Why You Don't Have To Love Yourself First Before You Love Someone Else

by Sheena Sharma

I was at my friend Zara's 30th birthday party this past weekend. As usual, things got heated, because we all got to talking about men.

"You don't love yourself!" Gigi shouted to me across the dinner table. Ironically enough, she was the only sober one out of all of us.

"You're right," I said unapologetically, waving my wine glass in the air. "I'm not denying that. I'm just waiting until I start loving myself, and then I'm sure I'll find someone."

My eyes darted around the room. I wasn't sure anyone believed me. And to tell you the truth, I'm not entirely sure I believed myself.

Gigi challenged me. "I think you use not loving yourself as an excuse to avoid a real relationship."

I clammed up. See, I didn't want Gigi to be right, but she was. I make bad decisions about my love life. And my unwavering belief that I deserve something -- someone -- bad stops me from having anything worth having.

I'm immature, I'm emotionally unavailable, and I deserve to be with men who are also emotionally unavailable. As true as those first two statements may be, I let the third have such a hold over me that it keeps me from getting serious with someone. It's as if I'm actively playing into my own worst nightmare. I dislike myself, so I can't like someone else, I've decided.

The trouble is we've been spoon-fed the same piece of advice since the dawn of time: the ever-so-famous line, "You have to learn to love yourself before you can love anyone else." But does anyone fully ever love herself? I certainly don't think so. So when Gigi told me I was using lack of self-love as a weapon to defend myself, I was more confused than I've ever been.

"Self-love." Ugh. People throw that term around more than they throw around "I love you" (and that one's thrown around way too much). I write about self-love, and yet I still don't know what it means. Like, does it mean to think highly of yourself? Or does it mean to do things you love to do? Could it mean that you don't yet think highly of yourself, but you're making life changes so that one day, you hopefully will?

I don't love myself. But I also don't hate myself. Some days, I'm pleasantly satisfied, and other days I feel like an epic embarrassment to myself. No feeling I feel is permanent. I am static and ever-changing and unsure and certain all at the same time. I think it's naive to definitively say "I love myself." And if you can say that and mean it, well, I call bullsh*t on you.

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with body dysmorphia. It changed my life. Having it made me realize that I had incredible amounts of work to do on myself. Now at 25, I'm still battling the same demons, even though they're not quite as evil as they used to be. But they are still very much alive. They've transformed, even, branching out into other problems, like f*ckboy-hopping and having so much anxiety that I can't sleep at night. I'm still working on myself, and I don't see "Project: Self-Help" ending anytime soon.

But if that age-old wisdom is indeed true, is it trying to tell me that I won't, or can't, or shouldn't find love anytime soon, either? Do we ever stop working on ourselves and striving to be better? Why would we want to? And if I weren't violently battling those things I hate about myself -- both the insignificant ones and the soul-shattering ones -- would I even be interesting enough to be with?

Should I hold out on love until I no longer have body dysmorphia? What if it never goes away? What if it stays with me for the next 10, 20 years? Does my struggle with my body make me unworthy of being loved by someone else?

I will never whole-heartedly love myself. You won't, either. Maybe you love yourself more than I love myself, but I firmly believe that some of us can only love ourselves so much. At some point, we reach our limit.

What if I never get to a point where I'm doing the good things for myself that you've been doing for yourself all along? Will lack of self-love always only manifest itself as a wall, an invisible electric fence, a locked door without a key designed to keep out all the men I could potentially hit it off with? I don't think it has to.

Because if I have to wait until I'm free of those pesky, self-loathing thoughts that enter my mind without my permission, I'll be waiting forever. Waiting forever to feel right. Waiting forever to feel whole. Even in the throes of my stubborn loneliness, I can tell you right now that I will never feel right, and I will never feel whole. The hope is to get just close enough.

I look around at my imperfect friends in good, healthy relationships. I covet what they have. As impossible as it seems to find someone who will not only love my imperfections, but love me because of them, I know it's actually possible.

When I meet "the one," I won't expect him to fill those holes in me where wounds used to be. But I don't expect myself to fill them, either. Maybe those pockets of emptiness can't be filled by anyone or anything, and that's what makes us beautiful. Maybe two people don't need to love themselves to be together, and maybe they don't need to feel complete with each other. Maybe they can just ... stay incomplete. Together.

No, I don't love myself. But that doesn't mean I don't deserve to love and be loved.