This is not to be confused with Telling People What To Say (or Not To Say), or being the language police, mostly because that's not a real thing. Still, we are certainly allowed to have conversations about how these things make us feel, and others are free to respond (or not) however they please. Today, I'm going after a big one, one of the most universally repeated "truths" I hear on a consistent basis. And I'm calling bullshit.
"You can't love someone else until you yourself first."
OK maybe "bullshit" is too harsh, but... I have questions.
A simple Google search of "love yourself quotes" brings up gems like this:
In whatever iteration, this particular idea means well, I guess, but I get a little exhausted with things that "mean well" and still make me feel like poop. True self-love is a journey, I think. I'm well on my way on that journey, and I have my good days and I have my not-so-good days with it.
I think that describes many of us, and I think we deserve and are worthy of love along the way.
I'm not saying that I look to either Jennifer Lopez or Tumblr quotes to govern my life; these are merely visual representations of the common idea that’s forced upon us ad nauseum, passing in many forms as a life rule, when it can feel to me more like a wolf in inspirational sheep's clothing.
Seriously, what makes people think they can say this kind of stuff so cavalierly? How is this being repeated and shouted from rooftops and embroidered on pillows unchecked? If what people mean when they say this is that self-love is crucial to living a fulfilled life, then... why don't they just say that?
Asserting that loving oneself is crucial, is mandatory, even that it should be our number one priority, would get no argument from me, ever. It's this notion that it has to come first, that we have to be all finished and wrapped up with that part of our journey as though it's some tidy little thing we can check off of our to-do list and go on about our day, that troubles me.
What if I learn a little bit more about who I am every day? What if I was abused as a child (I was), and assaulted as an adult (I was), and, though I don't hide behind those as excuses, I am invested enough in learning to fully love myself that I can call out my obstacles and give them the special attention they need, and what if that takes time? And what if that time doesn't progress on a predictable timetable like a commuter train out of Grand Central Station?
What if it takes years to fully get there? Or a lifetime? What if it is improving and growing every moment, but it's that important and that monumental a journey that it could take up every one of my days on Earth?
Am I to spend every one of those days alone because I haven't completed that journey yet?
I am capable of giving to other people, and loving other people, thankyouverymuch. I am also okay on my own, to harken back to Ms. Lopez' statement above, as I am alright being on my journey and knowing that I'm working on loving myself fully. No other person is going to “complete me,” that’s just a movie quote and I’m perfectly okay with doing the work to complete myself.
What I'm not okay with is this strictly enforced prerequisite that tells me I'm unworthy of love because I'm still on my journey.
Let's not confuse self-sufficiency with self-love, and let's open ourselves up to the idea that one can be alright on one's own and still be working toward complete self-love. Let's also not pretend that there are only two states of being: in love with yourself and therefore worthy of love, or an unlovable mess whose life is in shambles.
Another thing that these statements might mean but don't actually say directly is that we are all deserving of love, but some of us may need to focus on ourselves and healing ourselves and loving ourselves first in order to have a healthy and functional adult romantic relationship. Again, no argument there! Choosing to focus on loving and healing oneself first is not the same as being told that you don’t get to have love if you don’t. There are definitely stages of emotional damage or dysfunction that call for significant inward focus to aid in creating more functional romantic lives, but I'm not interested in drawing such strict lines between the two ideas, or in deciding how they manifest or play out in anyone else's life.
"One hundred percent?" Girl, bye.
This sort of grand lie is helping no one. I think I personally know one actual adult human who honestly loves themselves 100%, or even close, so I suppose everyone else should be single?
What if the reality, that we are all flawed human beings existing on a massive spectrum of mental and emotional wellness, and that we are all deserving of love if we feel it and want it, is worth repeating instead, even if it doesn’t make for a cute soundbite or Tumblr image? What if I can see my flaws, my strengths, and everything in between, and I can thrive as a perfectly imperfect person on days of struggle and glory? And what if I can love and be loved at the same time?
I don't conflate self-love with being perfect as though that’s the goal, but I still reject the implication that we ought to all be operating on the same timeline of Loving Ourselves, as opposed to being gloriously unique works in progress.
We know that hurt people hurt people, and that codependency and other forms of completely measuring your self-worth by your romantic relationship (or lack thereof) are at odds with us living our best lives, but not completely loving oneself 100% yet and being able to give and receive love are just not mutually exclusive.
Just as I am a work in progress, I'm also not expecting to find some perfect, 100% self-actualized person out there either. What if two self-aware people who are both invested in being their best selves can continue their individual journeys and also embark upon a loving journey together? Spoiler alert: being open to love and loving in return might even contribute positively to that journey.
I deserve love. I know I do. I have an excellent therapist and I'm continuing my journey, and I am worthy of love. Flawed as I am.
Now that's an idea worth spreading around. And hey, revolutions can take time. They can take planning and careful execution. Or, they can happen in one violent upheaval. However it manifests in your life, it's worth the emotional investment and your attention.
When taken with a grain of salt, I guess we can translate these goofy platitudes to mean that we all need to prioritize self-love, and that perhaps the more we love ourselves, the more of ourselves we can bring to our relationships and interactions, which are not at all limited to romantic love, by the way.
Alternatively, we could just, y'know, say that. And mean it. And live it. If you're further along on the spectrum of self-love than I am, I salute you. (You're also probably not still reading this, but I thought I'd give you a shoutout anyway.)
For the rest of us, keep going. It seems well worth it. We'll get there one day. And we're worthy of love every step of the way.