In an earlier post (what is all that noise?), I mentioned how a friend had encouraged me to see and appreciate myself from all the angles and in all the ways that my mythical Mr. Right would. I’ve had some conversations about this idea recently and have decided that the concept warrants its own post.
I should probably be clear right now: this post is not about masturbation. I am not averse to the subject, but this particular post is not about that. If you’re still interested, read on…
What this post is about is having a relationship with yourself that is so fulfilling and loving and affirming that anything you have with someone else is just a bonus… gravy… schwag. It’s about the idea of not feeling needy or lonely or lost or invisible, but instead feeling strong and grounded and special and worthy.
So now you’re thinking, “Sure, that sounds great, but seriously??” And to you I say, “Yes, seriously.”
When we’re lonely, part of what we’re missing is that part of ourselves that shines when we are in a good, fulfilling relationship. Love songs and poetry talk about how a good partner “completes” us or is “the better part” of us or “brings out the best” in us. It’s like there’s this whole other person inside of us who only appears when coaxed out by the genuine love of someone who appreciates us and allows us to glimpse ourselves through his eyes. In an emotionally healthy relationship, that other person we become is typically a better, fuller, richer version of the person that we are alone.
But why does it have to be that way? When my friend Ryan asked me to imagine the best life I could make if I never coupled off again, I felt panic rise in my chest and grief fill my heart — what about that woman that I was when in a relationship?! I really, really like her! I had only just become reacquainted with her again after my separation, and I didn’t want to think that I would never, ever see her again. But slowly — very slowly — it dawned on me that I don’t have to keep her confined until some other person arrives with the key to release her. How wonderful would it be to be her, all the time, every single day?
I started thinking about what that would take. I spent some time reflecting on what it was in a relationship that brought out that special woman: the sweet words of appreciation; the recognition of the little ways in which I’m special to him; the acceptance of the idiosyncratic parts of me that I like about myself but might drive someone else crazy. All of those things are pieces of the key that unlocks the place inside where I hide that awesome woman when I’m alone.
So I decided to start doing that for myself. I replaced the harsh words of self-criticism with mediation on the good things about me. I consciously noticed and paid quiet tribute to some small talent or skill I displayed. When I heard a sweet love song, instead of wishing that some amazing man would sing that to me, I imagined that every man would, if only I would let him. I called upon my memories of all the tender things that men have said to me and framed them and hung them in heart to remind myself of how soft my hair is, how gentle my touch, how sweet my kiss, how bright my smile. I dusted off the truths about myself that had become stale and gone unnoticed by me — my intellectual sharpness, my compassion toward others, my kindness to strangers.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I was never in danger of conceit or arrogance. Thirteen years with a man who almost always made me feel “less than” is a strong counterbalance to thinking that you’re all that and a bag of chips. And, obviously, there were some days where I still kicked myself for a sloppy mistake made at work or a less-than-charitable thought about a friend, but I simply acknowledged those shortcomings without letting them define me.
And so very gradually, I have started really loving myself. As weird and new-agey and painfully touchy-feely as that sounds, it’s true. And that love has brought with it an amazing peace that has wrapped itself around my soul like a warm blanket. Sure, I still get annoyed or short-tempered or worried, but I find myself holding onto those feelings for much shorter durations. And the peace fills the space they vacate, again.
One of the amazing things about self-acceptance is that, when it’s genuine, you’re actually inspired to become better. Without the defensiveness that self-loathing breeds, you can see your shortcomings as temporary or changeable, rather than as immutable character flaws with which you are burdened forever. Labeling those flaws as transient and malleable also makes it so much easier to acknowledge them to another person, to be real and authentic about precisely who you are.
My point in all of this is certainly not to brag or chastise, but to encourage. Loving yourself requires nothing — not money or status or a degree — just the same time and commitment to yourself that you would apply to any relationship you value. I am new to this journey and have no real idea what comes next, but even if this love is as fleeting as past ones have been, I will be grateful for it. Always.