Being unloved as a child is lonely and chastening. You alternate between fear of further rejection and outbursts of need. You don’t understand why you are not good enough, what it is that makes you unlovable. That persists too. I remain firmly convinced that I am fundamentally unlovable. We learn what love feels like early on. It forms the framework for future relationships. Warm and loving people seem strange and suspicious.
Cool, disinterested men are familiar and feel right. The emotional radar is entirely broken, and even understanding that can’t stop the pattern of seeking out rejection. Fortunately I’m clever and middle class. In a selective girls’ school I was protected and regulated. Discipline is a bit like parenting; it’ll do if that’s all there is. By the time I was a teenager all semblance of homelife had disintegrated and as my elder siblings had all left, I did too. Leaving school at sixteen and spending time being homeless wasn’t a hindrance to university. I still don’t know how I talked my way in. It’s amazing nothing nasty ever happened, rattling around London by myself. I was armed with a nice accent and a general sense of invulnerability that comes with having nothing to loose.
Douglas Adams talks about going off to space with just a towel and that everyone will think you’re just fine because you packed a towel. You must be all sorts of organised if you have a towel. A nice accent and neat handwriting are just as good as a towel, it infers all sorts of qualities and histories that in my case are fictitious.
I let people make assumptions. The first time I clearly felt the holes was in my first boyfriend’s home. Lovely family. Completely normal. His parents were terrified of me. He was in love with my best friend and only dating me to be near her. The first of many times I tried to grow love in barren places. Listening to stories from his childhood I saw a landscape I was unfamiliar with. I read a lot. I read stories of adventure and generally in stories children have horrible or absent parents, for the sake of narrative. Nobody writes teenage fiction about boring families. This was all new to me so I studied them. I kept of studying warm and loving families, all through my twenties.
I’m a paediatric nurse – there was no shortage of examples of happy, well adjusted families and also plenty of the other kinds. When I came to find myself pregnant at 34, I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that the father of my child was a prickly and reserved person. A beautiful but tightly controlled and padlocked man who hasn’t been seen since I told him we’d made a person.
Unsurprised by his fleeing, I had my daughter alone. Forging a relationship seemed unlikely so my daughter and I decided to seek a donor to make her a sibling. We are now a happy family of three.
The conclusion of the story is that I have made a warm and loving family. It’s been conscious, researched and involved some professional consultation. I wish I wasn’t doing it alone, I wish I could show them what a partnership looks like, but I ensure they spend time with other families instead. I’ve even involved my family in small and well managed ways. I live on the other side of the world and they are pretty good at pretending to be normal via the medium of Facebook. There are cousins who genuinely seem lovely. We may visit them one day. What I really want you to know is that the time you spend adoring your babies isn’t wasted. Weekends camping are valuable as gold. Every hug is constructing a person who intrinsically knows they are loveable.
Keep up the good work.