Last night over dinner my Uncle, cousin and I were playing a descriptive little game. We started off discussing Genevieve’s siblings (aka my other lovely cousins Michelle and William) and I asked Genevieve if she had to describe each of them in three words which three words she would choose. My uncle found the game fascinating as well and began offering his responses. Soon enough Gen and I were feeling narcissistic and were curious to find out my Uncle Stan’s opinions and descriptions of us as well. My uncle described me as “Strong-Willed” (some might have used stubborn but I like Strong-willed a little better), “Intelligent” and he couldn’t find an all encompassing word for the third trait which he described as a “Doe-eyed exuberance for life“. His response intrigued me as I’ve spent the past few weeks pondering the same indescribable trait he ascribed to me.
I’ve noted that the guys I date tend to describe me as “Sweet and Innocent” fairly often. While I know said suitors mean these descriptions as a compliment I can’t help but feel a little belittled every time a guy strokes my cheek and essentially tells me I have the same qualities as a second grade girl. While the mentioned traits seem pretty complimentary coming from my Grandmother or my parents (who have actually seen me as a child) they feel unsettling coming from a man who hopes to sleep with me (hopefully Grandma isn’t reading this one). When I describe someone as “sweet” or “innocent” I imagine them as caring, pure, and dare I say naive. I certainly try to be kind to people, I’m not guilty of anything (that I know of) but I prefer to think of myself as someone who is not naive.
The thing is I used to be “sweet and innocent“. We all did. We come into this world as gentle, pure children who are eager to please and to be loved. However, somewhere along the way we experience life. We are tainted. Our hearts break and the next time we love it isn’t quite as pure because we know what it’s like to be betrayed, to be abandoned, to feel alone, to fall apart, and then to pick up the pieces and mosaic our hearts (and lives) back together. We can’t love the same way we did before because we’re smarter now. Slowly the world changes us and we’re no longer sweet and innocent. We’re no longer translucent and believing.
I’ve been there too. I’ve become so cynical towards love that I’ve lay in bed listening to sad songs and reading Sylvia Plath crying on a Friday night. I’ve locked myself in my own closet and just sat in the darkness because I feel so low that I just want to be in a place that feels as sad and dark as I do on the inside. I’ve laid on the floor of my bedroom crying myself to sleep at night because I don’t understand heart break, or my internal need for love that keeps compelling me to search for this love despite the risks and painful endings. I’ve been there.
I think it takes work to feel these things, to go to that dark place and still emerge with a sense of hope. Despite shattered pieces and sleepless tearful nights I still want to look at the world as if it is shiny and beautiful. I still want to gaze at someone with sparkling eyes. I think after being through heartbreak the sweet things we do for love mean a lot more than they did before. It means more when I write a sweet letter, or bake cookies, or plan a surprise because I’m not sweet and innocent. It means more because I know this vulnerability will likely lead to more tears, more empty containers of Ben&Jerry’s and more weekends alone reading the poetry of Plath.
It is easy to allow yourself to become cynical (as well as necessary for your own protection at times). However, I think it’s difficult to maintain a “doe-eyed exuberance for life” (and for love) despite the pain you continue to encounter. For awhile I thought being strong meant banishing all of the traits that made me weak, including my desire for a love story, for my own version of a fairytale. I don’t think to allow yourself to love so fully is a weakness but rather a place of vulnerability that can make me stronger. It’s my goal to keep my eyes doe-like and exuberant for the rest of my days.