The secret to a healthy, satisfying, and supportive romantic relationship is self-love. Google self-love now. You’ll find millions of articles. Loving yourself makes you more attractive to a potential partner. Loving yourself sets the tone for how your partners treat you. Loving yourself reinforces that your lover doesn’t complete you. It all sounds great, doesn’t it? So if relating is as simple as loving oneself, then why do more than half of all marriages end in divorce? Why are so many couples miserable together? Why aren’t more folks living and loving alongside each other as teammates? The truth is that most people have NO IDEA what the PRACTICE of self-love looks or feels like. The truth is that the idea of self-love can actually feed self-rejection. Let me explain.
Some people believe their relationships ended in heartbreak because they don’t love themselves enough. We’ve encountered many people who believe this in our practice. They have a belief about what it means to love themselves and they judge themselves short of the mark. Their failure to love themselves just gets added to their internal story of unlovability. Geesh. What a vicious cycle! The issue is not with the practice of self-love, but rather the idea of self love. Self-love is not a strategy to ‘get’ things from a relationship.
Before I met Rob, I struggled from one long term relationship to the next. I had been searching for a partner that could cherish me without limiting my growth. I KNEW it was possible but deep down I had this nagging feeling that maybe it wasn’t. Maybe it was a needle in a haystack, and I was just spinning my wheels searching for it. My friends couldn’t help much. They were encouraging but skeptical. They told me I was asking for too much.
I have a strong need to experience myself as the author of my own destiny. I create, execute, and control my own volitional actions in the world. I thought I was loving myself by striving to create a relationship that celebrated that. I’d spend hours debating with my partners over how much freedom and autonomy I was ‘allowed’ to have. There was a desperate energy behind my actions and it greatly influenced how I was being ‘met’. I was seeing and experiencing all my own worst nightmares. I say this to share with you a common pitfall of what some people think is self-love.
I’ve had the honor and pleasure of relating to the hearts and minds of many beautiful men and woman. There would always come a time when their investment in me produced some sort of mental ownership of me. One definition for investment is – (n.) the surrounding of a place by a hostile force to besiege or blockade it. That’s exactly how I felt!! My commitments could have been a celebration of dedication. Instead, they were obligations restricting my freedom. I was so frustrated because I felt powerless to change anything and I didn’t know how to move forward.
My first partner had rules about how often I could masturbate and how small the dildo had to be. Yup, that wasn’t going to work even if I was ‘the light of their life’. My second boyfriend disapproved of my sexual confidence. He believed I was just a ‘bad girl’, someone to have fun with rather than the ‘nice girl’ he envisioned to marry. Shoot, are you kidding me?! My third partner had a problem with me owning any jewelry from my past lovers. He insisted that I end my platonic relationships with past love interests. He begged me to distance myself from my male friends. He swore we’d have the deepest love possible if I were to comply. Yeah… that ended with me getting sucked into a black hole, dealing with his addiction to pain patches. I could continue this list, but I think you get the idea.
At the time I believed that I was having faith. But the truth is I had some limiting beliefs dating back to childhood lurking in my unconscious. I believed that how I was receiving love from the outside was what I deserved. I was using my experiences to prove or disprove whether I was worthy of what I desired. I was also letting them inform me about whether the world was a good or bad place. I might as well have demanded god/goddesses/gods show me a sign that he/she/they cared. I had yet to recognize myself as god’s loving action in human form.
It all changed one day after my year-long apprenticeship with HeatherAsh Amara. The whole intention of the 13 Moons program was to clarify this conundrum of love I was experiencing. I asked my teacher, “How can I have more freedom in my current relationship?” To which she replied, “You just need to renegotiate the terms of your relationship.” At first I took this to heart quite literally and whipped out the pencil and paper. I sat my partner down and tried to figure out what would work for both of us. I wanted freedom in making connections with people. I soon got stuck in the weeds of compromise and detail. It took me the whole year to get the guts and finally recognize that the relationship was worth risking. I went on a date with another man and the aftermath of that honest and open event destroyed the relationship.
My heart broke, but the disillusionment just brought me closer to truth. I faced myself and examined what I truly wanted out of life. A calm sense of peace came over me. The kind of peace that can only come with compassionate self-reflection. At the same time, I had discovered the joy of responsibility. It all culminated in one moment that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I felt it like a lightning bolt from the bottom of my feet through the top of my head. It came upon me as a quiet and calm resolution. I decided I would have what I wanted no matter what. I was even okay with dying alone, if that was what had to happen.
The feeling sense of my resolve was completely different than before. There was no fervor to it and it wasn’t a big deal. It was an evolution that I realized in my body instantly as true. It wasn’t the hot fire of judgment, it was the cool truth of personal discernment. It was clean. I realized the truth of my teacher’s words. I realized the necessity to renegotiate my relationship to love, not to another person.
Two weeks later I met Rob in an improv comedy class I had signed up for to improve my public speaking skills. Our courtship of one another began a type of relating that demanded all of me, in a completely new way. It was like my resolution had opened a door that previously had been jammed shut. Walking through it required me to put away everything that I thought I knew. All that mattered was responding honestly in the present moment. Focusing on what should be had fueled the fire of my fear and illusion in the past. Now I was allowing life to reveal itself to me. This has done more for me than any IDEA of self-love ever could. Emotional literacy helped immensely too.
I took courageous action being present with Rob moment to moment. I couldn’t know for sure that he would embrace me. In doing this I was also reintegrating the disowned pieces of myself. Our relationship began as a spiritual practice from day one. I presented myself, without force or timidity, as I truly was. I had the privilege of seeing the beautiful creature in front of me beyond my expectations.
We did not come perfect. We did not come to each other already fully loving ourselves. We had just deposited enough in the bank of self-discovery that we had the guts to be present and honest.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Love is an action, not an idea. I intuit, based on my personal experiences, that as soon as you think you have an idea of it, you haven’t got it. In fact, it was the process of immersing myself into the unknown that allowed me to even meet Rob. It was fate that we connected in a time and place where we both had the opportunity to grow together. There are two parts to this process; 1. being present with what is and 2. responding honestly. I’d like to tackle each aspect to shine a light on the process of self-love.
Why wouldn’t I be present? FEAR. My resistance to the present moment has everything to do with being afraid. I’m afraid that I will witness or experience something that will disprove my identity. I recognize this as an outdated model of self-protection. I am everything I can think of, and everything I cannot think of. I am the blood pumping through my heart. I am the neurons firing in my brain. I am it all, even though I know not at all how. I am the Escher hands simultaneously drawing and being drawn. I have experienced love as a birth by fire. Love is a creative process that feels dangerous because I truly do not know what is on the other side.
Facing the unknown is the same as being present. Doing that, I have the opportunity to experience my love flowing from within me outwards. This is the true security that comes from refocusing on the present moment. There is no security in trying to freeze a particular experience I’d like to have forever. It’s a story. Facing the unknown continuously reminds me that who I am defies my own definitions. Thus, loving myself requires me to step into the known of me, as well as the unknown of me.
Why wouldn’t I honestly meet my present moment? Because I have a tendency to want to avoid pain. Why do I expect my honesty to result in pain? Because I fear that if I don’t know what’s on the other side, it might hurt me. The unknown is scary because my culture reinforces a lack of understanding about birthing. The only thing that helps me is having experiences under my belt. Experiences where what I at first perceived as pain gets transmuted into pleasure. I do this by trusting pain as a process of growth. This is different from no pain, no gain. Yes, birthing requires pressure. This is the definition of unconditional love. Continuing to be with life, no matter what happens – that’s beautiful truth. Being honest with the present means letting go of what I thought it was, or what I thought I wanted it to be. Doing this challenges me to own my seemly painful experiences as the gifts that they are. This is the tell-tale sign of being on the other side of one’s challenge.
I’m not saying that I know for sure that Rob and I are going to ‘make it’ to our goal of life-long partnership. What I do know is that the only way to forever is by being with each other one day at a time, in love. And that my unconditional relating in love with life is beyond my relationship with Rob. We have enjoyed the pleasure of mutually supporting each other and growing together. Our relationship is a spiritual practice to be fully immersed in. We help each other love ourselves more with each passing day. We do this by recognizing the truth of ourselves, each other, and living our lives moment by moment. I believe this is what all these articles espousing self-love are missing. To miss this point is the reason why people use self-love against themselves. Love is not a finish line that you cross and then you come to each other whole and complete. You must continuously put yourself out there in authenticity. You have to commit to what your heart most deeply desires. Do this quietly and continuously as a reflection of the truth of the continuation of life as unconditional love.