I felt ashamed many times in the past for not “loving myself first.”
In every relationship, it felt as if I was showcasing the love I had for myself to my partner and the personal improvements I did before meeting them.
Whenever I failed to show up as the best version of myself, I would give myself a hard time and realize that I needed more “alone time.”
Then whenever I had my alone time, it felt as if I was the client—it was my turn to show myself my own self-love.
It was an endless loop: work on self-love alone, exhibit it to a partner, fail, rework on self-love, exhibit it again, and so on.
At the time, working on loving myself felt so real and authentic. I went out alone, read more books, meditated, said to myself positive things, stared into the distance with a smile and said, “I love my life,” practiced self-care, journaled, and took notes of my improvements.
I did improve in many areas. I still have all the notes I kept from years ago, and whenever I read them again, I can see how far I’ve come.
But whenever I was triggered in a relationship, my improvements seemed to fly out of the window. Oops. Where has all the self-love gone? I was pretty certain that I was ready for a relationship. What the f*ck happened?
Then the guilt-trips would begin and the illusion that I needed more time alone started to poke me.
Here’s what went wrong: Instead of allowing myself to proceed with my self-love journey “within” a relationship, I stepped out of it to finish my inner work alone.
What I’m trying to say is, use your relationship as a stepping-stone instead of an obstruction.
I’m not in any way condemning alone or single time. We all need it and we should all experience it. But we shouldn’t define the places where we need to love ourselves. Self-love has no time or place—it’s a journey, and we are forever on it.
In fact, relationships are a great place to improve our self-love because they introduce us to all our sides—the good and especially the bad. When our partner or a romantic issue triggers us, it’s an indication that there’s something within ourselves that we need to work on.
This is when real work on our self-love begins. Leaving or staying in the relationship is irrelevant. What truly counts is how we improve with every calamity.
When I traveled alone and stayed single for many years, I learned a lot about myself. I learned about what makes me tick, my fears, my needs, my weaknesses, and my strengths.
But in my relationship, I learned deeper things about myself that were impossible to discern in my alone time. I learned about my childhood traumas, my attachment issues, my trust issues, and my lack of self-worth.
Also, our partner can act as an integral part of our self-love journey. Their compliments, support, and presence are pivotal, as they can positively influence our self-image. They can see beautiful parts in us that we might not be able to see in ourselves.
Having said that, we need both experiences. Alone time acts as an introduction to ourselves, whereas relationships help us dig deeper into ourselves and work on our hidden traumas.
Next time you’re triggered in a relationship, don’t take it personal. Instead, ask yourself, “How can I benefit from this problem? What is this fight or issue telling me? How can I use this to love myself more? What have I learned, and how should I act in the future?”
These are the questions that my husband and I have vowed to ask if we want to last. We try to replace blame with knowledge, anger with understanding, and name-calling with support. Our relationship is the field where we allow ourselves to show our true colors and help each other move one step forward toward the light.
We also understand that personal growth doesn’t necessarily need to happen within our union. We strive to grow in our own personal spaces as well and update each other on our epiphanies.
Let everything be and let people in. Don’t stop yourself from getting involved with someone just because someone told you, “But you need to love yourself first.”
It’s all part of the journey, and it wouldn’t be complete without all the bits.