My parents were correct when they told me that in five years my sixth grade experience wouldn’t be that big of a deal. In fact, there’s not many things I actually remember from the experience except that I’m extremely grateful it’s over. However, if there is one thing I remember about sixth grade it was an ultra-specific comment that for years wounded me and influenced the way I handled relationships.
It was simple really, just a mere comment. “Sometimes you can be really clingy.”
This remark perhaps wouldn’t have had such a traumatizing effect on me if the person involved hadn’t promptly ended our friendship, but sadly, that was the context and for several years, this small comment grew into a larger wound. Why did this small remark, made by someone no longer in my life, have such power over me?
The power came from the fact that this truth opened up wounds that stretched all the way back to China and my initial abandonment. The power came from the fact that even though the delivery was poorly timed, the statement was true.
In fact, looking back, I would go as far as to take out the word sometimes. Though I didn’t mean to, my constant presence easily could have been unnerving and veered towards toxic. To this day, when I feel comfortable with someone, I tend to gravitate towards them, and in many situations I can even crowd them a bit. This so-called clinginess stems from losing so many people so early on and experiencing so much instability so early; I tend to stay close to those I’m comfortable with because I’m afraid they might leave me and with them, take away my sense of safety.
For years this comment negatively affected the way I handled relationships, oftentimes negatively. Because I lost my friend right after this comment, I linked being clingy with people abandoning me and such a conclusion caused me to play push and pull in relationships. If I’d spent time with friends I’d scare myself silly that night that I had been too clingy and try to pull back next time. Hanging out would cause me to evaluate and reevaluate my actions so I wouldn’t make the same mistakes I had in my broken friendship. And in doing this, I nourished the lie and only grew the wound.
I’d like to be able to say that five years later, I have been completely healed and this comment has no power anymore. Part of that is true - the remark no longer feels like a stab to the chest, but I cannot honestly say I’m completely healed. Sometimes I still worry I’m hovering too close to those I love and push and pull with how much to give at a certain point. But I’ve come to realize that where my old friend saw clingy I saw as loyalty.
If there was a single quality I had to choose in a person, I would choose being loyal. To me, loyalty is not the constant presence of someone, though it can be shown that way. My definition of loyal is knowing that someone chooses to stand beside those they love over and over again, regardless of convenience. Sadly, in some of my relationships, not a lot of people were able to recognize that loyalty was the way I said “I love you.” Part of this might be because in recent years, the value of loyalty has declined in society. Another reason this might have been hard for others to understand is because usually, this type of devotion is sought exclusively in romantic relationships and rarer in platonic ones. However, I have come to see that those who love me understand that my intense loyalty is how I express love and that I am still working through the holes trauma has caused.
As I continue to create and nourish relationships, I’m not going to pretend that this quote might not come up and scare me. In fact, in future relationships, this may affect the way I interact. However, as I pursue new relationships, I am learning that other’s perceptions of loyalty and mine might not be equivalent, and that’s okay! I have trust that God is gonna put people in my path who are able to understand that my attachment is an expression of love and appreciate me for this truth.