“If you are busy pleasing everyone, you are not being true to yourself.” ~Jocelyn Murray
The love I felt for her wasn’t like the romantic love our culture idealizes in books or movies. There was no moment where I knew that she was the one for me, and I didn’t feel lots of butterflies when our paths crossed.
Instead, the love I felt for her was deep and sustaining. While she is one of the most kind, gentle, and loyal people I had ever met, the way she loved me was the most remarkable thing to me. I could be completely vulnerable with her and feel no shame. I felt supported and embraced. Through her love, I felt restored, and it deeply affected my sense of love and belonging.
I was extremely surprised when I realized that I had romantic feelings for this woman. What fueled this surprise was the fact that I had always identified as being straight. While my mother is very accepting, the South—where I grew up—is not always the most supportive place for homosexuality. I felt shame from my religion, some friends and family, and myself.
Unfortunately, I soon became aware that there was deep homophobia hidden within me. While most people would always describe me as accepting and liberal, there was a huge part of me that felt absolute shame for liking a female.
What would all my conservative, religious family and friends think of me? Would they love me anymore? Was I going to hell? These were just some of the questions that ran through my mind.
I came to a point where I realized that no matter what people thought, if the opportunity ever arose for us to be romantically together, I would seize it. I wouldn’t be ashamed due to her gender; in fact, I would love to shout it from the rooftops (or write about on Tiny Buddha), because even just the act of loving someone so incredibly beautiful has brought me tremendous joy and healing.
Here are a few lessons I’ve learned through embracing this part of myself about the need to please and letting go of seeking approval.
1. “You cannot live a brave life without disappointing someone.”
I was watching an interview with Oprah and Brené Brown recently. Oprah said the exact statement written above. This hit me right in the heart. Surely this couldn’t be true. Do I really have to sometimes disappoint people to be brave? Like many humans, I have this need for people to constantly approve of me.
I remember when I told one of my best friends about how I felt about this woman. I knew she would not agree with me being confused about my sexuality, and I was so unbelievably terrified. I was afraid I was going to lose one of the people I loved most in world.
When I finally got the words out, she responded in a very kind way. Though she did make it known that this was not a part that she agreed with, she promised to love and support me through my journey. This brings me to my next lesson.
2. Some people will not be okay with your decisions. Challenge yourself to be able to accept their position as well as your own.
I was very aware that I had family and friends who were not going to approve of this part of me, but I was curious if I could still maintain the relationships.
I realized that if I was not seeking approval, my friendships could continue to grow. I came to the realization that, while it was nice if everyone supported my decision, I really didn’t need every single person to agree with me. As long as they still chose to respect me and love me, their opinion on my choices were their business.
That being said, I know it’s very difficult when close friends and family don’t agree with something fundamental to your sense of self, especially when it does not seem like they are going to change their opinion.
I’m still in a process of learning how to handle this in a healthy way. I do know that when I am unfailingly kind and loving toward myself, it helps lessen the weight of other people’s opinions, because how I view myself comes first.
3. Boundaries, boundaries, boundaries
This is one of the hardest things for people who seek approval to implement. I have found with this experience, I have to set boundaries for what behaviors I will tolerate concerning other’s reactions. This is applicable to all areas of life. It’s important to set boundaries as to what is okay and not okay in interacting with others.
I will tolerate questions. I will tolerate confusion. I will tolerate respectful disagreement.
I will not tolerate blatant rudeness. I will not tolerate ignorance. These are my boundaries. If people cross these boundaries, I will politely inform them that they have overstepped a line and I will not be participating in a discussion with them concerning this topic anymore.
4. I want to choose to be vulnerable every day no matter how hard it feels.
There are times in my life that I have regretted not being 100 percent authentic. But not once when I look back, have I ever regretted being vulnerable.
Sometimes it doesn’t feel the greatest afterward. I call that a “vulnerability hangover.” It feels like this giant pit in my stomach and I feel tired, but eventually it goes away. While they usually seem scary, the best decisions in my life have usually also been the most vulnerable ones.
I don’t believe in defining my success on external factors such as getting a job, getting married, and traveling the world. Instead, I aim every day to be more vulnerable and braver than the last. There will be days I will fail and hide behind fear, and that’s okay, because I am imperfect and filled with flaws. On the days that I do choose to be honest and open, I feel like my soul is on fire.
5. Be willing to refine who you are.
When I first wrote down this lesson it read, “Be willing to redefine who you are.” But, I realized that I don’t think we can, or even need to, “redefine” who we are. Instead, I believe we should refine the already beautifully imperfect person we have become.
When I realized that I liked this woman, it made me examine myself differently. I had always seen this picture of me being with a man. All of the sudden that story seemed very fuzzy now. It actually brought a bit at sadness at first and I let it be. This picture of my relationship for the future came shattering down, and I realized that I didn’t want to pick up the broken pieces. Instead, I want to create a new picture. Except this time, I want to refine it day by day and let it be ever-changing.
6. Do what’s best for you first and everyone will benefit.
I’ve learned that self-love is like a waterfall. When I am doing what is best for me and feels right in my truth, it trickles down to the people in my life.
I have found that when I am living authentically and loving myself, my actions toward others are more loving and honest. While I still may not be or act exactly how someone wants me to, if my intention is loving, that’s all that matters. When you act in an authentic way, everybody wins.
I don’t know what the future holds for me—much less my love life—but I am confident that whatever it holds will be beautiful, because it will be honest, vulnerable, and authentic. More importantly, it will be beautiful, because my decision won’t be based on someone’s opinion of me. It will be my truth and my story.