As published in Elephant Journal on March 21, 2018.
“You must love yourself before you can truly love anyone else.”
We’ve all probably heard this many times by now whether it’s in a quote, an article, a book, or a song—and with good reason, as there is evidence that without true, authentic love of self, it’s significantly harder to thrive in relationships with others.
But what happens for those going through prolonged periods of loneliness in life who may feel that this lesson is pointless because there’s no one around to love, anyway?
I never sought to be the mom who referred to her child as her best friend. But as I sit here on yet another night that I’ve spent by myself while he’s with his dad, I’ve realized that from the physical perspective, my five-year-old son is my best friend right now. He’s who I spend the most time with, and who I go out on dates with. I ask him if my shirt looks nice or which earrings I should wear. On the days and nights he’s not with me, I might go grocery shopping or to the yoga studio, but I am otherwise staring at a blank calendar with zero plans.
This is not at all what I expected upon moving here two and a half years ago. Finding and having friends has never been difficult for me. My closest friends are still the girls I met when I was in junior high and high school. I continued to make other friends in my 20s and early 30s who are still my soul sisters.
But here, in this place I now call home, I haven’t a single true friend to spend quality time with—and I’m realizing for the first time how much this state of physical loneliness is impacting the person I want to be. Someone who sees each day as a blessing. Someone who is open to challenges. Someone who smiles and laughs freely without wondering if my amusement is causing me to look silly or out of place.
I never thought I would see a week where I could say I cried every day and rarely laughed, but I can say it now.
I fear the isolation is turning me into an embittered and angry person. Someone I don’t recognize. I’m sometimes scared to leave the house these days because I may just be looking at another situation where I feel rejected.
Don’t be mistaken, I have tried here. I’ve dated. I attempted to start a book club. I joined a yoga studio. I talk to the other moms when my son is at soccer or swimming practice. I can’t tell you how many times the words, “We should get together,” have fallen from my lips, only for those invitations to not be accepted or even acknowledged. I get it: people are busy, and to be a single mom in her late (yikes) 30s, hailing from a different place and just trying to integrate herself into already established circles, is a hard hand to be dealt.
I ask God at times why this is happening. I’m here on my own free will, so I won’t blame anyone for my circumstances. I’ve gone to therapy to work on my self-image and self-esteem and self-compassion. But I’ve become tired of talking about it. I’ve likely exhausted my friends who have their own lives and problems going on. I’ve worried my parents.
It’s left me to wonder—where are the self-love books about loving yourself when you feel so incredibly alone in your life that you worry with each day if all the doors you see will close in your face? How do you love a you that you think others find unlovable? How are you supposed to be your own number one fan as you sit in leggings on your couch binge-watching “The Mindy Project,” eating frozen pizza while scrolling through Instagram, double-tapping the photos of your friends living a fun, happy life?
How do you find that place of inner love and acceptance when the jeans feel tighter and the grey hair is beginning to show? When you feel left out of the very place where you live, and when you can’t remember the last time a man told you that you looked beautiful, and it’s been over a year and half since you’ve been kissed?
I don’t think you’re going to find it in a book. I don’t think it’s in a quote or in an article. Or rather, you may find it there, but you’re sure as sh*t going to lose it if you temporarily rely on those words and ideas but don’t use the teachings to cultivate your own garden within.
It may feel that self-acceptance is easier to attain when you’re in the presence of others and radiating in their love for you. I can’t deny that I feel my best when I’m around people who bring out the best in me.
But why is it that I am not one of those people? I know the love I give to others, and can honestly admit that I’m more likely to be focused on loving others than I am on taking care of myself. If I likened myself to a garden, I’m the patch that has gone untended for far too long.
I need to remember that gardens grow regardless of who else may stop to admire the sight or scent of the blossoms.
They grow when they are watered, tended to, pruned, and exposed to light. And it truly only takes one pair of capable hands—my own—to help a garden grow.
When I think more of what is currently going on in my life, I wonder if the most painful times come because we are so convinced that outside forces—and even other people—will make things better or hurt less. And you know what? Sometimes they do.
But when we don’t have something or someone real to come home to, nothing outside of ourselves will matter. Or when we find ourselves in a situation where we have to move and start all over again. Or when the time in our life comes that physically strips us of what we believe makes up our identity—our homes, our friends, our romances. Our jobs, our wealth, or our social status.
But if those kinds of conditions must always be present in order for us to feel worthy and lovable, what happens when the inevitable life storm hits and wipes them away from our grip? Where are we when we’re just us?
If you feel alone in life right now, by all means read the books. Listen to the songs and watch the TED Talks. Let others inspire you, and let others into your struggles and your fears and your worries. Work through the loneliness, but not by drowning it in that which is outside of you. Let it become an opportunity to love yourself more deeply than ever before, without outside distractions and without any other acceptance than your own.
Take what you learn and pour it inward to create the you that is so lovable to you that regardless of the weather, regardless of the storms, you are still your greatest caretaker.
Because once that seed is really and truly planted, you’ll find that life begins to bloom.
Author: Jenny Roman
Editor: Callie Rushton