I’ve written a lot about love. Specifically, about it not being a state that one magically and mysteriously falls into and out of, but an active verb that one can, and indeed must, continually choose. But it’s come to my attention that I have never applied this to my relationship with the very most important person in my life:
This is a pretty massive oversight. But as I’ve attempted to remedy it, it’s become increasingly clear how it got overlooked.
It turns out that of all the scandalous, taboo love affairs I’ve ever embarked upon (and I’ve had some doozies), radical self-love takes the proverbial cake.
I mean, I’ve long understood that self-love was taboo. A brief history:
Age four, my mother forcibly removes me from the front window where I’ve been happily exploring my anatomy. I bawl my eyes out as she tries in vain to explain to me that what I’m doing is “private” and must be done behind closed doors.
Age fourteen, my first real boyfriend accidentally walks in on me getting freaky with some Clairol Benders and a Penthouse I swiped from my dad. The next day at school I am socially crucified and forever after referred to as The Dyke Who Bangs Herself.
Age twenty, a University counselor diagnoses me with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and Nymphomania; hits on me almost immediately afterward.
Age twenty-four, my first husband tells me that if he catches me cheating on him, even with myself, he will kill me.
Age thirty-four, several men on OK Cupid take the time to write me scathing diatribes detailing what an arrogant, self-absorbed cunt I am, and outlining all the ways in which I am not as valuable as I think I am.
So now that I am knocking on forty’s door, I suppose it shouldn’t come as such a shock that I still struggle with the concept of openly and unabashedly adoring myself. But I had no idea how much I still struggle with it until last week, when I was challenged to set an hourly alarm to say out loud, “I love myself.”
The first time I attempted to say it, the only thing that came out of my mouth was a groan. Like an ornery camel with an epic toothache.
Next, I managed to get it out, but immediately followed it up with an even louder and more ornery camel groan.
Next, I said it with an exaggerated, ironic lilt, as if I were speaking in scare quotes, and punctuated it with jazz hands. Yes, actual jazz hands.
Finally, I managed to say it just fine, only with a look on my face like I’d just licked a slug. Progress!
By the end of the day, I was saying it with something approaching sincerity.
The next day, something remarkable happened. I started looking forward to my hourly declarations of self-love. I said it to myself in the mirror. Then I wrote it on my mirror. I sang it to myself in the shower. I wrote it on a post-it note and slipped it into my purse for me to find later on. I whispered it to myself while wrapping my arms around myself in the elevator. I doodled it in a notebook. I yelled it out loud, over and over, as I came while masturbating. I spoke it softly and sweetly to myself as I fell asleep.
But even as I rode that oxytocin high through the next day and beyond, glowing and smile-sighing like a teenager whose crush finally asked them to prom, I knew that I would have to be discreet.
Imagine the humiliation that would ensue were a coworker to walk in on me petting my own hair, cooing “I love myself” aloud. The fallout would be far more embarrassing, and quite possibly more damaging, than if I had been caught fooling around with someone I oughtn’t.
Forbidden trysts, extramarital affairs, mixing business and pleasure, these are scandals for which we have a frame of reference. But carrying on a passionate love affair with oneself? That’s either pathologized as insane, pitied as a pathetic substitute for a “real” relationship, or dismissed as a bit of new agey nonsense. It certainly isn’t viewed as anything approaching a respectable, honorable, or worthwhile pursuit.
And yet, these same people who roll their eyes at the idea of someone taking her/himself out on a date will fervently recite the old cliché:
“You can’t really love anyone else until you learn to love yourself.”
Well, I’m here to make an indecent proposal. I propose we stop buying into the notion that we need to learn how to love ourselves. We already know how to love. We simply need to start speaking our own love language aloud to ourselves, to extend to ourselves those same acts of adoration, those same poetic and passionate gestures we are inspired to bestow upon our beloveds.
I hereby challenge you to do something terribly taboo. Something that might get you into a lot of trouble if you do it too flamboyantly or publicly. But something so powerful it might just transform your most primary partnership, and radiate outward into all of your relationships.
I challenge you to have an affair with yourself.
Start with a simple declaration of love. Repeat it as many times as necessary for it to really sink in that you mean it.
Spend some quality time with yourself. Take you out someplace nice. Take you to see that movie you’ve been wanting to see. Treat yourself to a massage. Whatever you think you would enjoy (conveniently, you have a massive advantage in terms of insider knowledge here).
Be your own muse. Write yourself a love poem. Make yourself a playlist. Dress up for yourself. Draw a self-portrait. Be romantic. Be creative. Sweep you off your feet. Do that thing for yourself you’ve always wanted someone else to do for you. Challenge the notion that these grand gestures only make sense in relation to another person. Enjoy them in spite of the world.
In short: make love to yourself. Make love for yourself. Discover that wellspring of love inside of you that you’ve been reserving for that magical worthy recipient, and acknowledge it at long last as your birthright. YOU are that worthy recipient. YOU have within you that boundless love that you seek. And try as they might, nobody can actually stop you from tapping into, and reveling in, that primary source. That’s all yours, baby. It always has been, and it always will be. Plumb it to the depths.
Yes, it feels weird. Just like talking to yourself feels weird. Yes, other people will give you funny looks, and might think you’ve gone a bit soft in the head. Embrace the weirdness. Embrace the social scorn. Come out as an autoromantic with me. Yes, I just made up that word.
Okay, say it with me now, as loud and as proud as you can muster on a first try:
I LOVE MYSELF!
Now go get a room, you crazy kids! And don’t be afraid to wake the neighbors.