The most important relationship that we will ever have is the one that we have with ourselves. The way that we speak to ourselves, to what extent we respect ourselves, whether we honor the boundaries that we have set—all of these actions are mirrored in our relationships with others. We have all been told that we cannot love another until we are able to love ourselves, but what does it mean to truly love yourself?
As in any relationship, love is more than pretty words—it is demonstrated through actions. So many of us venture out into the world with unresolved trauma, insecurity, and shitty coping skills, looking for romance with the soulmate we are destined to spend our lives with. But when the relationship goes to hell, we are puzzled and blame the failure on our partner’s “phobia of commitment” rather than our own codependency, attachment issues, and rom-com delusions of what a relationship is.
We want someone to spend time with because we are lonely and someone to make us feel beautiful to cure our self-loathing. We want someone to love us because we have not learned how to love ourselves. In reality, we want to fall in love to fill the emptiness with another person instead of doing the work.
Before torturing another human being by having them join the chaos that would be nothing short of an unhealthy, potentially parasitic relationship, we have to look at the relationship that we have with ourselves. Do we truly love ourselves as much as we claim to?
How exactly does one begin to love oneself?
Learn how to be alone. The time that we spend by ourselves is seldom spent truly focusing on ourselves. We give into distractions, such as social media or trashy TV, but rarely form intimate connections with ourselves. When in a relationship, there is a difference between existing in a room together, staring blankly at a screen, and quality time—and the relationship with ourselves is no different.
If we want to master the art of dating ourselves before entering a relationship, we must do just that—date ourselves. Schedule a time to read that book you have wanted to finish (or start), try that new restaurant you said you wanted to go to six months ago, or begin learning a new language. The key to dating oneself is fostering connection through meaningful experiences. Ditch the social media binging and spend alone time engaging in hobbies, discovering passions, and healing any baggage you have kept nicely folded and packed away.
Work on self-love. The purpose of a relationship is to add value, not to burden our partners with the emotionally-draining task of constantly validating us so that we feel worthy of love. We all need encouragement and the occasional pep talk, but if we require incessant reassurance in order to feel okay, there is work to do.
If you are under the impression that you will be worthy when you are thinner, or make more money, or buy that house in suburbia, or find someone to marry, you have given your worth away. Worth is not conditional on appearance, achievement, or marital status; worth is a constant. Worth is the belief that you are deserving of love and happiness, and questioning that belief leaves us open to mistreatment from ourselves and others.
It’s also important to hold yourself emotionally accountable. Managing emotions and the stress of daily life can be challenging, but coping with our own emotions, as well as our partner’s, can be overwhelming. The ability to regulate our emotions is crucial to all of our relationships, both personal and professional. If we are unable to self-regulate, we cannot expect our relationships to be stable.
Experiencing depression or feeling more irritated than usual does not mean that we should abandon any hope for a healthy relationship; however, we are responsible for managing our emotions and learning to cope in a healthy way. Repeat after me: “No one forces me to feel anything. Emotions are rooted in my beliefs and my choices.” Others are there as a support system, not a life boat that’s expected to keep us afloat with no land in sight.
Entering a relationship expecting another person to cure our loneliness, depression, anxiety, and feelings of disconnect is irresponsible. Healthy relationships require the ability to manage emotions and resolve conflict. If we enter a relationship with no awareness of our boundaries, emotional needs, triggers, and coping skills, we are grossly unequipped.
Like any other healthy relationship, loving yourself takes time and commitment. We cannot make one trip to Whole Foods, post a Brené Brown quote on Instagram, and then claim self-love. Learning to date ourselves means that we have taken the time to heal and gather a sense of direction. It means we understand who we were, who we are, and who we want to be so we can move towards happiness and authenticity. In truth, the way that we love ourselves sets the precedent for what we tolerate, expect, and accept from others. We have a choice: We can search for love in every kind, mildly attractive stranger we meet, or we can begin creating a sense of worthiness within ourselves.