I’m terrible at taking compliments. Always have been. I had a difficult childhood that included routinely being called fat and told I wasn't good enough, and even though I’m a grown-ass woman who has logged time on therapists’ couches, my self-esteem is an ongoing construction project with smeared blueprints.
I’m presently in my longest period yet of not working as a performer, and it’s been a tough time of financial lack and difficult non-performing job searches that take all wind from my sails. I have too many talks with myself where a little voice in my head hisses the word “failure” at me the way Gollum taunts Sméagol in the "Lord of The Rings" movies.
When I get a compliment, I generally say thank you and completely ignore what was actually said. I have a black belt in deflection, so I usually make a joke or pay the other person a (sincere) compliment to focus on instead.
I have trained myself to never again reply to someone saying I'm something nice with “No, I’m not” after a friend yelled at me once many years ago for doing so. I’ll never forget him shouting, “Stop doing that. You think you’re being modest or something but you’re actually calling me a liar and it’s shitty of you to tell me something I think is wrong.”
I wasn’t being modest; it's just not easy for a compliment to dodge the minefield of my insecurities and actually land close to my heart.
Well, I’ve been getting lots of compliments lately, from a pretty awesome dude I’ve been seeing lots of, and no one is more surprised than I am that I actually believe them.
In the past, compliments from people I was involved wit romantically felt hollow. But not with my boo, Pizza. OK, “Pizza” is not his given name, but Pizza is what I call the fella I've been seeing when I tweet about him because he's hot and delicious and sometimes even better in the morning. And also because I'm the one of us who overshares on Twitter and writes for xoJane and why not let him maintain his privacy?
After some basic hellos at the gym (where we met), Pizza asked me on a date with a perfect blend of nervousness and swagger that I have since reenacted for him because it delighted me so. From his very first complimentary comment to me, I felt valued.
At first, I didn't know what I was doing. I mean, I never thought he could be interested in me, but he did ask me out and it affects my actual heartbeat to make eye contact with this man, so of course I said yes, but then what?
I've put on weight since the old days when I danced around in panties on various stages. What could I possibly fit into to wear on a date? How on Earth would I make “getting-to-know-you” conversation? I shouldn’t talk about the past ‘cause it's over. I don't want to talk about the present, ‘cause ugh. And what future? Also, what about kissing? Or sex? At that point, I hadn't had sex in over a year and a half. Would I remember how? HOW DO PEOPLE DATE?
I’ve always been confident in my brains and my wit, but in the past, I would usually answer the question of what I bring to the table in a relationship with something entertainment-related. That was my identity and my dating currency. Date me and get comps to such-and-such Broadway show. Or party with so-and-so. I had no idea how to go out with Pizza without those elements at my disposal.
Historically, I haven’t really dated much overall anyway, and the dates I’ve had have been anything but ordinary. I've gone out with a few "boldfaced names" (yes, beyond the one you may know about), and performance schedules and industry obligations often required outrageous arrangements and meeting places. I've even had a few one-night dates that involved getting on a plane.
But frivolous thrills were never what moved me. Let the gold-diggers have the plane rides; I only ever wanted the time together. Although the extravagant arrangements were just the route to togetherness, I found myself wondering if I was good enough to get there without them.
I fumbled my way through. On those first few dates, we only went out or to his place. I couldn't even imagine having him over to my teensy, tiny, miniature apartment, which I refer to as The Shoebox. One night he looked me in the eye and asked if I was ashamed of my place.
Without a pause, I said "Yes" -- because it was true. I thought for a second and added, “but maybe I won't always be," because I hoped that might be true, too.
That same night, he was asking me something about family, and my fear and anxiety led me to reply with a distant "Why?" -- as in, "Why do you want to know?" I was trying really hard to be my best self or some shit and who wants to hear about my messed-up family?
Turns out he did. He answered my awful "Why?" with a bit of a chuckle and said, "Because that's how I'll get to know you. If you open up a little."
Character wise, my Ex Files read like a cursory recap of the TV series "The X-Files": A bleak setting with mostly creeps, a few interesting freaks, and one ongoing storyline that left me with more questions than answers. And then along comes Pizza, who is open and honest and tells me to quit it when I slide down the rabbit hole of anxiety. He is an actor with a "regular" job as well, and I admire and am inspired by his hustle. He cares what I think and he loves that I write. He rocks.
At a certain point, I decided I simply had to nut up and invite Pizza over to The Shoebox. He reacted beautifully, saying it is small, because it is, but enjoying as I do that it gets great light and is near the water. And I've been cooking up a storm lately -- something about the challenge of doing things well with limited resources is getting me going. I find myself writing random recipe ideas down all through the day and I'll get home to find a curious "ADD PEPPERS TO SAUCE?" scribbled on the back of a receipt.
I'm finding out that I have value as a person and not just as a picture outside a theater. When I say something that makes Pizza throw his head back and laugh, I am acutely aware that my entertainment work may have gone away, but the sense of humor that got me there has not. I can claim that and own it in a way I never did when it had a dollar amount attached.
And having claimed it, I can even allow a little more of myself to show up with others, too. I still struggle with letting people in to know who I used to be, but I'm getting more comfortable with who I am.
When Pizza compliments my cooking after having cleaned his plate, I believe him. When we can walk to the beach at night holding hands and it is heavenly, I am able to let go of the idea that I should apologize to him daily that he's not fucking the hot body I had two years ago instead of the one I'm in now.
He didn’t know me two years ago. It doesn’t matter. And the ultimate irony is that during that time I'm so mentally stuck in, I didn't think I was hot! So maybe in two years I'll look at pictures of myself now with a more forgiving eye. Who knows?
For right now, Pizza compliments my body and when he follows it up with the kind of bedroom activities that have my neighbors looking at me differently since he started coming over, you betcha I believe him.
Of course no one can give anyone else self-esteem (hence the moniker SELF-esteem), but I am having an easier time valuing myself when faced with incontrovertible evidence that I can do things that are of value to someone that I care about. Seeing a version of myself through his eyes that is genuine and flawed but also creative and worthy of being around acts as a wake-up call to live in the now.
Right now I am an actress who is not presently employed as one but is still so passionate about it. Also, I'm going out with a pretty swell guy who digs hip-hop and "Lord of the Rings" like I do and who puts me at ease about my current circumstances. I have yet to make peace with my thunder thighs, but I make a pomodoro sauce (with those added peppers) that will make blood rush to your bathing suit areas.
And if you tell me it’s good, I’ll believe you. Because I believe it myself.
Follow @PiaGlenn on Twitter to see her overshare about Pizza.