The other day, I read a piece on ThoughtCatalog called “Some Honest Advice for College Students.” Being a college student myself, I thought I could use advice – who can’t? So I read.
What gripped me was this line:
On top of the actual education [college students are] getting from their teachers, they’re learning so much about themselves.
As far as advice goes, I will admit that this bit is not the most profound. And yet, it is. It’s one of those things that seems so obvious that you need it spelled out for you before you realize how much it pertains to your life.
It made me think: What am I learning in college? What am I learning about myself? And then I realized:
The most important thing I learned about in college was Bonnie Raitt.
Bonnie Raitt is a genius. Bonnie Raitt is a saint. Bonnie Raitt will tell you the God’s Honest Truth and break your heart doing it. Bonnie Raitt will tell you it’s “tough love” and demand that you get over it when she does break your heart; you won’t get over it, but you will be wiser because of it.
What I’m talking about, of course, is the 1991 hit “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” To be fair, Raitt did not actually write the song – that honor goes to Mike Reid and Allen Shamblin. But goddamnit if that woman didn’t perform the hell out of it. She sang those words, made you think about them, and by the end, you were crying your ass off (I was).
I read that the song was inspired by a court case where a man got drunk and shot his girlfriend’s car. In the case, the judge asked the man what he learned, and he answered, “I learned, Your Honor, that you can’t make a woman love you if she don’t.”
Isn’t that just the most honest thing you’ve ever heard? I suspect that at least part of what makes it so profoundly true is that it was a revelation inspired by alcohol (and alcohol, that cruel mistress, will certainly reveal some hard truth sometimes).
Learning that I can’t make people love me who don't is a lesson I struggle with daily. It’s something that hurts to realize, but that doesn’t make it any less true that I can do nothing about how others feel. What I can control is how I respond, although learning how to respond is an entirely different lesson for which I have yet to find a Bonnie Raitt song.
At the end of the day, what “I Can’t Make You Love Me” is about is acceptance. Trying to accept yourself. Trying to accept others. Trying to let go. College has made me accept a lot of things about myself: That I won’t always have the body I want, that I am more depressed and anxious than I care to admit, and that I can’t force people to care about me. This is a lesson that I’m still trying to perfect, but it’s one that I still cling to.
Tonight, I’m going to live Raitt’s words. I’m going to:
close my eyes, then I won't see
The love you don't feel when you're holding me
Morning will come and I'll do what's right
Just give me till then to give up this fight.
Tomorrow, I will come to terms with the fact that I can’t make people love me who don’t. And I will be ok.