I talk a lot about love here and while I won't attempt to define the indefinable, I would like to try to bring it into clearer focus. It's a word used so often that there are innumerable definitions: romantic love, familial love, love between friends, love of the earth and nature, love of art... It seems a lot of emphasis is put on romantic love, probably as it tends to be the most compelling, most tumultuous interaction we share here in life. It certainly shows us the range of our highs and lows.
When I talk about love, I'm most often talking about something I have no words for. I have love for my daughter and my family, love for my friends and my cats. I love my house and my city. I love good food and music. I love books and learning. I love life itself and I'm learning to really love myself but none of these add up to what I mean when I talk about love. If I could add them all together, and multiply them by the number of cells in my body or the number of bodies on the Earth, it might start to come close.
Someone said to me recently, "What I really want is love.". It was said with a mixture of more sorrow than hope. My immediate response, (believing that the person meant romantic love), was that we have to love ourselves before we can really love another. Not only that, we have to love ourselves before we can accept that another could love us and really feel that love. I had to think about this, though, because I have a bit of sorrow when I think of the desire for (romantic) love in my life. I have huge love for the world, so much I can't stand to see all the strife. I know that this is an impersonal love, not fueled by what others do so much as by what we all are. I also feel that I've started to cultivate a strong self-love that, while new and somewhat small, sustains me through most things. If I have these big forms of love, why do I feel sorrow around the desire for an other? I suppose it's just loneliness- that feeling I've successfully denied for so long.
Self love must be the beginning of all love in a person's life. I think- no- I know that when you don't love yourself, it can be so hard to imagine really doing so. We see so many things "wrong" with ourselves and the world tends to reinforce these beliefs. It's everything from how we look to what we do. We could spend our lives picking ourselves apart, and in some ways most of us do. Many of us find it hard to feel good about our accomplishments. Some of us may even feel we haven't accomplished anything of merit at all, (I have those days). Still others have amazing accomplishments and realize that but the success itself can set up some insecurities. They start to wonder if people really like them for who they are, or for what they've done.
All that just to say that self-love is not rooted in our accomplishments or lack thereof. It doesn't matter what we've done or what we may do. Self-love is about who we are right now, in this moment. We don't have to do or change anything in order to be lovable. The first step is compassion. It's to forgive ourselves for all we do that we think is wrong. It's to realize our true nature as good and kind and innocent. We're not here to attain perfection. We're not here to know it all or to get it all right. When people think, "I'll love myself when I lose a few pounds or when I finish this book or when I find someone else who really loves me.", they're putting off the true joy of those things. If you don't really love yourself, you can't trust that another would truly love you. It becomes a weight we put on another person, to make us feel loved and therefore lovable.
Compassion for yourself is the most important first step (I think) in loving yourself. If you can slow down and, rather than pity yourself, (which leads- as I well know- to depression), simply acknowledge all that's been difficult and hurtful in your life but see how you've made it through that, you're on your way. If we start to be compassionate with ourselves, we start to want to take better care of ourselves. Then we see what a gift this life is.
Not only that, we need to realize that everyone has had some struggle. Everyone gets kicked. The world simply isn't (don't tell Pollyanna I said this) a gentle, loving place. I really do believe that when we act in gentle, loving ways the world around us tends to respond by being more gentle with us, but no matter our efforts or beliefs, hardships come to us all. Also, we all make mistakes. We all have bad habits. We have all treated ourselves in unloving ways. No person here is doing everything "right" or perfectly. There are no perfect people on this planet and yet most of the time, we're trying to put our best face forward, trying to make ourselves look as "good" as possible. We all try to make it seem like we're doing a fine job handling everything, even and especially when we're struggling.
But when we love ourselves, it brings a bit of humility that allows us to reach out and ask for help. We stop trying to "look good" and start trying to feel good. Sometimes that means, "I can't do this all on my own and I'm going to ask for the help I need." When we're willing to do that, we also may become more willing to help others, seeing it not as a burden but as an important part of living a full, happy life. How much do you hate to ask for help? How much do you love to be of help to your friends? Isn't that strange?
So to address (but not answer) the issue of self-love in terms of romantic relationships, I have to assume that it will strengthen any bond two people create. If they already know that they're lovable, they have learned to take care of themselves, and they know it's safe to ask for help, so much more communication becomes possible. They're not dependent on one another to make them feel worthy. They also know that everything is not up to one person. It's balanced and they both feel supported by the other without being completely dependent. They can go about their own lives without fear of losing interest by not being with someone every minute. They will make an effort to remain entrenched in their own lives rather than starting to live the life of the one they love. They will see how they can each remain who they are, and yet something more than the sum grows between them.
From this place, it would become so much easier to really love someone. You would realize that you're not losing anything by giving. It would be so much easier to establish trust and intimacy because you're able to let down your guard, to be your true and authentic self with someone. And I think that's what we all want, ultimately. We want to be loved but we want to be loved as ourselves, not as that 'best face' we put on for the world. We want someone to really see us, to see all of us and say, "I love you", and really mean that, to the bones.
So since I'm not in a place to really talk about romantic relationships and, honestly, still not sure I'm ready to embark upon that journey, I will keep working with this big love I'm learning. It's a bit safer but no less profound. It's what allows me to say, with truth and integrity, that I love you to the bones. Yep, you, reading this right now. I may never have met you and I may never meet you but I love you because you're beautiful and worthy of love. I love you because you're here on this Earth, struggling and delighting, laughing and crying, loving and hurting just the same as me. I love you because I know I'm not alone. I love you, not because it's what we're supposed to do, but because it's what feels good. I love you because I think it's love that we're made of, that binds us one to another. I love you because you deserve to be loved.