I’ve always hated the phrase, “You’ve got to love yourself if you want to be loved,” because it makes love sound like a class you have to pass before you can enter college or something. How is one to learn to love oneself other than by example and by being loved by others?
Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum. People need people and humans respond astonishingly well to love. Like plants receiving water, we are fed by it. If this weren’t the case, babies wouldn’t bask in the love of their caretakers and we wouldn’t pine so much for the acceptance of our friends and families.
When there is no one around to hurt us, some of us do quite well. If our self-esteem is somewhat in tact, and our abilities to self-soothe have been cultivated, we may live a very happy existence. But when we’re in intimate relationships, this sense of serenity can be threatened because another reality is introduced. We now turn to others for love instead of seeking it independently. After being in a desert, someone hands us a glass of water. We don’t have to forge for it ourselves. As this love pours into us, it overwhelms and excites us. We let down our guard. Like a puppy on its back getting its belly rubbed, we soak in the bliss.
Until all hell breaks loose. The magic potion wears off and we realize that our partner is not our parent here to make us feel like an infant at mommy’s breast. Instead, that person is an adult with needs of his or her own and flaws as refined as ours. They can withhold from us, disappoint us, hurt us, fail to commit, and ultimately, abandon us. To the infant inside us, this is death.
And it in this death that we have an opportunity to heal. Somehow, we have to walk into that nursery and tend to the screaming infant that is ourselves.
We don’t say to that child, “Here are your diapers. Figure it out.” Instead, we pick up the crying baby and care for it. This can be an exhausting process and at times, a thankless job. No one gives us a gold star for a task well done. Instead, we often do the work alone and/or with little help. We are indeed a single parent.
While this might seem unfair, it is the only way to become one’s own beloved because whether in or out of relationship, humans will delight and disappoint us routinely.
The heart of self love is not flashy, glamorous, or romantic. We don’t get wined and dined. Self-love isn’t delivered to us in a formula, or an orgasm, or a package from someone else. It doesn’t come from buying a new dress or coloring one’s hair. Instead it comes with the courage to face the pain of being human, while still longing for the unitive state, which is only truly experienced with God.