I'm really, really good at loving myself.
I'm absolutely terrible at letting myself be loved.
When I was 24 I left a seemingly perfect relationship. He treated me well. He took care of me while I was sick. He celebrated my successes and was empathetic towards my depression. He watched me spiral out of control with alcohol and stayed by my side. We dated for nearly two years and were on track to getting married and having children.
When I left him my father said to me, "Nobody will ever love you the way that he did."
Even though the relationship seemed perfect, that's exactly why I ended it.
I didn't feel that I deserved that love. I didn't love myself. I needed to learn to love myself the way that he did, so I knew that I was capable and deserving.
Learning to love myself took strength, courage, and yes, sobriety. I learned to value myself and put myself first. To take myself on dates, buy myself flowers, and call myself beautiful.
I've been a serial dater since I was 14. The longest I spent single was perhaps a month. Why? Simple. I had horribly low self-esteem. I had always needed a partner to hold my hand, to call me pretty, to be proud of me. I relied on it so much growing up because I was never taught to be proud of myself. To this day I still struggle with accomplishments. Some may call it being humble but I internalize my pride instead of properly celebrating it. That's part of why I've started actively using this blog. I need to share my pride, and to show others that it is important and okay to be proud of yourself.
The time for myself to grow was what I needed. I had never had that. When we split I realized that I had no identity of my own - I'd become half of a relationship. I had been recently diagnosed with having a bipolar disorder and I had no idea how to tackle that diagnosis and re-define myself. It was after the breakup that I started learning the difference between being lonely, and being alone. I loved the feeling of being alone, of being accountable for my actions, emotions and living space. I had never truly lived on my own and it was just me and my cat. I started feeling that creeping loneliness. I had to learn to separate the loneliness, and simply being alone.
The loneliness took over and I found myself repeating old habits - hello, Tinder! I met a handful of people from Tinder - some to this day have become incredible platonic friends who have supported and encouraged me every step of the way. I used Tinder to break free, to push myself and my anxiety, and force myself into new social scenarios and opened up to a plethora of new experiences. I also ended up in another relationship - whoops.
Within two months I was dating again, and I was in a casual relationship for a few months, after demanding this time to myself to grow. He was an addict and tried over and over again to get clean and sober - compromising my values, integrity, and recovery. I started to feel entirely differently than I ever had in a relationship - I didn't feel like a girlfriend. I felt like a sponsor. During this quasi-relationship I maintained my independence and let it grow. I ended that relationship relieved and ready to be on my own.
So I decided to date myself.
I woke up every morning and found something to take pride in, to myself. I looked in the mirror and started every day by saying to myself, "Good morning, beautiful." I truly relished the time and space that I had to myself. I pursued my art. I wrote a book, I pushed and grew my business, I played guitar constantly. I lived by my own accord and went out with my (new) friends when I chose to. I pushed myself to do things I thought 'scary', activities that would make me anxious. I went to bed every night in my bed and curled up with my cat, content with my life.
Did I feel bad about ending that relationship? Absolutely. I still do. There's a conflict of emotion regarding the break-up. I hurt another person, and I hurt myself. That's something I will always have to live with. We don't speak anymore. As time went on I began to realize things about myself that would have been completely incompatible - I've known forever that I don't want children, and he did, badly. One of us would have ended up compromising to keep the other happy. We had different values, different expectations and goals from life. Mind you, these are things I didn't even discover about myself until I was on my own and allowed myself the chance to breathe, and to get to know myself.
I learned something interesting about myself. I learned that I love myself too much to allow myself to be loved. That doesn't seem to make much sense. When I start to feel loved, I start to feel trapped and scared, as though that person's emotions will overtake the love that I have for myself. I feel compromised and needed. I feel like they will expect more out of me than I have to give to myself. I've created a barrier, for the first time in my life, I have standards. I thought I did when I was younger, but I've come to realize I value myself and rely on myself for my own happiness.
"No one will ever love you the way that he did."
That's okay. It's okay to me if nobody ever does. I've learned to love myself, and better.
I still haven't wrapped my head around accepting love that is given to me - not romantic, anyways. What I have learned is that love exists in all too many forms. Perhaps someday I will learn to accept romantic love again. Until then, I'm going to continue to buy myself flowers, take myself on dates, tell myself I'm beautiful, and love myself bigger and better with each passing day.