“Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it’s better to be absolutely ridiculous than absolutely boring.” – Marilyn Monroe
A few months ago, my wife asked me to place the above quotation in the spare bedroom that I had recently converted for her into an office and personal dance studio. It sits on the wall inset with the door that leads to the remainder of our house. Thus, you can always see it as you leave the room – never once missing a glimpse of its meaning. It is paired with a few other items that you normally would not expect – a pole standing in the middle of the room, ceiling to floor, a series of three full length mirrors, and a painted silhouette of a woman gracefully suspended on the pole that she holds. Often times, I have jokingly called it the “pumpkin room” in reference to the fall color that she asked me to paint it, but the reality is it is more than that. It is a liberation room.
I call it a liberation room because personal experience has taught me that love comes from the inside out. It is something that originates in the heart, and as a matter of the heart, it is not something that you can get from material items or the acceptance of others. Love has to begin with loving yourself, and you cannot do that until you come to terms with the person inside of the body that stares back at you in the mirror.
I say this because it has been a long time since I have loved myself. Not too long ago, I used to spend countless hours listening to the voices in my head that told me I was stupid and that I would not amount to anything. I spent many days in my youth being ashamed of the way I looked because I was a skinny boy in a world that valued brawny men. My intelligence, my creativity, the way in which I saw the world did not matter, and so my emotions and the confidence I possessed as a little boy became stunted. My value was no longer defined by how I saw myself, but by how others saw me and even that was not good enough because I was constantly feeling as though I always came up short in the eyes of others. Such an existence is a very dangerous place to be, because everything you do becomes an exercise of self-destruction. Nothing is ever good enough and the hatred you have for yourself begins to bleed into the lives of those you seemingly care for most.
For my wife, the story is told pretty much the same way. Her emotional value developed in a way that was very similar to my own; she had a difficult childhood that often left her in adulthood feeling stunted, and it negatively affected the way she perceived herself. Thus, she spent a great deal of time hiding the pieces of her soul that she saw as flaws. She had to be perfect in the eyes of others in order to be able to love herself – to value the inside. She had to be flawless in every way. Thus, just like me, she spent a great deal of time trying to find love on the outside in order to find value on the inside. But all it ever did was walk her down a destructive path that led her into loving those who did not love her back.
It took us both a long time to figure this out, but thankfully we figured it out: love is not an external virtue. It begins on the inside of the person living the life that others see on the outside, and this means that you cannot love another human being until you learn to love yourself. Your own internal value is imperative to anything else in this world, because it guides the way in which you treat others – it demonstrates the way in which you see yourself by the way you interact with other people. If you hate yourself, your actions will flow from hate. You will be selfish, you will be abusive, and you will be indifferent. Your hatred will cause you to use people or be used by people in order to fill the so-called “God-shaped hole” in your heart that unfortunately will never be full because it can only be filled by the one person that owns it: you. This is the lesson that my wife and I learned about love, and we are fortunate enough to have learned it together. It has saved us from ending a marriage that still has a lot of life left in it, and even though there is never any guarantee of “until death do us part,” we can hang our hats on the lesson that this discovery has made for us as a couple: it has brought us peace.
That is why I call my wife’s room a liberation room. Even though it is her room, tt represents a journey that both she and I have taken. The quote on the wall embodies something that she and I can share in, and ultimately that is what love is between two people: sharing in the fullness of yourselves. You cannot do that trying to please others. Love begins by loving you.