If only I had a dime for how many times my mother told me that I’d find love when I finally loved myself. I mean, I’d probably only have a dollar, but the sentiment of this statement rings true — and it can’t be denied how often we hear this in popular culture.
For the longest time, this sentiment was one I agreed with. As someone who struggled with negative self-talk and low self-esteem for the majority of their childhood and adolescence, my negative self image played a significant role in the types of relationships I attracted. It also played a significant role in how I acted in many of my relationships, too. Because I never thought I was worthy of love, I usually acted in a way that would test the people I was dating. If they stayed, it meant they loved me. If they left, it proved my own hypothesis.
As I grew older and my relationships went from high school-level serious to life commitment-serious, my bad habits evolved. There was a four year stretch where I gravitated toward fuckboy relationships. They were the kinds of relationships—or really, lack thereof—where I was putting in the majority of the effort even when it came to something as simple as talking on the phone. If they threw me a bone, I leapt at it. I reduced myself to fit their narrative. I listened to the kinds of music they liked, came on way too strong and way too desperate. In hindsight, it wasn’t a good look, but I was hungry for what everyone else around me had: a relationship.
I wanted someone to go to the movies with on Friday night and to text me good morning. I wanted to have someone to hold hands with and kiss and explore the world with. I craved intimacy, and while there’s nothing wrong with wanting something so natural, I went about it the wrong way.
All of my actions were in service of finding a relationship, which ultimately came at the expense of my own happiness. Because while I felt good when the boy I liked decided to pick up the phone, ask for a nude selfie, and tell me that he wasn’t in the right place mentally to have a relationship, I still ended up falling asleep alone. I still woke up empty, wondering what it was about me: my hair, my style, my sense of humor, my body that made the people I liked—the people who I actually kind of thought I was in love with—not want me. Before long, I’d always ask the quintessential question: Why am I not good enough for them?
It took me a long time to discover that what I really had to do was love myself. But that didn’t happen before I found the right relationship—it happened during it.
When you’re with the right person, it brings your walls down. It’s inevitable. While your go-to may have been running away from conflict, a strong relationship will force you to confront the aspects of yourself that you deserve to work on. You’re going to have to sit and talk about why you did what you did or what you meant by what you said. You’re going to have to face the reality of your actions and accept responsibility for what you’ve done and where your relationship is headed, especially if it’s one you hope has a future.
More importantly, though, the right relationship allows you to see yourself through someone else’s eyes. The right relationship can make you feel beautiful and confident and capable, and all of those emotions can help make loving yourself easier. Will it be a foolproof method? No, because self-love is something that’s always going to be a work-in-progress. Despite being with my husband for seven years, I struggle with self-love at my lowest points. I still hate the way my body looks when nothing in my wardrobe seems to fit right. I still get angry when I look at the photo that was just taken of me from an angle I expected to look better than it did. I still doubt myself when I hit my breaking point—when I’ve burnt myself out from trying to tackle the world simply because my anxiety encourages it. And when those moments happen—and they happen every few months—they feel like I’m trapped in a bottomless pit of self-deprecation I can’t climb out of. But I always do. Because the bad feelings don’t last forever. Because I have a partner who makes me laugh and asks me what movie I want to watch or where I’d like to order tacos from. And slowly but surely I work my way out of it.
Loving yourself isn’t always easy, even when you’re with the right person, because at the end of the day, we’re the only ones who have any control over it. Self-love will always be a work-in-progress, which is exactly why you can’t wait for your journey to be complete before you love someone else. Your journey of self-love will always be up and down, and it’ll always be easier said than done, especially when life seems to be just a bit too much. But loving someone else—a partner, a friend, a relative, your dog, even your favorite TV show—isn’t impossible while you learn to love yourself. You’re full of love, even if you don’t realize it yet. Never be afraid to share it with those around you.