Once upon a time, I was engaged in several years of individual counseling. I learned much from the nice LCSW-lady, including that a lot of loving somebody is paying attention to them–seeing them, hearing them, being with them where they are.
This is the magic of the moment in romance novels we call the meet. The protagonists collide, neither of them looking for love, but something happens. He sees that she’s being man-splained in a meeting, and makes sure her opinion gets heard and respected. She notices that he lacks charm, but he’s fair-minded, even when that’s contrary to his own interests, and she thanks him for it in front of the big boss. Before anybody can truly love us, they have to know us… and that’s both scary and tantalizing.
One of the moments I recall most clearly from my hundreds of therapy sessions was when my counselor casually observed, “When you were growing up, nobody ever explained much of anything to you, did they?”
I thought back… my brother Tom showed me how to tie my shoes. I do recall that. I would have been about four. My sister Maire informed me at the bus stop when I was in fourth grade that I should start wearing a bra, so I helped myself to one of hers and didn’t tell anybody. I figured out feminine hygiene products by reading the package inserts… I’m sure there were some explanations along the way, but part of my frustration with the current diet (which I still detest) is that my mom never let me (or anybody) help in the kitchen.
I learned to bake by reading recipes, starting with brownies when I was age seven. I never learned to cook. I never learned to wear makeup, and nobody ever explained the whole matching shoes and handbag thing. I learned to braid my hair by trial and error, and I had to be told–at an embarrassingly adolescent age, by my godmother–that eating with one hand on my lap is more genteel than resting an arm beside my plate.
The results of being a largely self-taught child are both helpful and not so helpful. I respect everybody, but my trust must be earned. Just because you’re a doctor, professor, or international expert doesn’t mean I’ll believe what you say to be correct. Another result is that I expect myself to meet challenges with my own resources. That can be called self-reliance, it can also be bull-headed, arrogant stupidity.
Above all though, as somebody who was not particularly visible early in life, I came to love books. In books, I could find explanations, connected dots, kindred souls, and reassurance of my own humanity. From brownie recipes to tampon package inserts to the APA Diagnostic and Statistical Manual to what that moment feels like when somebody truly, truly sees you for who you are and respects the person they see… I found it in books.
What do you find in books? To one commenter, I’ll send an advanced reader copy of A Rogue of Her Own.