Somebody on my Facebook group recently asked the question “How has your love for your partner changed over the years?” As you can imagine, this started a really interesting and thought-provoking discussion. I thought about the question a lot and I realised that a very relevant question for me when thinking about this is “How has my love for myself changed over the years?”
Immediately the idea of self-love and arrogance and selfishness came up. Because sometimes when we think about loving ourselves we go straight to the feeling of love – that feeling that this person is the most important person in the world, the best person, the most attractive person, the sexiest person – and it can feel very strange to imagine thinking of ourselves that way.
But what about the act of love? Because when we love someone, and we are fortunate enough to be in a position to show them that we do, it’s not the just the feelings that are relevant. It’s what we do for that person and how we show them that we care. And this is for me what self-love is all about. I might never see myself as the sexiest, most brilliant person in the world (only on some days 😉 ) but I don’t think that I need to. What is important is how I show myself that I love myself, and that I am deserving of love.
When we think about whether or not we deserve love (hint: we ALL do) complicated emotions can surface about how we see ourselves in relation to other people. We might imagine that other women are a lot more attractive. We might imagine that some people we fancy are “out of our league”. We might think that we have personality traits that make us hard to love. We are our own worst critics, and this can really skew our perceptions of how other people may feel about us. But the thing about loving ourselves is, none of that matters. One thing is for sure: I am in my own league! I am not out of my own reach. I am good enough for me! And that’s a damn good thing too, because I am the only person, the only person, that I spend literally every second of my life with.
Think about that for a moment: you have and you will spend every. single. second of your life with yourself. Imagine spending all of that time with someone you don’t love and who doesn’t love you. Wouldn’t that be a tragic waste of a life, and a miserable way to exist? We often encourage friends to leave bad relationships, to walk away from abuse, to understand that they deserve better from the people around them. Isn’t that ever more vital when it comes to our relationship with ourselves?
So how do we act like we love ourselves? How do we treat ourselves with love? Well, let’s start by thinking about the things we would want from a partner. Not the realistic, safe expectations that we learn to put up with as we get older, but the fantasy stuff. The things we imagined as teenagers. The things we’ve seen in the movies. Because when it is just us, nothing needs to hold us back. We can give ourselves exactly what we want.
Make yourself a hot drink at the end of a long day. Sit yourself down for five minutes and tell yourself that the chores can wait. In fact, sod the housework for tonight, you deserve a night off. Run yourself a bath. With bubbles. And candles. And nice music. And a glass of wine. Soak in the tub.
Rub lotion into your body. Massage your aching muscles (hard to reach your own neck I know. How about you make a note to book yourself in for a back massage? Wouldn’t that be a lovely gift to yourself?). Have an early night. Are you feeling good? Make yourself cum. Not quickly in a half-ashamed dark fumble. But slowly and properly – you know how to, you know what you like, it’s your body.
Then put on your soft, fluffy PJs, tell yourself that you love yourself and to sleep well, snuggle up and go to sleep.
Or – and here’s the important bit – do whatever YOU want to do. Because it’s you loving yourself. Not me doing it, not someone else doing it, but you. And you know what you want, need and enjoy.
Now, there are a few barriers to this aren’t there? First of all, if you have children then all of that can feel like an impossibility. Just like our relationships suffer when we have kids, so does our relationship with ourselves. And it is just as important, in fact I would argue more important, to take time to rebuild that relationship when you have children and life is frazzled and chaotic. Some people will tell you it’s important to take care of your own needs because then you’ll be a calmer, better mother. Which is true. But it is also true to say that you should take care of your own needs because they are YOUR needs. They are valid, important, worth looking after and guess what? It feels really good when you do!
So in the same way that you might get a babysitter for date night, or hide from the children for 15 minutes for a quickie with hubby, or ask your partner to look after the kids so you can take your Mum out to lunch for Mother’s Day: do those things for yourself. You can ask someone to have the kids so that you can look after you. You can hide in the bathroom for 15 minutes so that you can paint your toenails. You can blow off the housework or that PTA meeting so that you can do something that YOU want to do. Just for you. Because you need some love and you are damn well going to show yourself some.
Sadly another barrier to this can be the people around us. If there are people in your life who would laugh at you for this, who would question whether you deserve it, who would resent you for taking time for yourself then please think about that. Really think about it. Do those people love you? Do they respect you? Do they have any interest in your happiness? Should they, in fact, be a part of your life? Because think about the people that you love: you want them to be happy don’t you? You want their needs to be fulfilled do you not? Of course you do. And that’s how people who actually love you will feel about you too.
It can be difficult, because some people in your life will not have learned how to love themselves. And they will therefore be as jealous of your relationship with yourself as people can be about a good relationship you have with another person. And we know of course that it is really hard for two people’s needs to be met all the time, by themselves or by each other, when kids are in the mix. So in that situation there does of course need to be give and take. You can’t have a bath and an early night every night whilst he puts the kids to bed (sorry!). But you can work to ensure that he has his time out and his treats and his opportunities to do what he wants to do and…… YOU HAVE YOURS.
This is important for everybody. You might be single. You might be happily married. You might be in a happy, loving relationships or an unhappy relationship or in a complicated relationship. It doesn’t matter. You are still, always and all the time, in a relationship with yourself. It is the single most important relationship you will ever have. It is the one that will last the longest. It is the one that will have the biggest impact on your life. And it is the one that, if you get it right, is most likely to give you contentment and peace.
It’s not just about treats. If you’re ill, take yourself to the doctor. If you need counselling or medication or physiotherapy or a special diet respect yourself enough to do it and continue with it. Because that is an act of love. Don’t tidy your house because of the judgement of other people, bugger them, but keep your house in whatever state makes you happy because you love yourself and you deserve to live in a pleasant environment. Dress for yourself. Surround yourself with people who make you happy. Choose to do the things you like to do. You won’t stop thinking about others, you won’t stop nurturing your children or caring for your partner or making a contribution to society or all the other things you want to do. You won’t become selfish. Do you know what you might become though?