I recently started reading a new self-help-y book (don’t tell anyone), and it got me thinking a lot about what it means to love ourselves, and more specifically, about the way we view ourselves. It highlighted a really important element of our being. Self-worth. The mother load. The foundation from which all of our actions, choices, and relationship patterns stem. I thought a lot about how difficult it actually is to establish when it needs to be put into practice. We’ve heard it a thousand times. “You have to love yourself! You have to be whole! You have to come first! Don’t compromise, don’t settle!”
Yet when it comes to this seemingly simple ideology, the struggle is real. No, I don’t mean ‘struggle’ in the way that going into work at seven am with a hangover is real, nor my struggle attempting to reach things from high kitchen cabinets or changing a light bulb without a stepping stool is real. I mean it in the sense that struggling to love ourselves enough to set healthy boundaries, refusing to settle for less than we deserve, or compromising who we are in order to receive another person’s validation, is real.
Like most lessons in life, I learned this one the hard way. And it wasn’t just one finite lesson; it continues to be an accumulative education attained through years of dysfunctional relationships, self-neglect, and criticism. It slowly, steadily imprinted itself upon me, sparking new realizations and epiphanies over time, teaching me how to love myself fully. The most recent catalyst for another bout of introspection was an instance of casual dating.
If you’re thinking of entering a ‘casual dating’ situation, please, just don’t. Unless you’re willing to be painstakingly honest with yourself and the other person involved, do not. Pick up your things, all of your intended “casualness,” thoughts and ideas, expectations and intentions, and run. Run away and never look back.
I say this not because casual dating doesn’t seem like a good idea in theory. In fact, that’s why it’s so incredibly appealing. Since a lot of us are in transition throughout our twenties, thoughts of permanence have no space to be entertained amongst the more pressing matters of post-undergrad, I’m-moving-back-in-with-my-parents, grad school, I’m-moving-back-out-of-my-parent’s, internships, residencies, travel, etc. Most of these transitional period relationships have an expiration date, and we want to be OK with that.
I know why we think this is going to be a good idea. It’s because we truly believe we can handle it.
We assume we can handle something casual based on how independent and fulfilled we feel being alone. We conclude that because we can be confident, self-assured, and whole without someone to share our experiences with, we might be impervious to desiring and requiring more depth and maintenance.
So, we try the casual dating with reckless abandon. Most of us probably figured it would be the most convenient, noncommittal situation available, a win-win.
Instead, our confidence in maintaining something light and casual begins developing into a simmering resentment about how little we receive from a given situation. Because we were so adamant about cultivating a certain amount of time spent alone deciphering boundaries and expectations, the vagueness of a situation no longer aligns with our standards for companionship, serious or otherwise.
We don’t honor ourselves enough to be honest and forthright, to admit to that we got more involved than we anticipated, and began internalizing feelings, despite knowing deep down, that wasn’t the type of exchange we craved.
The inevitable outcome of this situation is self-censorship in the form of unsent or received text messages, overanalyzing, and a feeling of self-compromise and deception, although that was never either person’s intention. The once endearingly lackadaisical flirtation, evolvs into a subtle indifference. Eventually, as with most things not important, it dissolves effortlessly.
We immerse ourselves in a 500 Days of Summer-esque experience. We were not Summer.
We eventually decide it’s time to tell ourselves the hard truth, not because we want to berate ourselves, but because we love ourselves enough to look more closely at a situation that is clearly creating stress and discomfort for us. Maybe we like this person – a lot – but it doesn’t matter because we’re no longer enjoying what we created…because we know that despite our feelings, this person’s are not going to change. I would rather be alone than with someone who feels forced to be with me.
Ultimately, it is our responsibility to love ourselves before anyone else will. We are only given the respect we request from others, and alternately feel deserving of.
We can choose to close our eyes and remain in a situation that we know no longer serves us or our growth, but feels comfortable because we aren’t entirely alone. Instead, we can choose to respect ourselves enough to be honest. We can muster up our courage and resilience and make a difficult choice that is inevitably best for us, despite some tears and frustration.
When we are able to recognize our own worth, we no longer feel the need to seek validation from anyone other than ourselves – and that is infinitely empowering.