I have always believed and celebrated the popular societal narrative, that to truly love someone else, you have to love yourself.
But, I also believed that in order to love yourself, you had to walk that journey alone.
It had to be some majestic lone pilgrimage that forged self-love in the fires of solitude—like some kind of voodoo magic, you would find all the answers and be forever changed.
For a while, it’s what I did. I went out alone, took myself out to dinner, spent time with friends, spent afternoons creating photo collages, or reading juicy self-help books, and threw myself into work and my personal creative pursuits. I even joined a support group, putting my mental health at the top of my priority list (still, hands down, the best thing I have ever done for myself).
It brought me happiness; in some instances, closure.
It made me less afraid of being alone. I started living a healthier lifestyle. I enjoyed my own company. I made changes I never believed I was capable of making. I found myself accepting and loving parts of myself I had berated for years. But, it also made me feel like I finally had it all figured out.
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
I’m an Instagram poet, inspired by the original modern-day poetry masters, Lang Leav and Beau Taplin. I find tremendous joy in it, and I connect with all kinds of people from all over the world. It’s how my love story began.
A fellow Instapoet slipped into my DMs and into my heart.
It’s funny how love really does find us when we aren’t looking and when we are focused inward.
He came as a beautiful surprise. A man who values the same things I do—honesty, loyalty, respect, and, most importantly, trust. It was easy in the beginning, as it always is; the so-called honeymoon phase. I felt giddy and let myself be carried away on the high of love.
But, as time passed, as he got closer and closer to me, I found myself pulling away in unexpected ways.
I struggled to allow myself to be truly vulnerable. I struggled to be truly seen, the way we are seen in a real and loving relationship. To let him see all the parts of myself that I had only recently come to accept and learn to love started to feel desperately overwhelming.
I was slipping back into old, familiar patterns. Emotional unavailability had once been my comfort zone, and self-destructive tendencies had been my MO. I was also getting angry that all the work I had done had all seemed for naught. Had I really been loving myself for all of who I was? Had I been hiding, or worse, distracting myself?
I felt like a perfectly knitted sweater and I was tugging at the one loose thread that would unravel it all.
My saving grace was my partner’s awareness and his ability to understand the complexity of my emotions. We started our relationship on a foundation that provided strength when things started to get a little rocky.
He knows me; he has listened to my stories; he has taken note of my past and what I have battled to overcome. There isn’t anything we haven’t shared with each other in earnest, and, thankfully, he recognized what I was recognizing.
As important as my time alone was, the next layer was opening myself up again; to surrendering myself to vulnerability with another person. Being alone can sometimes be a lot easier than having to do that with the potential of rejection.
I am now of the opinion that loving yourself isn’t a destination—you don’t arrive—you travel that road continuously. You learn more and more about yourself, you grow in each and every situation, and your self-love fluctuates—sometimes it’s abundant and other times, it’s lacking.
You do this when you’re alone, and you do it when you are in the midst of loving someone and building a life.
You love yourself through every season of your life, and, hopefully, you have a person who travels that road with you, gently nudging you back into your own fold when you lead yourself astray. A person who truly loves you, just as you are.