NB: I wrote this article a while ago to submit to a magazine. It didn't get picked up (I can kind of see why now... reading back on it, it is a little convoluted - too many adjectives and laden sentences, as usual!) so I thought I would post it here instead. I hope you like it.
There is an oft-repeated, much lauded piece of advice that gets my goat. It is recited by the well-meaning yet patronising acquaintance, dispensed as a generous pearl of wisdom to a needy friend or relative. The subject of their counsel is generally feeling a little lonely and vulnerable, searching for a bit of a boost from a loved one. Only this particular approach will not provide them with the buoyancy they are so hoping for. Instead, it will cement their despondency. You may have guessed it: You must love yourself before others can love you. Ouch.
I don’t know to whom it is that I can attribute this little gem. It is usually pawned off onto good ol’ Anonymous. Whoever it was, they must have been quite a sadist. You may disagree with me, at first. After all, it is generally quoted with unblinking authority. But please bear with me - this is a public service message. By the end of this piece, my hope is that each and every one of you fine readers will pledge never to take this tact with a grieving friend again. Ever. Unless, perhaps, you are exploiting it as a means of hurling your arch-enemy head-first into a pool of hurt and insecurity. Then, by all means, go ahead. (Jerk.)
Picture this: you are searching for love. You have been for quite a while. But, despite your best efforts – all your adorable outfits, come-hither eye contact with cute strangers and the topical novels you whip out of your bag on public transport – nobody has asked for your number or even struck up a conversation. You are feeling a little ugly and sad, so you share your heartache with a friend. And what do they tell you? It is your fault nobody finds you very attractive – precisely because you are feeling so lonely! THANK YOU VERY MUCH, you will think. I feel so much better now. Not. Hmph.
Okay, now imagine this scenario: you have finally found somebody who seems to like you. Maybe you have gone on a couple of dates with a colleague. Perhaps you played footsies with a gorgeous classmate during your Psychology tutorial. It could be that the person you have been crushing on since high school left an ambiguously sweet post on your Facebook wall. You feel elated, but at the same time, your self-doubts are surfacing. It is entirely possible that this will not work out the way I want it to, you think fretfully. I don’t look very good naked. I am extremely messy. I watch The Bachelor. When you voice your misgivings to a friend, they adopt a condescending tone, convincing you that those qualms will stand in the way of your happiness. They will never love you if you think like that, they say knowingly. You may as well just give up now. With that, your already wavering confidence has completely disintegrated and you feel even worse than before. That’s great, you will murmur under your breath. Just what I needed.
Now finally, envisage this: a seemingly viable relationship has broken down, for whatever reason. Maybe they never called after the first date. Perhaps the momentum fizzled out after a couple of months. It could be that your long-term partner has been caught cheating on you. So you call your friend and tell them how gutted you are that yet another love has been lost. You open up the deepest recesses of your heart and divulge your greatest fear: that the split was inevitable, because you are such a miserable excuse for a human being. Oh sweetie, they say in a sensible voice. Of course they rejected you. How on earth could they love you, if you don’t love yourself?
SHUT THE HELL UP, you will shout. What on earth would you know? I am great in bed and I cook a mean roast chicken. BUT IT JUST WASN’T MEANT TO BE. And it has nothing to do with me feeling fat and awkward and battling moments of self-doubt. Everybody does that. IT IS NATURAL. According to your daft logic, nobody could ever experience true love because nobody is completely happy with themselves. BUT LOVE EXISTS. SO YOU’RE WRONG. All I wanted was for somebody to tell me that I am perfectly attractive and nice and there are plenty more fish in the sea and, one day, I will meet the love of my life, when and where I least expect it. Somebody who will love every part of me, even the parts that I don’t. Is that so hard? Now, please leave me alone. I’m going to bed to cry and seek solace in a Mad Men marathon and mountains of Rocky Road. (Yum.)
(Picture via Biae)