Today is the first time in eleven years I won’t say “Happy Birthday.” The first time I won’t be buying way too many Reese’s cups to fill up his gift bag with – knowing full well he won’t eat them all. Each year I tried to make his birthday special. In the military, there are certain days when nothing can fill the gaping hole where family and friends should be. Those are the days we try extra hard as spouses to make them feel special.
I show my love. I show it through actions, through words, through gifts. And his birthday was the perfect occasion for letting that shine through. One year it was a surprise party with all of his friends at a restaurant. Another was him waking up to a roomful of photos and memories attached to balloons for each year we were celebrating. One of the last ones was a trip to Universal and to see his family. Each year I reflected on what could say ‘I love you – I’m so thankful you are here.’
Something that I’m reflecting on this year, with my 30th birthday coming up shortly, is how did he say those things to me? People with narcissistic tendencies love the attention, they love the showering of gifts, the bending over backwards – the fuss (yes, even the covert ones). There was never a birthday in our ten-plus years together where he planned something for me. The only birthday that I remember was where we went to a few of my favorite stores, went to an estate sale I had been dying to go to and grabbed my favorite fast food. I remember clearly thinking, “I get to do all of my favorite things, and he won’t complain today. I get to be with him and not feel guilty about making him tag along today.” I have racked my brain repeatedly and cannot find one instance of getting a gift from him on my birthday. Not. Once. I honest to God, right hand on the bible, used to beg him to plan something for me. His reply was always, “I’m not as creative as you are.” I’d come back with “there’s Pinterest for ideas – I mean anything you do, I’ll love.” Of course in this process I was devaluing myself and my worth. I just wanted to be surprised. Every year I asked, and every year I was let down. I would rationalize this with telling myself I just needed to lower my expectations, that that’s what happens when you expect too much. Now I know that I was never expecting too much. I was only asking to be on the receiving end of the effort I sent his way. Now, I know that this too, was another manipulation tactic. Made to wear down my self-worth. Made to wear down that inner voice that says you deserve better. Made to create an environment where I constantly begged for his attention. He was the gate keeper of love. Starving me, then feeding me. This cycle showed up in so many ways throughout our marriage. So many red flags I ignored because I knew him. I knew who he really, truly was under that outer bumbling, clumsy facade. I reminded myself that he was just that flighty. That maybe I was the one putting too much pressure on him to be a good partner – to remember my birthday and cherish me on that day. That maybe I was the selfish one, the nag, the ball and chain.
Sis, if you’re feeling alone on a day that is meant to celebrate you, know that I’m here. I understand what it is like to play the carrot and stick game. To beg for love. To hope that this day, this year, this time, he’ll really put in the effort. That his actions will finally align with his empty words. I’m here to sit with you in this loneliness, to tell you that you are worthy of love, that even if you don’t feel it right now – better days are ahead. Days where you’ll be able to be surrounded by family and friends who love you and appreciate you. Days where you may find a partner who can show compassion, and celebrate the day that made you, you. I’m here to remind you (especially during quarantine) that even if there was no one else around to celebrate with you, you never have to beg for love again. You are whole by yourself, sis. Your own company is more fulfilling than someone who chooses to manipulate you, who chooses themselves over you every day of the week, who is, at their core, unable to care for you in a loving way. Because at the end of the day, they don’t even love themselves. Because at the end of the day, it comes down to this simple phrase: We cannot ask someone to pour from an empty cup.