As a little girl, I discovered my body pretty quickly. Specifically, I discovered what good, pleasurable, amazing things it could do for me. Though I wasn't exactly the girl caught masturbating under the blanket at nap-time, I wasn't so far behind her (or maybe I just knew better than to get caught). Later, in my senior year of high school, thanks to an older and more experienced boyfriend, I learned that others could bring me as much joy as I could bring myself, and that my orgasms were just as much the responsibility of my partner as they were for me.
There was none of that "there's something wrong with me not him" bullshit if a guy couldn't make it happen. I was lucky. I know so many women who have suffered from the ego of the selfish male and felt it was their fault their orgasms seemed elusive. Something so awesome became another thing these women felt responsible for perfecting, not the other way around.
I went on to spend a fair amount of time in my twenties discovering all the little ways — both manual and electric — that I could achieve this feeling regardless of my partner status. I'll admit, thanks to all my "research," at times, even the sound of a leaf blower can get me a little excited. My partners weren't terribly threatened by it because it was something I did out of a love for myself, and my own body. And, trust me, I had REALLY learned to love myself. Or so I thought...
Not only was I wrong, I had to come to terms with the reality that maybe I was my own booty call.
With my ex-husband, I always thought because we had the sex stuff together we would be OK — we would make it. A great lover, he was also quick to tell me all the ways I needed to change. To him I was too fat, too skinny, too muscular, too smart, not smart enough, not busy enough, too busy for him. I believed him and tried to please my partner in every way I could imagine, thinking that if I could make him happy, I would find my happiness alongside his.
I told myself, and my concerned friends, "So what if he's a jerk sometimes — at least we still make love on the regular. And it's sooo good."
But 14 years later, neither of us had reached anything but misery regardless of how often we still managed to knock boots. And after leaving, it was time for me to survey the vast damage of being constantly told you can never measure up to what someone else wants, regardless of how many orgasms you both may have had.
It was brutal and I was exhausted. I had come out on the other side and face up to the reality that though, like my ex-husband, I may be able to make love to myself with skill, I was greatly failing in that other kind of loving myself; the kind of self-love that means "loving you for who you are on the inside," not to even mention the even harder, "loving your body for all its womanly curves."
I had no idea where to even look for that kind of love. When I looked into the mirror did I truly love the person staring back or was I just looking at her face to find some flaw? Had I taken over where my former mate had left off only to criticize myself even more harshly than the men I dated? Sure, I bought myself flowers and treated myself to spa days, but was I just faking it? Was I only dialing it in for my relationship with myself?
I also didn't know what specific part of me was preventing me from truly understanding what it means to love that person deep inside. Was it childhood abuse? Check. Dysfunctional family? Check. Bad relationship choices? CHECK! CHECK!
But what could I do to about it?
When I was younger, I loved to go into shops like Babeland or The Pleasure Chest. I would ask questions. I would read up. I would listen to what other people had to say because sex and sexuality has always fascinated me. I told myself that clearly this was my proof that I was comfortable in my skin and that I knew how to love myself fully. Now I accept the truth: I had been using sex as a way to cover up my issues, coolly putting my emotions to the side and hiding under the technical (and safe) blanket of physicality.
Once this half-truth that I had been telling myself had been exposed, I knew I needed to follow that same path to appreciate the metaphysical me as well as the external me. But how do you find something when you don't even know what it looks like? And if I really valued myself, what would I do differently?
I started seeking out women who seemed to have that self-worth thing down. I would listen in awe as they told me they had better things to worry about than dating or how they had gone years without sex. I respected their strength. I admired their resolve. I could mimic their actions (or at least try) but somehow it still didn't hit me. Honestly, I was terrified of following in their no-sex footsteps. Was lack of sex the key to self-love??
Talking to one friend about her relationship with her daughter, it was clear that she felt no need to teach her child self-love because it was a given within her family that one loves oneself first. A beautiful, deeply caring, and highly successful woman, my friend is my self-love Rosie the Riveter and, to me, the poster child for successfully loving yourself. She also has a pretty damn good sex life.
Ultimately, as all addictions tend to go, often theorizing alone isn't enough. It was finally hitting yet another emotional relationship rock bottom that would teach me more than any conversation, article, or book ever had.
I had fallen in love with a man who everyone said could never offer me the type of love I deserved. After years of a painfully flirtatious and confusing "friendship", even he said it as he finally listed off the reasons why he didn't love me and why we would never be together. As I felt my heart shatter, I knew deep down that maybe it was my self-love (or lack of) that had brought me to this place. I knew no orgasm would heal the seismic fractures of this particular heartache. I knew, this time, I had to dig deeper and love myself enough to realize what everyone had been telling me and what I had been trying to discover.
I needed to look in the mirror and finally see myself for who I am, not as who I wished I could be for someone else, and love HER. That was the kind of self-love I was looking for. After trying to change myself for others, I realized this was the only change I needed to make for myself.
Ironically, loving yourself is a lot like trying to lose weight or getting in shape. It's not the crash diet but the slow and steady differences that sneak up on you. It's not about texting a guy first or not texting a guy first. And it's not about pretending you don't have any insecurities, it's about moving through them and valuing yourself. Some days are better than others and some still suck. But I know I'm a work in progress and it's the progress that makes me hopeful.