How do you love yourself?
Love yourself. I hear this is what I'm supposed to be focusing on as I grieve my divorce and my parents’ deaths, but I have just one question for you, world: HOW?
Literally…how do you work on loving yourself? It can't just be about bubble baths and massages and shopping sprees. We often talk about loving yourself, treating yourself, and being kind to yourself as keys for being able to move on after a breakup or after a death of someone close to you, but we don't talk enough about how that sausage gets made. What's the work you have to put in to love yourself?
It's a classic, "I’ll know it when I see it," kind of thing, this idea of self-love. In theory, I know the outcomes that I want. And, digging up my training as a former K-12 teacher, here, some backwards-planning is essential.
I'll know I love myself when I can look in the mirror and be genuinely happy with what I see.
I'll know I love myself when I can say "I love myself," without starting to tear up because I know it's not actually true.
I'll know I love myself when I can feel proud of myself for something I've done without simultaneously wishing I had someone else – probably a man – telling me they feel proud of me too.
I'll know I love myself when I feel content eating dinner by myself, either at home or at a restaurant, and not feel incomplete.
I’ll know I love myself when I feel like I am enough without a fancy job title to boost me, and I don’t have to justify not having one.
I'm grateful to have been working with a therapist long before my father died and long before my divorce, and she's been supporting me to love myself before I even realized it was a problem. She's been encouraging me to practice being alone as a way to build my own confidence.
She's suggested pretty simple things: that I go on walks without headphones in and without my dogs, that I slow down and do yoga, that I take myself to or cook myself a nice dinner…all of this with the idea that in order to love myself, I actually have to BE by myself. Alone.
I've never wanted to be alone. I've actively avoided it, basically forever. My feelings of loneliness are rooted in a lonely childhood where my mother was sick with cancer, home wasn't always a happy one, and I sought out spending as much time as possible away with friends and eventually boyfriends at their homes.
Today, I am 32, getting divorced, and both of my parents are dead. I need the real thing, now. I need to love myself. Which means, unfortunately, that I need to be alone for a while.
At first when my ex and I separated, I sought out dating as a loneliness fix, spending time with men to fill these voids in my life. Spoiler: that actually hasn't worked at all to help me love myself. I can't build the muscle memory of telling myself I'm ok and I am enough if I always have someone else stepping in first to comfort me and help me feel safe in the moment. I've used men as crutches to feel good in the past. It's been a false sense of security.
In my Grieve Leave this year, I'm very intentionally spending time alone as a way to practice loving myself.
One of the things I did was intentionally spend Valentine's Day by myself. I was in the middle of a cross-country road trip (more to come on that, so stay tuned!), and stayed at a beautiful hotel in Sedona, Arizona. It was the first time I can remember being alone and being single on Valentine's Day. I could've gotten a date if I wanted to (thanks, internet!), but I very much planned to and sought out spending that day by myself. I hiked the beautiful red rocks during the day, and then in the evening I ordered room service, had some champagne in the hot tub, read, and watched the sunset.
Was it easy? No.
Am I incredibly fortunate to have the privilege of seeing so much natural beauty and eating delicious food at a beautiful resort? 100%.
Was I proud of myself for literally just being by myself? Yep!
Did I spend a significant portion of that night crying? Sure did.
But hey, listen: I can be growing as a powerful, independent, and self-loving woman, and also feel sad that I want someone, a partner or a parent, to share things with. I know this sounds like the most obvious thing in the world, but being alone can be incredibly lonely. And yet, building self-love can't happen any other way. I will never learn to love myself if my mirror always has a man in it reading my beauty back to me. I need to do it for myself.
I am learning how to get comfortable with just…me! And that takes time, some struggle, and a whole lot of strength.
So, cheers to you, reader, wherever you are in your own self-love work. Know that as lonely as this work may feel, you are, it turns out, not alone.