The best relationships are those that grow us.
These are the relationships that expand our reach and introduce us to new things, new spaces, new cultures, new music, new food, new books, new latitudes and longitudes that we’ve never dreamed of exploring or imagined to have existed.
But life is not made for reveries, and more often than desired, relationships can derail us without us even noticing, or send us to places we didn’t intend on going on our own. Sometimes, relationships make us lose control, and the various waves of energy that accompany being out-of-control can make us forget who we are.
Forgetting who we are—a scary but not unusual place to find ourselves when we are in a relationship that no longer serves us—manifests itself in a number of ways as we carry on with life on autopilot. Forgetting who we are is a function of a manipulated, deviated love. No one—not even at their worst—willfully surrenders their essence and backbone.
But often, loving others is easier than loving ourselves, and in that distraction, we neglect to care for the most important person in our lives—ourselves. We all deserve to be showered by the best of lovers and the best of loves, but “deserve” has become a dirty word, and we often find ourselves somehow broken from love.
May the four steps below serve as a healing guide for all of the injuries along the pursuit of love. I hope you can re-find the soul you used to know, then hold onto her and love her the way you had loved others, only harder. Because if we don’t show the world how to love ourselves, then other people will decide for us, and we might not be happy with those decisions.
Where do we start?
I. Know Thyself
Sun Tzu mentions this as a strategy in the Art of War, and what is love but a battlefield? Find out what your preferences are—the things that you like, don’t like, will not tolerate and value. Knowing our values will make it easier to recognize someone who aligns with what we stand for, and equally, filter out those who won’t orbit in our circles for long.
Using values as a matching point is a secure way to align with those who hold similar worldviews. This is crucial, because it will save a lot of explaining, misunderstanding and fights down the road. If there is misalignment in values, it’s not game over, but if they are not addressed after the initial sex and novelty, there will be misery. A few questions to start: What do I stand for? What am I about? What do I live for? What are my essential needs? The journey of self-discovery lasts a lifetime.
II. Feed Thyself
We should match friends and activities to values—and intake only what is conducive to personal growth. We can strive to be surrounded by company that enlightens, and at the very least, if our company doesn’t make us better, it should not drag us down to depressingly dangerous descents.
Yet, relying on external sources of happiness as nourishment is a walking textbook case of dependency. Be grateful for the free company, but when the party’s over and the curtains are drawn, it becomes crystal clear that we are our own to take care of. We are our number one.
It is therefore essential to feed ourselves with plenty of rest, nourishment, space and inspiration. To feed ourselves with all that we hunger and thirst for, so that we are always full or in the process of filling up. Only when we are full, do we then have something to offer. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of being empty. It’s too easy to feel that way. We should learn to know ourselves well enough to be able to feed ourselves emotionally, spiritually, mentally and physically. Depletion kills romance.
III. Love Discriminately
“I vow not to give of myself easily, for I am valuable.” Let’s make that our daily mantra upon waking, and see how the day changes. You’ve probably heard that, “You are the average of the top five people you spend the most time with.” Well, the ratio tips a bit more toward who we select to be our significant other. It’s not just that our standards rise and fall depending on our company, but more so, we start to share behaviour and traits—the good, the bad, there’s no discrimination there.
Our love isn’t for everyone—the best things in life aren’t. Regardless of one’s capacity to love, not everyone is equally deserving. Our time isn’t for free, so we should use it wisely by focusing on only those who truly appreciate us and invest effort into being with us. Otherwise, we’re in for a line of self-created disappointments. By having control over our time, we take control of our lives. We own all that happens to us, and our mistakes. It’s a more authentic way to live.
IV. Set Boundaries
“Don’t ever let anyone f*ck with your rhythm” was the best reminder I could have asked for when I felt that my relationship at the time was warping my life into a rhythm that didn’t work. Every relationship is one of compromise; the art of compromise is knowing when not to. The space and rhythm of any relationship changes over time and alchemy. No relationship grows in a vacuum, so don’t be afraid to set boundaries—because when we don’t, they will be set for us, and we might not like where the lines are drawn. If we don’t speak up, we’ll start to harbor resentment, and couple that with silence, and the relationship will be hitting the rocks real soon.
We can have our own beat, and hold our own rhythm. Whoever is into our style will mix themselves into our music. The worst is to disappear into someone else’s production, with our own voice drowned into a tune we can’t say we like.
Sometimes, we don’t learn to love ourselves until we’ve loved others first. Sometimes, new love can give us a false sense of immunity from the things that derail us from who we are. So love furiously, but first and foremost, let’s love ourselves with pleasure, devotion and limitless curiosity. Because while we might wake up to different faces from time to time, the only person we will sleep with every single night for the rest of our lives is ourselves.
Author: Xiren Wang
Image: Courtesy of Author. Photographed by Lawrence Zhg. Used with permission.
Editor: Travis May