What if when we got up every morning we made one promise to ourselves—one that no one else but ourselves can keep?
This promise may be close to the most important one we could ever make:
“I choose to love myself first today, before I love you.”
It seems like an easy concept and a simple motto to follow, but when we practice this, it changes our lives for good. There are many times that we say we will take better care of ourselves, choose no more often and yes only when we really mean it, but falter at the last moment when we come face to face with our lovers. I am sure I have done this close to a million times.
I think this reaction is normal, and it can be a positive thing—it helps to remind us that we are empathetic souls down here on Earth.
But I see the practice of attending to ourselves first, before our partners, as an extremely honourable one. This act is opposite to the more traditional way of looking at life, the one our parents or teachers may have modeled, because that was the version of relationships they were brought up with. Theirs was a training that encouraged that the best service we could do in life was to offer ourselves up to others completely, and lay our own desires down in the background.
I tried this style of relating, but for me it was not a helpful way to live and got me into all sorts of trouble with myself. It wasn’t authentic. It caused me to be resentful, and by placing myself second I was ingraining a self-destructive habit in relationships that took me years to get over.
It was because of this “self-less” practice with my lovers that later I chose to run away from it all. I skipped the country and maintained wanderer status for the better part of five years. I did not know how to say no, and If I stayed in one spot I would have to eventually learn to set boundaries, or be exhausted by a partners needs as a consequence. My belief was that if someone wanted something of me, I must comply—a belief that was extremely unhealthy, but certainly felt real.
Staying on the move allowed me distance, and a self-focused lifestyle. I understand that we all do things for different reasons, but a huge motivation for me in my early 20s was to continue moving quickly enough so that I did not have time to disappoint the ones who loved me.
When I finally settled in one place for more than a year, I chose to face some of the things that traveling protected me from. It was only then that I decided to try to travel the bumpy road of loving myself truly, while loving another. Underneath all that running was a belief that if I chose myself first, my lover would leave—I think I had preferred to abandon them first.
It was physically painful at first to choose myself over a partner, especially when they were right there for me to see their face as I did so. But I realized that the other option—repetitive break-ups, isolation and keeping them at arms-length—didn’t serve me anymore either. I wanted to be closer to my lovers. I didn’t want to be afraid of them anymore, or their perceived needs.
As I practiced saying these words, “I choose to love myself first today,” something unexpected happened. First, huge grief came up over the fear that I was letting them down and would be left.
However, as I continued with this promise three, other wonderful things started to occur that made it all worth it:
1) My loved one stuck around and respected me even more. I found out there is something admirable about respecting ourselves first.
2) I no longer felt the exhaustion of resentment, and because I wasn’t doing the things that pushed me out of my comfort zone I could practice healthy self-care.
3) The compulsion to run almost disappeared. I felt like I could be close to another (I had been craving this intimacy for so long) and still be there for myself. Mind you, I have wanderer’s blood, so every now and then I will need a quick flight somewhere.
Slowly, I have gained the courage to practice this promise more loudly and proudly. It often looks like a lot of noes to my partner, but to me it feels like a lot of heck yeses.
I really feel that we are the only ones that can offer this gift and perhaps this is the new schooling that modern society needs to teach: when we love our self first we become active participants in the creation of a greater and more authentic world and life.
This day, what promise shall we choose in our relationships? I pick: to love myself first.
Author: Sarah Norrad
Image: Loren Kerns/Flickr
Editor: Emily Bartran