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Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Column: No ‘I’ in love

I’m a jerk.

No, I don’t really punch kittens like I said two weeks ago. That was just a tasteless joke made to illustrate how mad I am that I have all the feminine wiles of a demented hyena. Seriously, what kind of a monster do you think I am? In actuality, I generally kick baby squirrels to express anger.

But even those baby squirrels have no idea how cold my heart is. In fact, I hardly saw it for what it was until this weekend, when I was talking with a group of girlfriends. (Yes, it was a women’s retreat. Yes, we giggled, cried and talked about boys. Yes, my nails are sparkly and pink. Now let’s move on.)

We were talking about the things we’d been learning about ourselves lately, and my friend Lena spoke up.

“When we say we love someone,” she said, “what we usually mean is that we like the way we feel when we’re around them.”

And that’s when I realized that I’m a jerk.

When viewing my claims of love through this lens, do I love anyone at all? I popped a babelfish into my ear and reviewed the audio reels of my life. It yielded the following translations.

What I said: “I totally love that girl!”

What I meant: “She has the same sense of humor as I do and is useful for my entertainment!”

What I said: “I love you so much, I would do anything for you.”

What I meant: “You fulfill my needs, so I’ll do nice things for you so long as it’s convenient and enjoyable for me.”

What I said: “I love Hugo.”

What I meant: “My guitar and I have an intimate love relationship that transcends the bounds of sentience.”

What I really, really meant: “This guitar amuses me and makes other people think I’m trendy.”

What do the translations have in common? They’re completely self-centered. What a relief – I do love at least one person. And that person is me.

We hear a lot about our need to love ourselves. And on one level, it’s heartbreaking how much we hate ourselves. We buy the lies that we’re stupid, ugly, useless. That no one likes us. That no one cares about us.

Stop for a moment and check out how many times I just wrote “ourselves,” “we” and “us.” Part of life is being healed of our self-hatred. But the larger part of life is being freed of our self-obsession.

I’m still reeling from the thought that I love so few people. I really thought I loved everyone. (Again with the “me, me, me.”) I’d scan my mental Band-uh! roster to make sure there were only a few people I couldn’t stand. I’d come up with one or two, think “Dang, I’m a good person!” and carry on.

That’s not evidence of love, though. As Jesus asked, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?” And – here I paraphrase – “Friggin’ everyone does that!”

It’s easy for me to pick my roommates up from the airport or bake cookies for my freshmen in band. It takes a little bit of sacrifice, but not much. For someone I detest, on the other hand, it takes Herculean strength even to muster a smile and say “hello.” Sometimes, it physically hurts just to be nice to someone whom I find unpleasant.

So I give my “love” to the people who measure up to my expectations. Those who don’t are left with nothing. Not only have I not loved the “unworthy” – I haven’t really loved the “worthy,” because I’ve made it all about me.

Love is unconditional or nothing at all.

BETH SEKISHIRO wants to thank the awesome reader who sent her a napkin note through the dish return last week. It’s hanging on her fridge, which is kind of gross since it’s covered in greasy food stains. For a more sanitary correspondence, e-mail her at blseki@ucdavis.edu.

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