I really hate the notion that you can’t love someone else (or that someone can’t love you) until you love yourself. I used to live by this advice, and then it became a countdown of how long it would take for me to start loving myself so I could resume dating. I’m not trying to make it sound like I hate myself — because I don’t — but I also can't say I wholeheartedly love myself ... because I don’t.
I fully acknowledge that I am a collection of flaws and imperfections. I make mistakes, and along the way I have hurt people, some friends, others not. Because I tend to overthink and to dwell on things, I tend to focus on the more negative aspects of myself than the positives. While I can acknowledge the more flattering aspects of my personality, it's the less desirable traits that run through the back of my mind. In addition to that, living with a mental illness makes it hard for me to be full of sunshine and rainbows every day. To put it bluntly, there are days I don’t like myself.
But not liking myself doesn’t mean I am not worthy of love.
My first serious relationship began when I was 15. I was an anxious, insecure mess, and the thought of loving myself was laughable. However, someone else found my mess lovable. Was I supposed to turn down that love simply because I disagreed? No; my self-worth and the worth other people saw in me differed greatly, and I could accept that.
In fact, my first relationship helped me grow out of a lot of my insecurities, and put me on the path to truly accepting myself. Most of this I credit to my former significant other, and for that much I am thankful.
When my first serious relationship ended is when I really began to focus on my relationship with myself. I was 19 and often conflicted; there were many things I liked about myself, and still many more I disliked. I neither hated nor loved myself. Despite not loving myself, I felt no pressure to love every single thing about myself in order to pursue romantic relationships. My insecurities and anxieties about myself made me no less worthy than the most confident and self-accepting of people.
There is a poem by Rupi Kaur I think about often. It is short and simple, like many of her poems, “how you love yourself is how you teach others to love you." I feel that this is a much more accurate representation of love. I did not love myself during my first relationship — if anything I actively obsessed over the things I didn’t like — but I still fell in love and allowed myself to be loved. But as my own lack of self-worth was obvious to me, it was also obvious to other people, and the relationship ran its course and eventually ended.
I am 20 now. I still don’t love everything about myself, but I’m actively trying. I recognize my self-worth and won’t settle for any less. Although there are still things I don’t like about myself, I know those parts of myself still are worthy of love.
My love for myself is complex and often conflicted. But I know I deserve a love that is consistent in at least its efforts. That is how I love myself, and that is how I want to be loved.