I didnt know I was loved…
See, I spent the majority of my life being insecure. It wasn’t just one thing that made me insecure, it was years of being told I was ugly. It was emotional abuse at the hands of boys I loved. It was perceived rejection from my own father. It was being the black sheep of my family and never feeling like I truly belonged with the people I was surrounded by. Even my best friend growing up, Camille. It always felt like she was just a level or two above me. Like she was privy to a league I didn’t have access to. I wasn’t jealous of her I just wanted to be on that same level. That level I so desperately wanted to get to because I told myself that that level was the place I would finally fit in.
I overcompensated by being an overachiever in school, sports, & being the fun friend. I couldn’t get boys to like me by my looks so I resorted to being the funniest person they’ve ever met….and it worked! My very first romantic interest in high school came about after I embarrassed him in front of all his friends at the very first football game of my freshman year. He made a slick comment and I made one back which started a ten minute repartee that had both our respective friend groups in tears with laughter. I could tell he was not used to someone with an equivalent level of wit. He was the funny one of his friend group too; kindred spirits. Our witty banter ended up being the thing to springboard my high school social career.
“Yo, I heard about you. You’re funny!” Upperclassmen would say as my freshman cheer friends and I walked past the senior locker bay section.
“Who is that?” A curious bystander would say.
“That’s the girl who was joanin’ at the game.”
This was my new name and thus formed an identity that to this day I’m not sure I’ve 100% shaken. The girl who could joan (joke) as good as the boys. The upperclassmen boys at that.
“Hey, come here.” He called to me from the wooden bench in the hallway. He sat comfortably among the small group of fellow juniors that surrounded him. His modern day Fresh Prince of Bel Air attire struck me as odd but fashionable. Somehow his standing out made him fit in.
“What’s your name?” He said as the entire group of leaners turned their heads to see who he was talking to.
“Why?” I retorted never slowing down my pace. I knew the warning bell would be ringing soon and I didn’t want to be late to my next class.
“You’re funny.” He got up from the bench and matched my stride. “I’m Prince.”
“Is that your real name?”
“Yeah, why would I give a fake name to my future girlfriend.” He said confidently.
“I’m not your future girlfriend.”
“You don’t even know my name.”
“So tell me it.”
“No thank you!” I smirked walking into my fifth period Spanish class leaving him shocked in the hallway. He stood for a moment at the door watching me unpack the books I had been carrying in my arms. I pretended not to be aware of his gaze. The class filled up just as the bell rung and Prince walked away with a look on his face that I was very familiar with. It was the same look I get when I’ve made a decision to conquer something. At that point in my 14 years of life, I had only had that look when I had decided that I would make a person laugh so they would be my friend. I knew this wasn’t my last encounter with him.
The first time I had ever caught the genuine attention of someone. It was the first time that I felt wanted by someone and it felt nice. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t attracted to him or that he was goofy and loud most of the time. What mattered was that I felt special to someone. Up until that point I saw myself as a burden. I thought people only loved me because I was funny or because they had to.
“Fresh Princess!” A familiar voice yelled down the crowded and lively hallway. I turned to see who was yelling and who they were yelling to. It was Prince. His tall lanky figure darted in between groups of people as he hustled to reach me. I smiled as I anticipated the start of our daily exchange of witty flirting.
“You look like a highlighter.” I said as he caught up to me. His brightly colored jacket once again was something I had never seen anyone but him confidently wear.
“Thank you.” He said while catching his breath.
“That wasn’t a compliment.” I said keeping my eyes locked in front of me.
“Coming from you it was. I know you want me.”
“Then why are you walking with me?”
“I’m walking. You’re with me.” I saw his smile widen out of my peripheral view. He lazily slung his long arm around my shoulder which wasn’t hard seeing as though he was a full 9 inches taller than me. I let it his arm rest on me for a moment before shaking it off me.
“Why do you make everything hard Janae?”
“So you finally figured out my name.”
“Yup,” He was obviously pleased with himself. For weeks he had asked anyone who he saw talking to me if they knew my name. I had instructed all of them not to tell him and he had to resort to a plethora of nicknames to refer to me. His favorite of which was ‘Fresh Princess’.
“I told your spanish teacher that I had a book for you and He spilled the beans.”
“He probably felt sorry for you. Following me to class for the last 3 weeks will make anyone have pity on a lost puppy.”
“Or, he knew that secretly you want to be my Fresh Princess.” Prince smiled and grabbed my waist pulling me toward him. I turned to face him just in time for him to plant a soft sweet kiss. My stomach lurched as I tried to think of something smart to say. Nothing came so I let him walk me the 100 ft to my next class in silence. We parted ways, both knowing that I was indeed allowing him to pursue me.
What I didn’t know at the time was that the feeling I had in my stomach was actually common sense leaving my body but I thought it was love. I had no idea of knowing what love was and according to every romantic comedy, this was the meet cute I had been waiting for. Sure, he was no Matthew McConaughey or Morris Chestnut but he was a male who was interested in me. I thought it was love and I fell hard. He would sneak into my gym class or lunch period to see me. He would come to my house to hang out after school. Although he never officially asked me to be his girlfriend, he eventually said the magic word in his signature on a card for Valentine Day: love your Fresh Prince.
That was all I needed to decide that he would be the one to take my virginity.
What I didn’t know at the time was that when you’ve lived a life like mine where you are consistently forgotten, abused, or rejected, one of the hardest things to do after you heal from those traumas is to start the process of learning how to acknowledge and accept love. Learning trust people is one thing, but, controlling that small voice in your head telling you that any love you receive is temporary or not real is a whole different ball game.
It wasn’t until I started going to therapy at the end of 2020, that I was able to admit that I am still struggling with accepting love as I approach my 30s. I’ve had several people throughout my life love me deeply but it seemed that that love was always temporary.
In therapy I learned that Losing my parents triggered those feelings because the two people who vowed to love me forever were not in forever without me and I could no longer experience their love. At the same time major changes happened in my social circle that caused me to once again feel rejected. So, when I met my boyfriend, it took me awhile to finally accept that he loved me.
He was very patient with me and understood that I had a validation issue with love. He would pray with me and for me that I would allow accept God’s love so I could then accept his love. He would remind me that he wasn’t going anywhere and when I needed him he would show up. Most of the time I would find out later that he dropped everything to help me with whatever I was going through.
My therapist helped me to recognize what she calls the Signs of Love. She talked me through all the major relationships in my life. She asked me to start with the ones I consider the most problematic. I didnt realize how much resentment I was hanging on to until we started talking about my uncles and cousins. I told her how I always felt like everyones least favorite relative and I felt isolated because they all live so close to each other and can hang out whenever they want. She told me that although that that was my perception that this didnt mean they dont love me. She pointed out direct scenarios where they showed me love and I just didnt know it. She encouraged me to be honest with them. And after delaying her advice I went out on a limb and did just that. I reached out to a few of my uncles & really told them how I was doing and asked for their help. To my surprise, they were so excited to help me. Almost like they had been waiting for me to need them. It was such a release for both parties.
I speak to so many different people (especially women) who have this same issue. Their response to love is a question: WHY. They, like me, have been through trauma that has caused lasting scars in the area of love. They love themselves but have a hard time fully embracing love from others. And if that is you, trust me I’m with you. Now, I don’t have a fool proof formula for healing from this, other than therapy and Jesus, but I will say that whenever you hear that little voice in your head that says everyone will leave you and you are unloveable…remember to ask yourself this: What if you’re wrong?
What if that man does want to protect you at all costs. What if that coworker does get joy from giving you rides to work. What if you aren’t a burden to your family and friends? What if the space you occupy is necessary for someone else’s healing? What if all the trauma does have a meaning? What if you are the one who is the most deserving of love? What if?