A close friend of mine called me the other day saying that she had to end things with a guy she didn’t even really like, but it made her sad. She had been going on dates with him for a few weeks now, and she realized that one of the reasons she was attracted to him was because he had high standards, standards that she never considered before. After meeting him, they became daunting standards of her own.
He was angry at her when she wasn’t exactly on time on their dates, and she was never the type to notice the details of the minutes. He was angry at her for shutting down when it came to discussing her family issues, when she never thought that would be a topic she’d have to open up about.
The day they decided to part ways, he told her she couldn’t “keep up” with him, and she agreed that maybe they weren’t a good, romantic fit. She asked him if they could still be friends at least, and he said he wasn’t sure if she was even worth keeping as a friend. Which is such bullshit. Was that really necessary to say? I’m sure my friend knew that he was being harsh with her, but it still struck a chord. It made her question her value as a potential girlfriend, as a friend, and as a person.
“You guys just weren’t meant to be,” I said. She said, “Or maybe I’m just not good enough.”
Not good enough. Why is it that so many people conclude this about themselves? I have had this same thought several times. I didn’t think I was Korean enough when I felt judged by my Korean peers in high school. I didn’t think I was smart enough when I got rejected from Columbia University. I didn’t think I was interesting enough when I was dumped by my high school boyfriend. And of course, I didn’t think I was competent enough to ever graduate when I took my first medical leave from school. There were always standards I just didn’t meet, and thinking about it that way always made me feel so shitty.
Why is it so hard to look at ourselves through the lens of someone who loves us? Even though I’ve had this thought many times–that I’m not good enough for something or someone–when I heard my friend say it about herself, I was enraged that someone could make her feel this way. I remember sputtering, rambling, grasping for words to prove otherwise. I told her I feel this way all the time but it doesn’t mean anything. I told her that this guy is terrible with words (terrible in general!) and she shouldn’t take them to heart. I told her that she hits my standards of friendship in many ways. But it was hard to articulate everything in that one moment, to draw on the many other moments she’s shown that she is a reliable and kind friend. Like when she stayed up with me those many nights in college and listened to me cry about my problems. Or when she took me to weird and random places in the city just to cheer me up. Things like punctuality and her inability to talk about her family may be potential flaws to someone else, but it doesn’t change that she is a giving, loving, and special person.
Even if I had said the right words, would she have believed me? Probably not. Isn’t it dumb how even when we are surrounded by people who encourage us, we still cling to the big three words: not good enough? It takes a lot of love to defeat a person’s self-hate. Thinking back on it now, I was able to get over my own insecurities about graduating thanks to people like my therapist, my mom, my boyfriend, and my friends, who always repeated their words of love to me. It must have been annoying at some point for some of them–to have to constantly say: No, you’re not stupid for graduating late, you’re just going at you own pace. You went through some things. It’s understandable. But as tedious as it may have been for them to have to repeat themselves, it helped a lot. And I’m grateful that they did it. Maybe sometimes it just takes some repetition to finally get the words right, to find the right combination of sentences to express your love to someone. Maybe that repetition is necessary to coach the person to see themselves as we see them.
I’m angry that this guy hurt my friend, that he cast a shadow over her image of herself. Of course, it will ultimately be up to my friend to eventually realize that this jerk’s opinion isn’t fact, but while she’s still trying to figure things out, I hope I can be a source of encouragement and support, just as she has been for me.