t like about each other?” She asked.
- Image courtesy of MOVE NOURISH BELIEVE via Tumblr
Well, of course, I told her. All the time. In fact, it’s precisely why we always fight, why he’s always thinking about the next wrong thing to say, and how I always scream at the top of my lungs. It’s exhausting.
Ironically, our being brutally honest is exactly why we are growing stronger than ever – as individuals and as a couple at the same time.
Why? Because we accept each other for who we truly are – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and that we’re willing to grow and change from the ugly.
THE THREE UGLY ATTRIBUTES
I told my friend, who’s a married woman, that most of our problems are rooted from the ugly attributes about myself that I want to change:
1. Negative thought-patterns
During the period I was depressed (circa early 2009 till late 2011), I adopted a really bad habit of thinking I’m nothing but useless.
I was already in my junior year in college when I realized I wasn’t meant to do what I was learning everyday in class. I observed how aspiring illustrators worked so hard because they love the project. I saw how much they’d be willing to risk just to create something that fulfills or expresses their personal aesthetic merits. They were willing to take great lengths just to be the best version of themselves they can ever be.
I sit at the back of the class, practically baffled by how easy it was for them to get into that creative flow whenever we’re doing a six-hour drawing class. For me, I always had to have my iPod with me to survive without feeling like I didn’t belong there – because I don’t.
I was so jealous. These people were making meaningful work – they were learning and doing their passion. I started to have strong opinions about the field (which later became how I commit myself to the art of persuasion today – writing!). In art schools we are encouraged to form constructive critiques about each others’ work in class. Deep inside I formed my own destructive criticisms about innocent people and the field of art itself. As a result, I didn’t dedicate the amount of time I should have done to produce a good work, and I got what-you-should-work-on critiques more than what-you-did-right critiques. I started to believe that the value of my being as a person lies only in the end-result itself – nothing else.
If I don’t do good work, people will hate me. Therefore I must do good work, so that people will at least like me.
2. Trust issues
So I must do good work all the time, and by good, in the industry it means ‘perfect’.
I guess that’s how I became a perfectionist. I wanted each shade and color to be right so I need more time to get it done. Because I was jealous of others around me, I was critical. Because I was critical, I don’t feel belong. Because I don’t feel belong, I don’t like how time-consuming art projects are and fearing how perfect it has to be, when in reality every meaningful work takes a lot of time and effort. Because of all these negative thought-patterns, I slack on watching Korean dramas and taking long naps before I burn the midnight oil.
When deadlines arrive, I look at my work and see something far from perfection (of course – it’s crap done overnight!). It’s not living up to my own standards, so it won’t live up to the others’. I hate myself for not living up to my sky-high standards. In return, they will hate me because of my ugly work. They won’t believe I can do a beautiful work, because I didn’t believe in myself either.
This is the #1 reason why it’s so damn hard for me to accept gifts, compliments, or anything good without asking a “why” question. Why is this person sending me gifts? Is there a hidden intention lurking beneath the package?
I must always need some kind of proof that the sender is sincere. If they don’t, my suspicions about them will never go away. Just seeing their faces remind me to always remain cautious.
3. Low self-esteem
This is a biggie. Even though all my life I was never really a confident person, I became overconfident since I started running in 2008. I thought that anything’s possible if you just meet your own expectations. As I steadily lose my American weight (gained 8 kilos while living in the States), I grew more and more confident about going faster and stronger, as long as I keep pushing myself through every limitation. Keep expecting more of yourself, because you’ll never know how big of a potential you really are.
I just never thought the more often you say “yes” to people, or to the impossible standards you set for yourself, the more responsibilities you’ll receive and the higher you’re expected to become. Failure by failure, you get criticized because you don’t produce good-enough results, much less excellent results. You don’t produce good results because you never learn to trust the process. You never learn to trust the process because you’ve embedded a negative way of thinking about yourself and about the larger society. You are useless. Life is meaningless. Nothing matters anymore.
The trio are best friends. They’re like a tripod – each cannot be one without the other. Negative thought-patterns come with self-esteem, and they cling on trust issues dearly to cause damage to your life.
It’s a whole lot to take within one sitting, isn’t it?
The truth is, some of these attributes are still hurting my life. They left permanent remnants I can’t completely erase yet.
I’m just sick and tired of being too sick and tired to stay negative already. I know that a frown takes up more energy than lifting a smile. So why do I keep holding on to these attributes?
Imagine how exhausted Stanley must have been for the past nineteen months of our relationship.
He doesn’t like it whenever I engage myself in negative self-talk. He hates it whenever I raise my voice. He is sad because I don’t trust him enough about his sincerity toward me.
Similarly, there are a number of things I don’t like about him. Some I found difficult to tolerate, others just impossible to compromise (my lips are sealed about the details – just doing my part of being a good girlfriend). But whenever they arise, I would react without a second thought. Instead of taking a deep breath to withhold my emotions and assess the situation with logic, I let my emotions run wild and the next minute, we’re going to have a heated session with plenty of crying and clamoring.
“The important thing is, you admit who you really are,” said my friend. “It’s better this way than those who are aware of their mistakes but are too proud to admit them and correct them.”
It’s easy to put everything off my chest today, because my pride has been deeply hurt by the many consequences of overconfidence in the past. Besides, it’s not the kind of confidence that’ll last.
But … those days have passed. Now I need to keep my focus on finding the best way to manage the three ugly attributes when the situation calls for it.
My friend began sharing her tribulations in her marriage life. Whenever something she doesn’t like about her husband is looming, “I usually bottle up my feelings first to prevent myself from nagging,” she said. “Men don’t listen to words – to them they’re all BS. Remember: Your actions speak louder than words.”
But I don’t think I will shut up whenever my boyfriend does something I don’t like. I have two choices: Talk about it, or learn to tolerate it. What makes Stanley and I different from any other couple is that he talks more than I do. I’m more like the men you usually read on magazines who’s afraid of commitment and gives you the silent treatment. Or just disappear.
I always suffocate myself whenever I try to tolerate things I couldn’t, or couldn’t yet. Thus the usual complaints about being not mature enough.
CHANGES THAT’LL LAST
I’m only human, and the self-help industry will only keep evolving until you run out of money to buy books of affirmations. What better way to solve a deep-rooted problem than to shift my focus to the eternal?
2 Corinthians 4:18 (Today’s English Version)
For we fix our attention, not on the things that are seen, but on things that are unseen. What can be seen lasts only for a time, but what cannot be seen lasts forever.
Recently, I received some clues to the answer I’m looking for.
Every Wednesday night Stanley and I join an intimate community of believers to catch up with one another, get some wisdom, and remember that God is always at the center of our lives, no matter how good or bad life seems to be. God accepts all of us for who we truly are. God loves you and me unconditionally, and His eyes are fixed on our hearts for goodwill instead of punishing us for our wrongdoings.
It doesn’t matter what faith group you belong to. I just think this will be a useful revelation for you – but only when you are truly willing to change.
Every living person desires to experience some kind of breakthrough this year. But if you notice, all human beings essentially want the same thing. Whenever we sit down and think about our new year’s resolutions, we list down things like “to lose weight/to get healthy,” “to be promoted/to start a business,” “to get married/to buy a nice house and car,” and so on. We want all the things we can have in this world, and as we work our way up to it, we sometimes start to follow patterns of the world, forgo our conscience, and become lost.
We strive to remain cool under pressure. We hold our tempers when things go wrong or doesn’t go as expected or as you want them to be. So what happens when life throws you even more curveballs? Perhaps something huge that hinders you from moving forward to achieve your goals? Are you just gonna bottle up your emotions until all hells break loose?
You know you can’t keep leaning on your own understanding all the time.
The very nature of human desires is that they come and go like the seasonal winds. We want results we can see – only the good, not about changing the bad or doing something about the ugly. But God is more interested in the unseen. What does your character look like? Have you developed true confidence instead of the fake-it-til-you-make-it kind? How are you going to act on the faith that the Almighty loves you just as you are? Are you going to keep striving for your worldly desires or are you going to break through every obstacle to go above and beyond yourself?
One thing’s for sure: If you keep fixing your eyes on things that are going to last forever – things like your thoughts, your habits, your actions, your behaviors, your character – you will be on your way to get the best things in life – for you as a person and not for your ego.
Thanks to our faith and the supportive community, I learned many things I never knew about my Creator. Even though Stanley and I can rely on each other to recite our bad habits when they surface, at the end of the day, we’re only human after all. We forget, we lose sight, we misread or miscalculate the signs, and so on. If I fix my focus on the lasting changes we’ve made to make our love last forever, because we are brutally honest and in spite of the mental and emotional turmoils caused by it, then who knows what the greatness of our love can do to other people’s lives?
What I can do right now is to recall who I was when we started dating in 2011 and see what has changed in the last year and a half.
When it all started…
10 reasons why I should never leave my boyfriend, or why I must rely on God in order to change, according to Stanley himself:
#1. “You like to say things that stabs right through my heart, but I am still here. I’m not angry.”
I remember one thing he said in the early stages of our relationship: I notice you’re always frowning. I was like duh. I was an angry, depressed girl who expects a lot from herself and just as much from others. I hurt myself and hurt others 24/7. I get angry too quickly over the tiniest imperfections. How could someone like that summon up a smile?
Lasting Change: Today I’m still that girl, but she’s learned to smile more often than she does getting angry or depressed. Yes, we are transparent with each other and that has made us fight many, many times that’s caused by my hurtful words. But because he is highly tolerant and that we’re always true to ourselves and open about each other, we can share a great depth of intimacy in relationship that’s precious in the eyes of the Perfecter.
#2. “I’m patient.”
Out of the hundreds of men I’ve met in my life, as far as I know them, Stanley is the rare breed with the most patience running in his blood. Sometimes I wonder, what are his secrets on managing his emotions so well? He’s got enough to deal with in his vocation. How does he deal with the tumultuous emotions I’ve stirred in him? How does he actually enjoy being in a relationship with someone like me?!
Lasting Change: Today I engage less in self-criticism and more on self-improvement. I have to be more understanding about the differences between both sexes – one has a bigger ego than the other, whereas the other is created to please. Today, I encourage him to share his most vulnerable feelings, because even a highly-tolerant person needs to be listened to. Today, I have a healthier sense of self-worth because of his patience with me. Today, I’ve stolen more kisses at stoplights than ever before.
#3. “My feelings are sincere.”
And mine is insecure. Some people love another because they need the person. Others love another because it’s just who they are – they’re loving. I think Stanley’s feelings for me is a mix of both, with the latter kind my definition of true love. Agape is not easy to understand and even more difficult to practice.
Lasting Change: “My feelings for you are stronger than they were when we started dating,” he told me a while ago. Today, we love and need each other more than we’ve ever had. Before we experienced those times when we almost parted ways, never had we imagined how hard it was living without one another. “If I am only interested in dating you, why am I still here?” he said. “I’m interested in being with you.” Still wondering the great mystery of how he’s able to tolerate my short fuse.
#4. “Our thoughts are aligned.”
We believe in the same things and most of the time, we hold the same opinion about things. The hardest part is when we’re dealing with disagreements, and each of us accepting our differences.
Lasting Change: Today we’ve understood each other better and focus on problem-solving instead of defending our clashing opinions. Thank God we didn’t expect to get anything out of this relationship from the very first day we met. Instead, we made it clear from the start that we want the same things, so we got in to the relationship in order to get what we want together.
#5. “I have no eyes for other women who are obviously more mature than you are.”
Whenever I feel discouraged after every failure I face in my life, he’s always there for me. But I push him away, telling him to find another girl that are far more grownup than me, someone not easily shaken like me. After all, we’re six years apart and his circle of friends are practically grownups – they’ve got children and run their own businesses. Also, most of the time, I feel inferior among his female friends.
Lasting Change: Today I realized that every woman is unique. It’s not that you’re weird, and you don’t have to ask yourself: “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not like them?”. Darling, if you’re just like the other girls your beau has met throughout his lifetime, why would he choose to be with you instead of any one of them? So you’re six years apart. So? Orlando Bloom is 35 and Miranda Kerr is 29, and they’re perfectly happy.
#6. “I’m your type (you said it yourself).”
My type: The skinny-tall, the upright stance, the teeth-flaunter, and the kind eyes. Most people think that just because I am an avid gym-goer, I hunt for big, bulky guys who think they’re some Greek god or something whenever they look into the mirror. But I digress. I love guys who are taller than I am, smaller-than-usual-in-size-but-fit, and smiles a lot. In fact, science shows that leaner men have higher physical and emotional endurance. Underneath his peaceful demeanor, he’s fortified with a still character and a transparent heart.
Lasting Change: The only way I can make him smile more often is to smile myself, so I smile more these days compared to a year ago. Today my heart still flutters whenever he makes an effort to take care of his appearance.
#7. “We love Japanese and Korean food.”
I think he should’ve said, “we love noodles, ramen, and pasta.” He loves feeding me with great food just to see a satisfied smirk.
Lasting Change: Today we still love noodles, ramen, and pasta. I’m grateful for all the foods he’s fed me, and I’m a much more grateful person than we first started dating because of him. We have a future plan to create a pasta recipe a week for a whole year. I’d still be an ungrateful bird (ha!) if he didn’t consistently feed me out of pure love.
#8. “We are adventurous.”
For this one, the lasting change lies in Stanley and not myself. Just last night he pointed out that before he met me, he rarely tries new stuff.
Lasting Change: Nevertheless, I believe that we are going to keep trying new stuff, even if it’s just a simple tweak in our activities. It is not in spite of my being more adventurous than he is that we’re together – It is because of it that he’s decided to have everything he’s always wanted to do, but never did. If I was in a relationship with someone just as (if not, more) adventurous than I am, there would probably be more bickering involved, and I doubt if that guy would ever settle down from his jet-setting lifestyle.
#9. “I love you more than you think.”
Maybe I will never know exactly how much he loves me, or why I caught his immediate attention the first time we met. How could I see it coming when my face is grumpy all the time?! Instead of wholly accepting his love, I suspect his interest was going to die down over time.
Lasting Change: In the beginning of our relationship, he’s put trust in me first even before I show any sign of trustworthiness. Over time, my tendency to suspect becomes less frequent. As long as I keep trusting God and his goodwill, we will always support each other no matter what happens. Maybe I will never know exactly why He loves me, or why I caught Stanley’s immediate attention the first time we met. But that’s just a mystery that I trust is safe to be left unsaid.
#10. “You love me.”
For a long time now, I thought I would never learn how to love – the right kind. When he first met me, he said, “I just think you’re like a lost child.” Perhaps blinded too much by my past wrongdoings and all those ugly attributes I carry around? I don’t even know how to love myself the right way. How can I have any sense of direction?
Lasting Change: Today I understand agape more and love myself better than ever before. By grace, each day my love only grows for him.
Take note that I’m still learning to change myself for the better. I’m only approaching 23, and I still have a long way to go. It’s just great to have a friend when you’re trying to make major life changes, so thanks – whoever’s reading up to this point – for keeping me accountable.
No matter how bad you feel about yourself today, remember that He will never leave you. He made that promise a long time ago, and still He hasn’t given up on you, disciplining you every minute of your days, even when you think He could be doing something far more important than caring for you.
Don’t be negative about the ugly side of you, because His mercy sees through the vulnerable hearts we truly are. Don’t fall into a trap like me for feeling like you’re not worthy enough of love, for He looks past our flesh, our carnal thoughts, and our selfish desires. Just don’t feel bad for feeling great about yourself, because one thing I know is that Love’s supposed to feel good.
Be brutally honest with who you are, and know that Someone up there has already accepted you for being totally you.
Lifetime achievement down here
Take a moment to reflect: In what ways are you grateful for who you already are today and why? Are you better than who you were yesterday? How can you make your character stronger tomorrow?