It is written in many self-help books and spoken as a mantra in many weepy rom-com movies that, "you cannot truly love someone else, unless you learn to love yourself". But what does this look like? How long would you last in a relationship with yourself? Maybe the mantra should be rephrased, "you cannot truly love someone unless you have been in a relationship with yourself"
My ego is too frail to admit that being in a relationship with myself would not be that healthy. We would spend far too much time losing each other as we get distracted by things in parks, stationers or hardware stores. Arguments would be conducted in a silent passive-aggressive tone and one of us has to be more serious than I am.
It is suggested that around 60-70% of African-American women are single. Whether by choice or by force, this is a considerable figure. Anecdotal evidence alone also suggests that there is a similar trend in the UK. Could it be the relationship that we have with ourselves - or lack thereof- that is contributing to the high levels of single African women? So in an exploration to find a deep and meaningful relationship with ourselves, what must we be willing to do to avoid giving ourselves the "it's not you, it's me" speech?
Me, Myself and I
The ability to be alone and be happy in your own company, is one of those things self-help gurus often suggest - with good reason. Long periods of isolation are used in various African rites of passage, to mark the individuals journey from child to adulthood and to prove their position within the community. I have no plans to sit in Epping Forest by myself for a week in the next few months, however I think the concept is interesting. As well as testing your strength, courage and determination, these periods of isolation force the person to be alone with their own thoughts.
In busy cities and industrialised regions of the world, we very rarely have the opportunity to shut off from the noise or the constantly available access to the internet, television, radio etc. Thus we never get a real chance to hear the jibber-jabber that is going on inside of our heads. Thoughts about things that have happened in the past, anxiety about things that are going to happen, thoughts about conversations that we have had or should have had, thoughts about how we look or speak, thoughts about how many people liked our last Twitter post, thoughts on how much money we have or would like to have, what we are having for dinner...constant jibber-jabber.
We can quite quickly separate these thoughts into things that are within our control, things that we have relatively little control over and things that don't really matter. More importantly, they are mainly thoughts that prevent us from being present in the present. They distract us from being fully engaged in the situations in front of us. Now imagine that you and the person that you are in a relationship with, are both having this constant internal dialogue of jibber-jabber. The risk is, that when you do eventually talk to each other, your conversations are peppered with anxiety, stress and fear.
This is not to say, that you should not share your thoughts and feelings with your partner at all and try to cope by yourself. The essence of being a "strong" woman is having an element of passiveness, receptiveness and a willingness to be vulnerable - as difficult as this can sometimes be. Like with water, it's strength comes from the fact that it is adaptable. It is however important that we are able to share, rather than dump our daily gripes. Finding the tools (e.g. meditation, writing) to manage our jibber-jabber is important for our mental health and our relationships.
A discussion about relationships would not be complete without considering the sexual relationship, in this case, that we have with ourselves. Can we expect our mate to learn about our anatomy or the things turn us off and on, if we have not discovered these things ourselves? Ladies, can you give yourself multiple orgasms? No, then don’t expect him to give them to you. Don't run and tell your girlfriends about his sexual abilities, especially if you haven’t had a mature conversation with him about it first or reflected on your role in the experience. Being in a relationship with yourself is the ideal time to explore your own sexuality and the things that will bring you to undefinable realms of pleasure. Therefore once in a relationship, we are able to develop with our partner rather than relying on them completely to fulfil our sexual needs and desires.
We have to be comfortable to explore our own bodies, as well as, the physical and emotional aspects of being in a relationship. We may engage in certain relationships to boost our self-esteem, to fill the void (excuse the pun) of a quiet weekend, to avoid being alone and being known as the woman with the cats, to fulfil the expectations and values of our friends, family or social groups rather than to genuinely develop a healthy and explorative sexual relationship with someone else.
People often refer to their partners as their "better half" or gush that "he makes me a better person". Yes, it is true that relationships often cause us to put forward the best version of ourselves. But when we are single (or in a relationship with ourselves), we have to find the drive and will power to do certain things for ourselves. Things that would (hopefully) make us the ideal mate. This may include things such as regular exercise and (re)searching to broaden our knowledge and awareness of the world. Another important thing to consider, is the ability to constructively criticise our behaviours and actions. Not in a way that is self-deprecating, as this is not beneficial, but in a way that allows us to continuously assess and improve ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally.
Learning to do these things for ourselves when we are single, rather than when we are in a relationship, enables us to make these activities a part of us. They become intertwined in our being, rather than being a chore or an obligation. Trying to do these things once we get into a relationship may help to explain the "honeymoon period" that many relationships experience. When both people in the relationship are exploring various aspects of themselves, it provides a foundation for the relationship to develop from.
In Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, describing her love for her husband to be, Portia says, "One half of me is yours, the other half yours, Mine own, I would say; but if mine, then yours. And so all yours." It is from this text, written over 400 years ago, that we come to the conclusion for this exploration. Having a relationship with ourselves first before being in a relationship with someone else, is vital. Having the time to begin to develop ourselves mentally, physically and spiritually provides us with an opportunity to become secure and develop an unconditional self-love. In turn we are then able to unselfishly and wholeheartedly, give everything (not just material things) to the person that we choose to be in a relationship with - being safe in the knowledge that, by giving, we receive more than we are able to envision.
Originally posted in October 2013
Image by @DottyJoJo