You’ve heard it before: “No one else can love you if you don’t love yourself”.
I call bullshit.
That may come as a surprise to you, since I’m frequently a vocal proponent of self-love. I’m also a proponent, however, of not being a shame-wielding jerk.
Imagine you’re already struggling to clear through years of socially conditioned self-doubt, practiced guilt, and a general difficulty to recognize your own awesomeness. Then some self-proclaimed expert comes along, and lays down the authoritative decree that, unless you can somehow muster the superhuman strength and insight to whip your self-image into shape, you’ll never be loved, you poor sap. Sound particularly inspiring to you?
It only pushes the experience of love farther away… creating another possible limitation in this hypothetical friend’s personal belief structure… possibly making her believe she’ll never experience this love thing, at all.
And love is what she needs most.
And sure, with luck, she’ll learn to experience that love from herself in time. I’m an absolute believer in the power of the love that we show to ourselves. What I don’t believe though, is that self-love lives as a prerequisite to anything else in life.
Self-love is not a task to check off a todo list, while we’re packing for a trip. It’s not something we staple into the packet when we’re gathering our resume and references for a job. It’s a lifelong journey, with highs and lows, twists and turns, and should we choose to engage fully in it, some of the most profound fascinations and satisfactions I know of. It’s not something we’ll ever fully get, but something I expect we probably continue to explore and deepen, as long as we’re on this planet.
It’s certainly not something to get done, before we reach out and engage with others.
I’d in fact offer the opposite: in my experience, sharing love with others has been one of the biggest contributors to my ability love myself.
Why can’t I help but bake cookies for the men I’m romantically involved with? How is it so visible that men transform into absolute kings inside, when they’re able to make a special woman laugh? Have you ever noticed the delight that bubbles up inside when you play peekaboo with a giggling baby? We’re automatically compelled to do things that delight our beloveds.
And by witnessing ourselves doing these things, we learn something critical. We learn how we love. All those things things you can’t help but do? That’s what it looks like when you love. That drive to inspire delight is exactly what we’re all learning to offer ourselves. How can we possibly love ourselves, if we’ve never seen how we love at all? Heartfelt attraction’s blinding brilliance is a fabulous teacher.
And you may be thinking “woah… I’m in a relationship, and my love hasn’t felt like that in a long time.” Well, Yes. I’m talking about what it’s naturally like in the “honeymoon period”. I’m talking about swooning, melty puppy-dog love. I’m talking about what happens before you know someone well enough to start cataloging their downfalls. The way you act before you decide their repetitive quirks are annoying. The compulsion to care you feel, before they feel close enough that their flaws are a threat to your reputation.
In short, before you start treating them the way you treat yourself.
I don’t believe that way of being has an expiration date, and I don’t believe that you can only give it to one person who you’re looking to commit your life to. I think the sustained to compulsion to be good to someone is the best gift we can give our partners, and one of the most important practices we can cultivate toward ourselves. It won’t come automatically all the time, and we’ll all have moments, days, maybe even years where we falter… but I think it was Stephen Covey who said “love is a verb, not a noun”. It’s something we do.
Things that can be done are things that can be learned. I’d assert that watching how we organically love, when we’ve got biology’s whirlwind of feelings driving us might be just about the best way to learn.
If you haven’t mastered the skill of self-love yet (pssst… none of us have), you might just not have ever realized that self-love is just your own love, directed inward. Don’t let that stop you from reaching out. Don’t let that stop you from engaging. If you can find your way through the fears and the doubts, to allow yourself to give love, it doesn’t matter if that love is requited. Watching your own act of loving will teach you.
A word of warning: when you watch how beautiful this person is, who summons all the courage it takes to give, and try, and show up fully with someone else.. you might just fall in love. You might just accidentally fall head over heels in love, with your sweet-ass self.
(Photo credit: Angela Marie Henriette)