Was my whole dating life a lie, too?
I was driving to my mom’s house listening to a self-help audiobook when I heard the dating fact that changed my world.
“You don’t have to love yourself before you can love someone else, or before someone else can love you.”
Wait, whaaaaaaaaat? My entire foundation for dating just fell out of my open mouth and rolled out the back of my car.
The book was Wired for Dating by Dr Stan Tatkin. I’d been fed up with romance in the world of Tinder and my psychologist mother recommended the book because it breaks down how the heck one deals with digital dating. And then the phrase that changed everything came.
(That was my mind exploding.)
Up until that moment, I’d bought into the mantra that I needed to love myself before I was properly able to love someone else, or to fully receive love. That I needed to work on my own shortcomings and learn to really and truly accept myself, mind, body and soul, so that I was able to get love back in return.
I’ve spent many hours practising meditation techniques, creating self-love mantras and teaching myself self-care methods to try to get in tip-top shape for dating. But apparently, while beneficial to my overall wellbeing, these things aren’t the prerequisite to lasting romantic love.
While I was listening to the infamous audiobook (with my jaw still hanging open) Dr Tatkin gave the example of babies. Infants don’t shoot out of the womb meditating or possessing an ability to self-soothe; they merely cry a bit, drool a lot and receive love. These little ones love unconditionally because they’re dependant on the care of others to survive. And the simple act of existing means they’re automatically deserving of love and acceptance, no matter how they feel about themselves.
As. Are. We. (Kaboom!)
Think about it this way: what if you didn’t grow up with a family who nurtured and loved you? Figuring out the whole self-esteem thing is a lot more difficult if it’s not something modeled from an early age. So then how do you begin to love yourself if you have no idea what that even looks like?
Psychologists say finding someone who loves you might actually give you the self-love you hadn’t been able to cultivate until that point. Someone else loving the heck out of you can show you what you’re worth, make you feel worthy, and foster in you the feelings that were missing. Then before you know it, bingo, you’re returning that love.
And you didn’t have to love yourself first.
Then flip it around and think about the narcissists. They love themselves; in fact, they love themselves more than most other things, so much so that sometimes there’s no room for anyone else. They’re so full up of their own self-worth that there’s no space to care for anyone else in a way that adds anything meaningful to the others’ life. They come first. Period. Everyone else need not apply. So again the whole “you have to love yourself before you can love someone else” theory has gone a little bit awry because these guys love themselves. A lot. But they still can’t love someone else.
If we continue to put worth in this saying, what we are essentially saying is that every single person suffering from anxiety, or depression or personality disorders, or addictions isn’t ready to love or be loved. We’re basically shaming someone into believing they don’t deserve to love or be loved, when in fact they’re probably the ones who need it the most. “You don’t treat yourself right? Don’t accept yourself? Damn, sorry, that means no love for you today. Thanks for playing!”
The more I think about it the more wrong this seems.
None of this is to say that loving yourself isn’t something that should be a life goal. Dr Leon F. Seltzer told Psychology Today that although those who don’t love themselves can and do love others, it’s just they’re less likely to report satisfaction in their lives.
“It’s extremely unlikely that without the ability to love oneself a person can ever be happy,” he explained.
“That is, what’s necessary and sufficient – not for loving another but for a state of inner contentment and well-being – is healthy self-love and acceptance… it only makes sense that if you’re not on very good terms with yourself, you’re not going to be happy with life generally.”
But the crucial thing is that these people can also show great levels of love, caring and empathy to other people.
“These same individuals may have been unquestionably loving both toward their spouses and children,” Dr Seltzer said.
“So it’s hard to find compelling evidence that would confirm the notion that the inner love of self is a prerequisite for loving anyone outside the self. For, personally, I’ve seen many individuals quite capable of caring deeply for others, yet who struggled mightily to extend this same caring toward themselves.”
So there you go. Loving yourself before you can love someone else, or can truly receive love, is a lie.
You are deserving of love, whether you believe it or not and you are more than capable of loving another while you’re working on yourself. And who knows? The love you receive in your most vulnerable moments might be the very thing to help you into the self-love spotlight and into true happiness.
Image via unsplash.com.