When you’re young, you base relationships on perceived worth.
Friend groups tend to cohere together based on overall attractiveness, or in other words, social currency. How cool you are. If you went to a diverse high school, you might recall scanning the cafeteria to see how the tables break up. The cliques are concise, and kids that are outwardly alike tend to gravitate toward each other. (If you didn’t have such an experience, think of the lunch scenes in Mean Girls, which, though hyperbolic, do have a degree of truth to them.)
It’s really not your fault that you ultimately grew up thinking that people would want to date you based on how attractive, cool, or liked you are. In a sense, you aren’t entirely wrong.
However, people who are not good at relationships continue to base them on worth well into adulthood. People who are good at relationships, on the other hand, understand that they are actually built one way, and one way only: through shared, mutual experiences.
To be worthy of love, we simply have to show up for love.
Think about your pets. You don’t love your cat because it is the most attractive cat, or it has the most cat friends. You love your cat because your cat shows up for you every day. They are there for you no matter what, and that kind of unwavering loyalty is hard to come by. This forges a bond, and the shared mutual experience of your day-to-day lives together becomes the foundation of your relationship, to the point that you consider a pet part of your family.
Think of how kids love their parents. You didn’t love your mother when you were little because she looked like a supermodel or owned a successful business. You didn’t love her because she had a perfectly clean house or the nicest clothes. You were not even conscious of those things. You loved your mother because she simply showed up for you.
Chances are, if you have a poor relationship with one of your parents, it’s because they didn’t show up for you.
It’s really that simple.
Without shared mutual experiences, everything else you chalk up to love and loyalty are just words and ideas. You can say you love someone, and yet you do not have a real relationship with them if you never do anything with them. You can call someone your soulmate, and yet if you do not consistently share positive experiences together, your relationship won’t last.
Relationships are not built on how perfect we can convince other people we are. They are not made from our ability to successfully prove that we are the best option out there. They are built on a day-to-day basis, from doing stuff together.
Stop saying you value your family and yet only making time to see them when it’s convenient for you.
Stop saying you’re looking for ocean-deep, soulmate love, and then listing your criteria for a partner as “tall,” or “rich.”
Stop wondering why you don’t feel good enough for other people when you don’t put any effort into building your relationships with them.
Stop wondering why romance doesn’t work out when you don’t share mutual experiences because you’re too busy fighting.
You don’t have to be particularly special to be loved.
You actually don’t have to be that attractive, or rich. Look at anyone you have ever known who has been happily coupled for a very long time: they weren’t perfect, and they still aren’t.
They just showed up for each other, and whether that was initiated by attraction or shared interests or anything else doesn’t matter. What matters is that in the end, they forged a bond over experiencing life together. They walked alongside each other for long enough that they got attached. They made sacrifices, proved that they’re someone to be trusted, relied on, and yes, appreciated and loved.
When you’re young, you think that people will love you based on how good you are.
When you get a little older, and a little wiser, you realize that it is not perfect people who get the most love. It is people who show up in spite of their imperfections that form the bonds that last a lifetime.