Photo: Courtesy of HarperCollins
Every. Single. Time. Which when your newlywed husband has been caught dating a girl of 21 can be a helluva lot of times per day. "I love you, Tracy. I love you, Tracy. I love you, Tracy." Sometimes the emphasis is on the "I," and sometimes it's on the "love," and other times it's on the "you." Those are three different meanings, and I need to hear all of them.
After doing this for a while (like a month), what I'm finding is that if you tell yourself you love you 400,000 times a day, you start to look and feel and act like a person who is loving herself.
What does that look like? Kinda happy. Kinda peaceful. Like someone drawing good people and things into her life. What doesn't it look like? It definitely does not look bitter, angry, victim-y or depressed.
Not that there aren't still bad days or bad moments. There are. But at least there aren't bad weeks and bad months. Hell, I know women who've had bad years, even bad decades. Some of them have given up on men altogether and now have cats instead.
I guess the point of my mantra is a lot like the point of a saying in the recovery world: "You keep what you give away." In terms of busting through solid wood with your bare knuckles, it means if you think about love, you feel love. If you think about bitterness, you feel bitter. It's not that I don't experience bitterness; I do sometimes. But I'm not practicing bitterness—saying over and over, "He sucks, I'm a victim, he sucks, f*** him, he sucks."
Even if he does suck.
It's astounding to realize that despite everything, I actually feel better than ever. I know now that the awful pain of my past breakups—especially those where "he" left me—had less to do with the loss of those men and more to do with the washed-out bridge between me and me. The fact that I would just leave myself standing there, alone and vulnerable, listening to all the garbage that was being said about me, by me, is stunning.
But things are changing. Before all this Paul business, if you didn't love me, I didn't love me. I'd do anything to keep your love—I had to!—because if you deemed me unworthy of love, I wouldn't (couldn't) love myself. Like in junior high, if you didn't like my new sweater, I didn't like it either.
In the simplest of terms possible, this breakup—the "worst" thing that has ever happened to me in all my years of relationships—has taught me how to like my sweater no matter what. All I have to do is commit to the sweater. To myself. No matter what my soon-to-be-ex husband did. Or what my thoughts are saying to me.
The implications of this are far-reaching. It means I can make a mistake, a giant mistake, and still say, "I love you, Tracy." And I can save myself when the bad guys threaten to bury me alive.
That is some devastating kung fu.
Tracy McMillan is a film and television writer, most recently on AMC's Emmy Award- and Golden Globe-winning series Mad Men and Showtime's Emmy Award-winning series The United States of Tara. Her memoir, I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway (HarperCollins 2011), is a comic, tragic, unflinchingly real, and ultimately victorious true story of how one woman learned to love herself no matter what.
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