I need it. I want it. I must have it.
As a freelance writer, I don’t get it often enough.
When I don’t get it, I walk around feeling blah and don’t know why I feel blah.
Then I get it and I feel happy, and I’m like, Oh yeah, duh.
* * *
I know I shouldn’t need external validation, that depending on it does more harm than good. I get some, and I feel great for about two seconds, and then I’m all blah again till the next time, and the next time the high is not good so then I need more, and more, and more, and then suddenly my whole life is about getting that next high.
Maybe I need an intervention.
* * *
As a kid, I got validation from my parents.
Well, I got it from my dad, and only sometimes from my mom.
Ergo, my mom’s validation was more valuable than my dad’s.
With my mom you had to behave a certain way. But sometimes she didn’t tell you what way. Sometimes it was a surprise.
* * *
In the eighth grade, I won first place in the Statue of Liberty bicentennial essay contest. (I wrote from the point of view of the statue.) I had an orthodontist appointment and walked into the assembly late. My science teacher, Miss McDonald – who was big and fat and kind of mean, and had long gray hairs that grew out of her double chin – beamed when she saw me, mouthing, “Where were you?”
“She’s here!” someone said, and the principal called me to the mike, congratulated me, and handed me the award. Everyone clapped.
It was one of the best freaking days of my life.
* * *
Jobs also give you external validation.
Praise is relative. If you’re a secretary and you schedule some meetings or organize some files, and you’re told, “Wow, you’re amazing!” it may feel good for about ten seconds before you realize, I have a BA and an MA, what the hell am I doing with my life? But then you try to move up and work your ass off on some other project, and no one even knows. Then you realize praise is both relative and random.
Then maybe you get a raise or promotion, and then you’re happy for, I dunno, thirty seconds, but then you realize what you’re doing has nothing to do with the real world, and that if you don’t get whatever urgent thing needs to get done urgently, no one will die, no one will even get sick – if you don’t get this urgent made-up thing done, IT DOES NOT MATTER.
Maybe this is how all external validation works. Maybe all external validation is arbitrary.
Depending on external validation for your happiness is depending on something arbitrary, relative, and random. You’re relinquishing control to something that makes no sense.
But I’d still like some.
* * *
You’re in trouble if you need constant validation. Like if you cross the street without getting run over, you shouldn’t need someone to say, “Good job!” Or if you leave a restroom and the person waiting says, “Thank you,” because you have done this favor for them, leaving the restroom, when you could have easily, I don’t know, camped in there all night, and they are validating you, and now they need you to validate them back by saying, “You’re welcome.”
Saying, “Get a life,” is not a viable substitute.
Or if you’re dating someone and you obviously like him. You’re spending time with him, and you listen and tell him things, and are affectionate, and yet he still asks, again and again, “Why do you like me?” till you want to smack him in the face because, for God’s sake, isn’t it obvious? Would you be sitting here with him at this boring movie? Would you be sleeping with him? And yet he keeps asking till you don’t like him anymore.
* * *
If you say I love you, and the person doesn’t say I love you back, that’s the opposite of validation.
If you marry someone with a sick mom and spend every weekend taking care of her, and he doesn’t say thank you, that’s also the opposite of validation.
If you marry someone and take care of his sick mom every weekend, and then he cheats on you and gets the woman pregnant, that’s the opposite of validation as well. That’s like if validation were the Big Bang, which was fifteen billion years ago, and the opposite is when the sun will die, which is five billion years from now (can you imagine what people will be like five BILLION years from now? will we even be people, or just microchips, or specks of light? or dust with brain waves?).
If you call the pregnant mistress and she never answers her phone or returns your calls, this is the “doorbell effect.” The doorbell effect is if you ring the doorbell and for a long time there’s no answer. You think, hello? What’s going on? Is anyone home? But if you hear, “I’ll be right there!” you feel better. You’ve been validated. You exist.
Or on the airplane, if you’ve been sitting there and sitting there on the runway, and no one is saying anything, there are no announcements, and you start to feel like you’re going crazy and that maybe you’re the only one noticing this situation, but then the captain comes on says, “Sorry folks, we’ll be just another few minutes,” even if he’s lying his pants off, you feel better.
The mistress never calling you back, or answering her phone, or saying, “I’m sorry,” makes you feel like you don’t exist, the situation doesn’t exist, only you’re crazy for being upset about all this. But why should she talk to you. She owes you nothing. At least she’s not like Rielle Hunter going to the National Enquirer and parading around her baby and getting John Edwards to buy her a house while he’s still married to Elizabeth. (Then again, if none of that happened, John Edwards would still be sneaking around, getting away with everything, and Elizabeth would still be home alone with her cancer, waiting around for him.)
If you’ve spent so many years with someone from whom you’ve received no external validation, it’s hard to know what to do in a new relationship. You think, Okay, he likes me now, but what can I do to keep him? Let me see what makes him happy, and I’ll just keep doing that.
But what about when he’s not happy? Is that because of you too? What did you do wrong? It’s not you, he says. It’s this, or that, but it’s not you. There’s nothing you need to do to keep him, except keep being you.
Keep being you? Do what you want, what you love, without wanting a pat on the head, an A, an award? Believe that someone loves you just because he does, not because of anything you’ve done? Believe him, and not ask over and over, Why do you love me? Why do you love me? Why do you love me?
Have no expectations, live in the now. Remember the lesson but release the pain. Don’t predict the future but hope for the best.
I see that now.
I’d still like a book contract though.