Almost two years ago, when I anticipated the end of my relationship of over two decades, I tried to equip myself ahead of time with the tools I might need when I became single.
I asked my friend Summer, who had been divorced several years prior, how she handled being alone. She told me she cooked for herself. She made herself elaborate meals, particularly brunches on weekends, complete with placemats and flowers on the table. At the time, I thought it was a strange answer. It seemed so sad to think of someone sitting down to eat at a beautiful table by themselves. Why spend all that time and money and effort to do something like that in an empty house? As someone for whom cooking is near the bottom of the list of activities I enjoy, it seemed like it wasn’t the answer for me.
Today I had a talk therapy session in which I talked about a potential new romantic interest, and questioned out loud what I might possibly have to offer that person. The things that came out of the ensuing discussion were enlightening, to say the least. Here are the things I learned:
1. My therapist asked me to think of a friend I hold dear. I thought of Summer. He said: if Summer came to me and said “I don’t think I have anything to offer anyone”, what would I say? Stunned, I burst into tears. It would absolutely break my heart if she felt that way. I can’t imagine my friend feeling that way about herself. She is beautiful, kind, spirited and vivacious, funny as hell, a wonderful mother and friend, good at her job. I would tell her all those things.
“Now, what do you think she would say to you if you said that you didn’t think you had anything to offer anyone?” I sniffled, and smiled, and said “She’d tell me that I need to fuck all the way off right this minute. Then she’d tell me that she loves me, and why.”
2. Things that you do for yourself, for the betterment of your psyche and for your health and well-being, these things are self-love. When you do them, they automatically affect your connections with people who love you in a positive way, even if you don’t tell those people you’re doing them. How? I don’t know. Through the ether, through our connected ancestry, our shared humanity.
3. When you do lots of things that align with your fundamental values, like kindness, and gratitude, and physical health, and creativity, these things even affect the way people perceive you who DON’T know you well.
4. When I start to do a long run, I set a goal for myself. I say, “I’m going to run 11 miles, at such-and-such a pace, and then I’m going to stop.” In the past, anything less than meeting that goal I’ve viewed as a failure. These “failures” happen rarely, but I routinely beat myself up about them afterward. I’ve only recently learned that when I set out to run 11 and only get to 4 before my body tells me otherwise, I still got 4 miles. I still ran. These are not failures by any stretch of the imagination. These are part of a process of becoming.
My therapist took this one step further. He said, “What if you see every run as an act of self-love?”
I was speechless. He’s right. Every time I run, I am doing something good for myself. Every time I write, I am soothing myself. Every time I ride my BMX bike, I am creating an atmosphere of joy for myself.
Every time Summer cooked for herself, she was doing an act of self-love. She was nourishing her body, soothing her loneliness with an activity she enjoyed, and genuinely focusing her energy inward.
When you start to think of your activities, the things that align with your values, the things you love to do, purely as acts of self-love, there will never be another failed run. You will never lose another bike race. You will never create anything, be it art or writing or a meal or a song, that is wasted.
And from that, the relationships you build with other people will be founded on self-love. Acts of self-love attract individuals with similar values. I will have everything to offer someone like that.