The world, they say, is knit together with love.
I like love. I’m full of it.
I like spreading it on bagels in the morning. I like seeing how many people during the day can smile, solely because of the love I have to offer; I like to think that love sinks out of my toes and into the concrete sidewalk, where it lingers, waiting for a person to surprise by the soles.
You’d think that with all of this empathetic eagerness, the desire to shine love out through my pores, I’d reap some of the benefits.
But, you see, it’s not that easy.
We’ve always known it isn’t that easy, right? I remember my health teacher from fourth grade, slightly weepy, standing at the front of a dim classroom and pointing her finger: You must first love yourself before you can love others.
She was implying, of course, that lack of self-love would lead to all the horrors the health curriculum taught: anorexia, bulimia, early pregnancy, STDs, and other irreligious “conditions.”
I mean, that’s what I gathered from the garish documentaries, the stuffy visiting speakers, the tedious worksheets.
But that kind of self-love was exactly that: a classroom kind of self-love. It didn’t help me, later on, when I walked into an abusive relationship.
It wasn’t there when I experienced sexual assault. It certainly didn’t show up in far-off continents where I traveled, at my college graduation, in the office where I began my first job.
It wasn’t even hiding behind the mayonnaise jar in the fridge! (The audacity).
It was particularly and most painfully absent on those weekends, the many frequent weekends, that told me: you are no warrior.
You know the weekends I’m talking about. They start bright and full, maybe with a trip to the farmer’s market. They are often sunny. They often are well-rested, too, even if the night before was a bit too sparkly with tequila.
Then they encounter something or evolve into a blue bruise of the past. They become toxic exes or traumatic memories or small declarations of failure. They become wilty and weepy weekends. They can leave you bunched up in your bed, waiting for the evening to come with a desperate kind of hope.
Yeah, why didn’t health class talk about that?
The saddest part of all was the fact that I didn’t even notice self-love’s absence. I felt betrayed without knowing who had betrayed me.
I felt fragile and unworthy. I felt that this was the tenor of life, and the people who lived outside of it were special (or had that one gene).
Then, suddenly, wondrously, I fell in love.
Not with a man. Not with a woman. Not with a fencepost, a new car, or a t-shirt.
I fell in love with a new vision of myself.
I saw her in a dream; I saw her at the end of a tunnel that was longer and darker than I realized.
Actually, I saw her the moment I left a toxic relationship, claimed my right to safety and love, and started a very new and different life. (I even cut my hair off.)
This vision of myself wasn’t what we were taught in health class. Not in the least.
She was chic and wearing a black leather jacket, kinda careless. She stared at me with knowing, kind, fiery eyes. I envied her nose ring. I liked her boots. She used simple words (not big, academic ones) and really, really liked sushi.
She laughed a lot. She looked good, and healthy, and wise.
She was waiting for me all along.
This vision of me loomed larger until she became me, and then I started to remember—I started to learn—what loving myself looked like. Timidly, like a fawn in a field. Self-love, I was realizing, was its own kind of fresh beast.
It was a language only I could speak and teach myself.
Loving myself in this way was and is not health class. It’s not an Instagram fad. It’s not something taken hostage, a sugared slogan, an American Girl lesson from those pre-puberty years. It’s not something to scroll through or even morning-muse over.
It’s not a preposition or a train-car.
Loving myself in this capacity means stepping into my bones, rummaging around, noting the way those stringy veins pulse, and recognizing power. This type of self-love is wild. It bucks and shouts. It says more than, ‘You are enough.’ It says: ‘You are everything and more.’
I’m slowly remembering all of this. How do I remember? The same way you do: by taking back my voice and heart from those who have had it too long. (Don’t sell those puppies. They matter.)
I also remember by letting myself be my idea of a narcissist because what I think is “too selfish” is often just my own right to being a confident, empowered, and respected human being. The good girl was taught not to love herself, but to always love others.
I’m no longer that good girl. I’m the best woman—the woman who knows she is best when she gives herself the best. And I like sushi, and I have great boots.
And this is the best I give myself: matcha lattes even when my wallet’s empty, a hike at dawn, self-defense tools, airplane mode for my phone, laughing from the belly. A Persian rug and ripe, savory peaches. A four-hour afternoon read and copper pennies tossed brightly into a pool.
All of these things bring out my natural ferocity and tenderness. They bring out my vital love. They make me healthy and wise and true. They may be my ultimate vision of my self-loving self.
Most of all, I am remembering to love myself by seeing all of those nicks in the road—that toxic relationship, that one bad night in Rome, the rejection letter and the one who said no—as part and parcel of this peculiar, cuffed love I offer to myself.
The more nicked the road, the more nuanced the love.
In fact, that’s probably the best way to describe this love, and how I’m handling it all—a homemade, breathless offer to me. An offer no one else can bring to the table, and one that often feels like we’ve been waiting for it our whole lives, as lovers and women and friends.
So, I say yes. You should say yes, too, to this kind of self-love.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. Then lie back and let it flood.