In this life, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that I’m selfish. Probably too many times and every time someone expressed my perceived selfishness, I believed them. Why wouldn’t I? Over the course of my life, I taught myself to embrace this selfishness, I accepted that I was a selfish person and it wasn’t ideal, but what could I do if this was really me? What else could I do but nod, smile, and crack a joke.
It’s hard for me to truly think of myself as deeply selfish. We’re all selfish in our own ways, but there can’t be very many of us that are honest-to-God, selfish to the core. That has to be a hard thing to be.
When I left my parent’s house to go to college, there were too many people in my life telling me that I was being selfish for not including my family in my journey to success because I had decided to try to go about it on my own. Not only did I believe them, but I embraced it. Graduating from college was everything I ever wanted out of life. When I would pray to God in times where I felt like my life was in danger, like when I flew in a plane or went too fast on the freeway, I always bargained with my creator saying things like, “Please God, just let me graduate from college. Then you can let me die.” Prayer answered, but please don’t kill me yet.
If I needed to be selfish to reach my dream, then so be it. Call me selfish. That’s what I would say, but in my heart I felt so terrible because I couldn’t believe that looking out for your future and doing everything you could to survive was so criminally self-serving. What if I had other motivations other than realizing some childhood fantasy? But no one ever asked me my other reasons for earning a degree. They didn’t matter.
There were plenty of men who called me selfish throughout the years. Selfish because I didn’t want a boyfriend, a husband, children or at the very least to have sex with them. They would say things like, “Selfish doesn’t look so good on you,” or “No one is ever going to put up with how selfish you’re being right now.” I would walk away from those conversations with my head held high, my ego still intact, but with tiny knicks on my brain that I wouldn’t discover until they all came together to break me wide open.
As much as I avoided relationships and feelings, I found someone to teach me how to be soft. But it’s a hard thing to learn, it’s a hard thing to face when you’ve had to be a rock for yourself every moment of every day for the entirety of your life.
Physical touch is not my love language. So much so that my catchphrase was just that, on repeat. “Physical touch is not my love language.” That’s what I said to my friends and my family when they tried to hug me or hold me for longer than a second. People knew not to hug me goodbye because I would tense up. Even then, I was selfish. Not because people would tell me so but because I knew there were people in my life who sometimes just needed to be held and I couldn’t give that to them. I like to think that I learned, that I made an effort, but that past still haunts me.
Being in a relationship makes me deeply insecure about my selfishness and I hate it because there are very few things I’m insecure about and I’m just not used to the feeling. Most days I feel like I’m not doing enough, I’m not affectionate enough, or I’m not domestic enough for fuck’s sake. Worst of all, I feel like I’m not soft enough to hold or lovely enough to be around. My strength and my passions feel heavy because it feels like they’re getting in the way and it makes me want to cry. I have cried.
In recent years, I’ve developed debilitating back pain that keeps getting worse because I just don’t know how to stop and take a breath. Even now, I’m writing this down with a heating pad on my sciatic nerve because it’s not letting me live my life. The tension in my trapezius muscles is so bad, they’re solid as a rock. And even in this pain, I couldn’t help but find another nugget of selfishness.
All I ever want is for someone to give me a massage. Some people poke fun at me because I don’t like being touched, but I crave shoulder rubs like nothing else. Pain does that to you, it makes you a little crazy. My mom won’t rub my back, my dad will rub my shoulders on occasion, and my brother downright refuses even though I taught him just how to do it. My aunts will oblige whenever they’re around, but most of them just say, “What you need is a boyfriend or a licensed professional.” Well I wasn’t the boyfriend type and college kids don’t have $100 for weekly massages. But once again, I was made to feel selfish.
That feeling of selfishness has seeped its way through the nicks in my brain and I hate asking my boyfriend for massages now that I stopped running away from my feelings long enough to find someone I like to be around. I’ll wait until the pain is almost unbearable and until the request falls from my lips out of desperation because I feel so terrible for even asking. Deep down, I feel like one day he’s going to grow to resent me because of all the times I’ve asked. This is all I thought about the last time he helped me with my pain and all these nicks finally broke a dam in my brain. I cried and cried and couldn’t stop telling him how selfish I felt. All these years of all these people telling me that I needed to stop thinking about myself for once welled up in the pit of my stomach and made me feel like I was the worst person to ever walk the face of the earth.
I still feel like that. It’s not so clear when I’ll get to stop feeling this selfishness or when I’ll be able to accept that maybe these people are wrong. Maybe I’m not so utterly self-centered. Maybe there’s a huge overarching societal pressure that I’m feeling as a woman to give all of myself away until there’s nothing left of me for me because that’s just what a woman is supposed to do. But that’s a conversation for another day, when I’m not so ashamed of my selfishness again. For now, I guess all I can do is try to be better or try to accept that it’s all a lie anyway. Really, what else is there to do?