Self-love. Such a noble cause, right? Super trendy, for sure.
We beseech people to follow their hearts. Multi-million dollar industries have been built on this concept — the pursuit of a perfect combination of self-confidence, active intuition, humility, kindness, honesty and pampering. The achievement of self-love has morphed from concept to ideal. At its root lies a deep desire for alignment with the universe, or happiness, or nirvana, or fulfillment, or… SOMETHING. Something that smooths out the rough edges, that answers that question those ancient Greeks were so good at pondering in their togas, that brings a smile to our lips and a spring to our steps and an affirmation that we’re doing “it” right.
And I don’t mean this in the Sally Fields, “you really like me” kind of way but in the deep-rooted, essence of life, universal flow, purpose-with-a-capital-P sense of SOMETHING.
Of course we want this for ourselves.
Of course we want this for those we love.
Or, do we?
Pursuing self-love is not without its risks.
Everyone throws around this idea that one must love oneself before one can love another. And well-intentioned friends and family really do believe their own words when they spout such familiar pleas as: “you need to take care of yourself before you can show up for others,” and “without self-love, there is no real love,” and “choose you,” and “you deserve to live your own life.”
But they’re leaving a piece of their message out, the most important piece. It comes at the end of this 21st century mantra. And it begins with the word “BUT.”
Take care of yourself, BUT on your own time.
Love yourself BUT still love me more.
Take care of yourself BUT don’t inconvenience me.
Choose yourself BUT only if, in so doing, you are choosing me.
Because the alternative to this caveat makes people really, really uncomfortable.
The person who chooses to follow the call of self-love — believing the inherent truth that one is left achingly empty without it yet brazenly powerful with it — and chooses to take care of herself, love herself, choose herself… that person develops a sort of reflective skin, a mirror effect. Get close to this person, and you are likely to see yourself.
We all know how starling and, often unflattering, it is to catch a glimpse of ourselves in a mirror unexpectedly.
It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to be around people who are living their lives firstly for themselves, who are acting on their greatest needs rather than the needs of those around them, who are making active choices that (often) don’t fit into society’s conventions.
Am I being true to myself? Are my choices actually mine? What does my own self-love life look like?
Suddenly, we can find ourselves caught in a fun-house mirror, just when we were priding ourselves on how we had our shit together and could therefore be that great advice-giver to our friends and family…
Self-love is as unique in its manifestation as the self is in the universe.
We like the idea that no two people are alike. But are we ready to accept that no two ideas of how to achieve self-love are alike either? Or that the very uniqueness of that truthful self-love we yearn for — to a lesser or greater degree — is, at its core, an aloneness?
In our pursuit of self-love, we blissfully forget that old adage that “misery loves company,” which has an unstated second clause along the lines of “joy is a fast, solo flight.”
And while “laughter is contagious,” the social order does its damnedest to inoculate us all from disease.
So, the next time someone tells you to embrace self-love, just remember they don’t really know what they’re encouraging you to do, or how uncomfortable they are going to be when you actually do it.
That said, do it anyway.
in purpose + play,