I was talking with a friend a while ago about how dating is going for her. She regaled me with stories of good dates, bad dates, and purely comical dates. With each story, I noticed she kept coming back to this one common thread—why was the guy really there with her? Even on a good date with a guy she liked, the thought was always in the back of her mind that he must have ulterior motives.
Several weeks later, I was talking to the same friend about the guy I was dating. I told her how frustrating it was that this guy seemed to always question my intentions; it made me wonder if he was hiding something and if that was why he always wondered if I was hiding something. As I vented my frustrations to her and further explained some insecurities I noticed in him, she stopped me mid-sentence with an exclamation of “Oh! That makes complete sense.”
My friend went on to explain that, through both of these conversations, she realized that this recurring thought that haunted every date she went on was a product of her own insecurities. Because she didn’t know how to love herself, she doubted the affection of the people with whom she spent time. It was the same with the guy I was dating—because he didn’t value himself, he couldn’t understand why I would see value in him.
I’ve had those moments, too. I’ve found myself in relationships, platonic or romantic, where I wonder what purpose I serve in someone’s life. Sometimes I feel hard to love, and that makes me wonder why people think I’m worth the effort. As I learn to love myself, I notice and observe the way my relationships change.
A typical person experiences four types of relationships throughout his or her life: familial, friendship, romantic, and professional. Each relationship changes as the individuals involved in the relationship evolve and grow. Sometimes relationships change for the worse, sometimes for the better. One factor that ensures positive change in relationships is the ability to love oneself.
When people talk about self-love, they often refer to it on a superficial level—love your imperfections, don’t compare yourself to others, etc. This is an important part of loving yourself, but loving your true self requires introspection and observation. The first step towards self-love is self-awareness. Self-love does not always equate self-like; it requires you to sit with yourself and to acknowledge your positive qualities and to forgive your negative qualities. It requires you to accept everything you bring to the table, good or bad.
When you genuinely love another person, you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of them you love; you choose to love all of them because you understand that no one is perfect. Maybe you love them because of their imperfections, or maybe you love them despite their imperfections. Either way, you love them for all of who they are. We should learn to love ourselves in the same way that we love others, the same way we hope to be loved by others.
When you learn to love yourself, to truly love yourself, your relationships start to change. With a greater sense of self-love comes a greater sense of self-worth. When you know your own worth, you don’t allow others to diminish it. You see yourself clearly, so you understand why people value you. The people you’re in a relationship with notice and respect the way you love yourself, and you attract the same type of love you exude.
Learning to love yourself in the way you deserve to be loved decreases the likelihood that you will seek validation from others, and this leads to healthier interactions. If you’re not looking for validation, that frees up your energy to be fully present in the relationship. It also ensures that, if the relationship ends, it won’t feel like the end of the world. When you’re capable of giving yourself the love you need and deserve, all other relationships become more fulfilling; they supplement the love you already have for yourself. If you lose one of those supplemental relationships, you’ll survive because you already know how to cover your own basic needs.
Life is full of relationships. The relationship you have with yourself is the only one that’s guaranteed to last a lifetime. You are the one person who can give you everything you need. You are the one person who knows exactly how to love you. Since you know you’ll spend a lifetime with yourself, doesn’t it make sense to invest the most time and energy in learning how to love yourself?