Conventional wisdom says that you have to “love yourself” before you’ll find anyone else to love you. This is true in the sense that you’re not going to be able to choose the right partner (let alone build a great relationship with them) if you’re only a fraction of the person you were meant to be. You also might not be willing to open up if you know that your energy needs to be primarily focused on yourself for a bit. Some self-work has to be done solo.
However, this does not mean that you have to hit a certain point of self-development before the love of your life will come strolling along. There are a lot of people who do not totally “love themselves” and still find people to date, or even marry. There are others who don’t love themselves and their partners come along and help them do just that. Think of all the people you know who have found love: are they all shining, flawless beacons of self-love and empowerment? Probably not.
You are not being punished right now. The universe does not withhold love until you’re “good enough” for it. When people say “love yourself first” what they mean is that it’s wise to use the time in your life before you meet someone to become your best self, not that you haven’t met someone because you’re not good enough, or because you’re still struggling with things like trauma or mental illness or insecurity.
Thinking this way suggests that there is a moment of completion, which is an expectation that will only set you up to hate yourself forever. You can get better in life, but that’s just it: better. Not perfect. There will always be another way to work on yourself, always be something you want to “fix.” So long as you think love will evade you because there are parts of yourself you don’t “love,” it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The universe is not deciding when you should get love based on how “well” you’re doing. When you believe this – that you only “get” love when you love yourself enough – you also start to believe that you need to be perfect to “deserve” it. It makes you start to think that every time you have a set back, every time you have a bad day or a negative thought or a minor relapse, it’s a sign of how far away you are from finding someone. (It’s not.)
It feeds into everyone’s single most driving insecurity, which is that only beautiful, smart, successful people receive love, which is of course, mostly untrue. Those people get attention. Imperfect people get love every day. That’s what love is.
It implies that the universe only gives love to people who deserve it, when the people who love themselves least are usually the ones who deserve love most.
Most of the time, the reason why you’re single isn’t because the world is withholding your person from you. It’s because you are either not really trying because you’re afraid of putting yourself out there, or you’re still holding onto a past relationship you refuse to let go of, or you’re subconsciously pushing people away by failing to see someone’s potential, or just not having your heart open. When you’re not “ready” for a relationship, you will be the one to close yourself off to it. Nobody is giving or taking love away from you. Nobody is puppeteering people in and out of your life based on your behavior but you.
Believing that you can self-love your way into magically making your soulmate appear is a way to control what seems uncontrollable: who enters your life and when. There’s nothing wrong with devoting your time to bettering yourself (you should do that, honestly) but you’ll still have to work on yourself when you find love, and then you’ll have to work on your relationship, too. It won’t affect when you’ll find the “right” person. They’ll come when they come. Some people find the right person at the wrong time. A lot of people start their love stories saying: “the timing couldn’t have been worse, but…”
You do not have to be perfectly healed to find the love you deserve. Expecting that will only drive you to mania, and will leave you hyper-critical and compulsive about your insecurities, because you’ll begin to think that they make you unworthy. Of course, this will only reinforce them. It will keep you farther and farther away from your own love, and from ever opening up to someone else’s.
You’re worthy of love now. And maybe learning to really, truly “love yourself” is realizing you were all along.