Disclaimer: Sorry to disappoint, but this is not a post about masturbation!
(I figure if you are old enough to read elephant journal, you’ve probably figured that out already. If you haven’t, Rebecca has some advice to give you a hand.)
“You, yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”
The other day as I was inwardly berating myself about my complete lack of car maintenance knowledge, it occurred to me that before my separation and divorce, I had basically had a romantic partner of some sort since about age 15. I’ve looked to someone else to define a good portion of what makes me happy for half of my life.
That really isn’t what relationships are for; it should be the opposite. It’s funny that we start dating before we figure this out. As girls, we are encouraged to take interest in what our boyfriends like. Be yourself, but not too much. If you’ve ever seen The Runaway Bride (and really…if you haven’t…skip it. It’s a pretty stupid movie, but I digress) it’s a perfect illustration of this. The main character goes through relationship after relationship, shifting and changing what matters to her to fit her partner. If we are going to have relationships that are healthy, honest, intimate and lasting, we need to have a healthy relationship with ourselves, first.
Instead, I spent a very long time setting aside what I loved and what I wanted out of life until “some other time.” If you decide to marry someone who doesn’t share or encourage you to pursue those loves and you don’t choose to include them in your life, that some other time never happens.
Since then, I’ve noticed something amazing. As I’ve taken time to explore what I love on my own, without worrying how it fits with others’ expectations of me, I have attracted some wonderful people into my life who love me because of my own fascinations and quirks—not in spite of them. To truly love others, to truly be open to receiving love from others, we must first love and accept ourselves. It’s been said that we “accept the love we believe we deserve,” and I would agree. In order to shift my beliefs about what I deserved, and to begin accepting this love from others, I needed to take the time to love myself.
Many of us save the best things in life to enjoy with someone we love. Unfortunately, we don’t allow ourselves to be that person. As wonderful as it is to enjoy beautiful things with others, we deserve to experience all that’s best in life as well. When we take the time to explore what makes us happy alone, we bring that much more to the time we spend with those we love.
A few ways we can show ourselves some love:
1. Making dining alone something special.
You know how it goes. When you are making a meal to share with others, you put love and care into it. Why not do this for yourself as well? I had a stretch where whenever I was eating alone I resorted to carrots and hummus or veggie sushi. Now, to be fair, I do enjoy both of those things, but…there are limits. What if you made a meal for yourself that you would make to share with a lover? You are worth taking the time to prepare something delicious, and taking the time to eat it on a beautiful plate, without your laptop or iPhone handy.
2. Spend an hour in a bookstore.
Or a flower shop. Or a music store. Whatever strikes your fancy. Go with no agenda and just look at the things you enjoy. Sit on the floor and read Neruda. Flip through a coffee table book of Degas. Take in the beauty of the ranunculus and the peonies and notice which shapes and colors make you happy. Listen to some gypsy music and feel swept away to somewhere else. Take your time and observe what you love and enjoy, without judgment.
3. Get adequate rest.
Resting is more than just sleeping. I went for a stretch where I was working three jobs (and doing school work and mommying) for 14+ hours a day. And when I wasn’t, I was anxious that there was something I should be doing. I shouldn’t be sitting. I should be doing something useful for someone. I would get up at about 5:30 and get to it and wouldn’t stop until after midnight most nights. Rest time was when I showered, or if I made time for it—my time on my mat. It occurred to me one day that if I treated either of my children the way I was treating myself, it would be abuse. Just as much as anyone else, we deserve the gentle application of our lovingkindness. This sweetness and gentleness that we would offer to others needs to begin with the way we treat ourselves.
We forget about this. We think we are too important, too grown-up and have too many serious things to do. The breaks we take in all of our serious grown-up business actually make us more effective at our work, but even if they didn’t, we deserve it. We need it. We need to feed our souls like we feed our bodies. Put on a song that you love (even if everyone you know can’t stand it) and dance your ass off. Lie in the grass and look at the sky. Stop complaining about the weather and realize that no matter how old you get, getting soaked and splashing in puddles feels amazing!
5. Keep learning. Keep growing. Keep dreaming.
Not so long ago, someone told me that I needed to grow up and stop dreaming. I was initially a little hurt, but then realized—those two ideas are opposites. The idea that in order to be an adult—or in order to be loved—we must become this fixed thing and stop growing or creating new things is ridiculous. I love listening to my parents, who have been married for 44 years this month, talk about their dreams for the future. They’ve had their ups and downs, but I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from them about love is seeing the balance between the space in their togetherness and the encouragement of each other’s dreams.
To love someone doesn’t mean to wish to possess them and have them remain joined at your hip, unchanging and stagnant. To truly love someone starts with loving yourself enough to be authentic, and to want the same for those you love. When you love yourself, you are secure enough to find happiness in others’ happiness—even when it doesn’t revolve around you.
One of my all-time favorite elephant articles by Natasha Blank sums it up best:
When we learn to love ourselves, we free ourselves from this need for constant validation and approval from others. When we are kind to ourselves, we are able to give kindness to others, without ulterior motivation. When we accept ourselves, we create room in our lives to be with people who truly accept us, and we let go of the desire to control them.
If we want to enjoy relationships where we feel loved and free, we must begin by extending this same love to ourselves.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise