We’ve all heard it before. “Love yourself or else you can’t love anyone else”, “love yourself first and the relationship will follow”. I think these sentiments echo often for me and others like me, because I am a part of the generation that has recently flown the nest. So naturally we are suddenly reconciling with what relationships mean, and how to be in them without losing ourselves in the process. We are also fighting with love as a concept. Self-love, platonic love, romantic love, familial love, the list goes on and on, and it seems to get more and more complicated as it does. And as I wrestle with these concepts, I’ve noticed that there seems to be a tendency for assuming that our version of self-love must perfectly be intact, otherwise we must or should be alone.
Before I truly get into it, I want to add that I believe self-love as a continuous practice is incredibly important, because there’s truth to the idea that it’s hard to give and receive love when you don’t love yourself. I find that without self-love, the love that I offer to others is conditional, which is complicated at best, and a crappy way to give and receive love, at worst. With that said, I think “perfect” self-acceptance or love can be a conundrum. And that conundrum gets more “conundrum-y” when placed in the context of our current self-love climate, or rather our “perfectionism for the sake of getting into a relationship masked as self-improvement” climate.
When Self-Love is a competition, no one wins
Maybe I’m speaking for myself when I say that I feel like self-love has often been framed like a product as of late, or even as a destination stop on the way to “the perfect life”, fit with a loving partner, kids and the perfect dream job. It feels almost as if self-love is a means to an end, and whoever can capitalize off of that is the “winner” and the ultimate lover of self. And it’s disappointing really, because when we see self-love as a destination (as my sister perfectly puts it), we apply perfectionism to our ability to love ourselves and our flaws, and we all know that perfection is just unachievable.
Does loving ourselves mean never feeling bad about our flaws?
What’s even worse I think, is the fact that we apply this perfectionism to our ability to receive love. The logic flows as such: You must love yourself before you enter a relationship, therefore if you do not love yourself you should not (in theory) be in a relationship. But loving yourself with an added layer of perfectionism feels like an impossibly tall task. Does loving ourselves mean never feeling bad about our flaws? If that’s the case, I should be locked up in isolation for just about the rest of my life, never to meet a lover because I just don’t love myself hard enough. And that seems silly right, the idea that a person can’t receive love until they have perfected the art of self love? And truthfully, isn’t that a little antithetical to what self-love is supposed to be anyways? With that kind of logic, we’ll be alone for quite some time, and that’s arguably the antithesis of human existence. Give me the name of one single human who was born in and exists completely alone. I’ll wait!
Can we love ourselves in a vacuum, really?
I think “be alone until you love yourself” is hard because we don’t exist alone in this world, and really, we shouldn’t. In fact, I would venture to argue that I personally wouldn’t have learned where my self-love was lacking, if I had remained isolated and away from relationships. We can’t learn about ourselves in relation to the world in a vacuum, and so how can we know what we love about ourselves if there’s never any stimuli that brings certain parts of us out? Would a woman know and love herself for her boldness, for example, by boldly proclaiming her love for her houseplant in an empty room? That’s a dramatic example, I know. But you get it.
In closing, I’ll reiterate that self-love is important, and it’s important to know ourselves and see ourselves above all else. I’ll also reiterate that treating self-love as a destination stop (as we often do) gives the practice a level of perfectionism that will absolutely keep us isolated, and makes it even harder to love ourselves. In short: we can’t love ourselves in a vacuum, and in our journeys to true self-love, it’s okay to love ourselves imperfectly, even in the various relationships that we’ll encounter in this life. In fact, giving ourselves that room for imperfection over time is really what self-love is all about.