The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
“You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.”
I do not remember the first time I heard that piece of advice. I am not sure why it is even considered advice, because that one simple sentence has only caused me trouble.
I used to not love myself. For a really, really long time, I was severely unhappy inside of my body. I struggled with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and self-harm, and I am a survivor of sexual assault. Even though I have struggled, I still have so much love to give. And I gave it. Every boy who came into my life had my whole heart if they wanted it. But, the boys I was spending my time with did not seem to want the love I had to give.
Was it because I was broken? Could they see all the trauma I had endured and decided that I was not enough for them? Could they not love me because I did not love myself? For a really long time, that is what I believed. I was the problem. Everything I had experienced as a teenager and young woman left me with a gaping hole in my heart and no boy would ever want to try to fill it.
Human beings are creatures of lack. We experience desire because we lack something. I desired a partner only because I was lacking one.
In Plato’s Symposium, Plato retells a conversation during a dinner party among his colleagues, including his mentor, Socrates. The men drunkenly debate the topic of eros, the Greek word for love. One of the guests, Aristophanes, discusses the origin of soulmates. Human beings were originally androgynous. They had both sexual organs, two faces, four arms and four legs. Zeus, king of the gods, was threatened by the power these beings possessed and ordered them to be cut in half. According to Plato, “Each human longed for its other half, and so they would throw their arms about each other, weaving themselves together, wanting to grow together.” The source of their desires were because they were literally lacking their other half, and being with their other half would heal them. Artistophanes says, “Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature. Each of us, then, is a ‘matching half’ of a human whole…and each of us is always seeking the half that matches him.”
If Aristophanes’s concept of soulmates is true, we are all halves of a whole. We are born incomplete, destined to find our partner. So, where the hell is mine? When my soulmate magically arrives, what will happen to me? Will I feel complete? Will all my past traumas and pains be things of the past? Will love fix me?
As much as I would love to believe in the idea that someone is out there waiting for me to complete them, I can’t. That idea is as dangerous as the idea that I have to love myself in order to be loved and to give love properly. I’m not sure what’s shifted my thinking in this way. Maybe all the hours of therapy and self reflection are finally paying off. Maybe I’m just exhausted waiting around for my Prince Charming to show up and slay the dragon.
In an essay I wrote recently, I use a dragon as a metaphor for my flaws, my traumas and what I lack. Hasn’t the point of all this self-work been to not want to kill the dragon, but to accept it? To understand that I am a complex human being and that my complexions do not make me incomplete? Through all of this, I’ve learned I am whole as I am.
Now that I believe I am a whole person, I’ve also come to understand that I can still be in the process of learning to love myself. Okay, I know I am whole, now it’s just time to learn how to love all of that. And just because I am still learning does not make me any less worthy of receiving and giving love.
Even as I learn to accept and love myself, to enjoy my own company, it does not mean I have to stop dating. A boy I almost dated told me I should “get my shit together” before I pursue a relationship. To him, I stick up my middle finger (he most definitely did not have his shit together either). I think the expectation society places on us that we have to be the best versions of ourselves before finding someone to love is so silly. What does “best version” even mean? Like I said earlier, humans are creatures of lack. Even if we hypothetically get our shit together, we are always going to want something else and will feel like something is missing.
I’m a work in progress and that is perfectly fine. I’m in therapy, I meet with a nutritionist, I work out and spend time doing the things that I love to do. I take myself on museum dates, buy myself nice meals or read in the park. I know that these are things I can do with a partner, and I look forward to the days when I will get to share those moments with someone I love. But, I am also learning to be okay with doing these activities on my own.
We can date and still work on ourselves. We can struggle with self-love and still be worthy of love. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.