Lessons in Love

Growing up, I loved playing “house.” I’d run around the basement pretending to be cooking, cleaning, and going on dates with my “boyfriend.” Everything in my game of adulthood was easy and lighthearted. There was rarely any conflict or hardship, which might be why his words, spoken fifteen years ago, cut me so deeply.

I can remember exactly where I stood in my parents’ home—two floors up from the area that once served as my pretend “house”—when my first real-life boyfriend said the sentence I’ll never forget: “I don’t love you and I don’t think I ever did.” My heart sank and tears rose as I quickly realized there is no obvious response to a statement like his. I muttered something in an effort to get out of the conversation and ended the day with a wound that would take years to heal.

Potentially the most difficult part is that I couldn’t change his mind. He knew how he felt and no amount of gifts, flattery, or well-organized lists of my endearing attributes was going to change his mind. Now what? What do we do when the person who we want to love us, doesn’t?

In third grade, I told my Mom I wanted to test to be in the program for gifted students at my elementary school. I didn’t know much about the program except it seemed exclusive, my friends were in it, and the teacher handed out Smarties. How could this not pique my interest?

I took the test and was kindly rejected from the program. This wasn’t the response 9-year-old Mallory was looking for, so I decided to test again. Not surprisingly, my academic intelligence didn’t shoot through the roof overnight and I was once again rejected. I remember sitting in my third grade classroom as the teacher handed out blue slips of paper to those who would be in the program; I waited for her to approach my desk but the blue slip never made it to my hands.

I didn’t realize at the time how vulnerably I had put myself out there—twice—to be accepted into something I desired. When it was clear that desire was not reciprocal, I had to decide what the rejection said about me. Could I still be worthy, lovable, and a good student, even without being enrolled in the gifted program? Initially, I wasn’t sure; I was tempted to threaten the elementary school authorities with the news that my worth and well-being were riding on their acknowledgement of my intelligence, so I needed that blue slip.

What my nine-year-old self learned, however, is that I could still be a whole and happy kid even if I wasn’t deemed worthy of the school’s gifted program. Things didn’t turn out in the way I wanted but denied entrance into special courses didn’t get to change my value or the core of who I am. As long as I knew and believed that, the rejection didn’t hold quite so much power.

This truth was harder for me to hold onto when the boy I cared about so deeply took back the love he had expressed for me. The words he casually spoke that evening, two stories above my make-believe and conflict-free house, have stayed with me all of these years. What took me well over a decade to learn is that his rejection doesn’t change my value or the core of who I am. Did I want him to love me? Absolutely—but the fact that he didn’t does not mean I am broken, unlovable, or less valuable.

When his love was taken from me, it felt like the rug was ripped out from underneath me. I struggled to find solid ground, or to believe I even deserved to stand. Over the years, however, I’ve learned that whether or not I love myself—and believe in God’s love for me—changes everything.

When I am confident in God’s love for me and have a healthy sense of my own worth and goodness, other things can be stripped away but I will still have the truth of my value to stand on.

I would prefer to have your love, but if I don’t, I will go on resting in who God says I am.

Mallory ‘Larsen’ Redmond received her master’s degree in Theology & Culture from The Seattle School of Theology & Psychology. Recently married to her husband, Darren, she is enjoying this new season of life as a wife and writer. She loves dry humor, clean sheets, and gathering around the table with friends. You can follow her writing here, where her stories are told with the hope of further uncovering the places of connection in our humanity.