I’ve heard it a thousand times: learn to love yourself before you try to love someone else.
I always thought it was a prudent game plan, an act of self-protection and diligence, like putting on your knee guards before you step out on the ice. You’re just…supposed to love yourself before giving someone your heart. That’s the order of things.
I didn’t realize loving yourself is how you learn to love others. That without practicing radical self-acceptance, you can’t love other people.
That’s right. Can’t. I don’t believe it’s possible.
You can be become attached to others, certainly. You can overflow with desire, yearn for someone, cling to them, need them. You can even commit to them and build a life with them.
But love? Pure, forgiving love that liberates and heals and connects people. True intimacy and honesty and freedom and safety. You can’t offer that to someone if you haven’t first given it to yourself. How can you? You haven’t a clue what it looks like.
Love is a practice. You have to build your muscles holding up your own weight before you take on another person’s. It means staring all your mistakes in the face and saying “I still love you.” It means putting an end to comparisons with other people, to judging your actions or your words or your thoughts. It means reminding yourself that you are just as worthy as everyone else when you walk into a room. It means finding a way to stand back up and hold your own in a world ready to tear you down.
I’m still learning how to fully love myself, as we all are. I’ll probably never be done. But I’ve had glimpses of that kind of acceptance. I’ve seen it when I catch myself holding up impossible standards for my behaviour, and choose to forgive instead. I’ve seen it when I notice my stomach protruding or blemishes on my skin, and I choose to be grateful for my body. I’ve seen it like the shadows of a butterfly’s wings in the relationships of others, when they’ve said or done hurtful things, yet come back to each other and share a quiet kiss. I know it exists. And I know what to strive for as I gather the courage to go out in the world and love with my whole heart.
I pull out a suitcase from under the bed
a little battered, bottle-green, fuzzy at the edges.
Breathe and dust is blown from the top –
I haven’t been on a journey like this in a while.
I’ll bring along enough supplies
for both of us:
band aids for the feathers that threaten
to fall off our wings,
patches for the holes in our pride,
chocolate for bad days,
laughter for good ones,
and kisses for both.
I’ll pack a shoulder to cry on
and a listening ear,
and a voucher for my full attention
whenever it is needed.
I’ll pull on my yellow rain jacket
and meet you at the bus stop,
sweet smiling girl
with your own suitcase,
marked with a label reading
“Handle with Care.”