The Potential Downside to Loving Yourself
I’ve always been a big believer in self-love. If you ask me what I think the key to being in a great relationship is, I would say without hesitation: “Make sure you love yourself first.”
And I still believe that.
I had a moment of reckoning recently. I’m in the middle of writing a book about what I learned from 100 of the best couples in America, and as part of this writing process, I’ve been drawn to what other people have written about love and relationships.
This is where Dear Lover comes in—a book written by a guy named David Deida, who is best known for his most popular work, The Way of the Superior Man (I haven’t read this book yet, but the men I know who have all say it was life-changing for them).
So, perhaps it is unsurprising that Dear Lover shook up some things inside of me. It is one of those rare reads that made me want to highlight every other sentence; one that I will likely have to digest over and over again in order to fully etch it into my understanding and being.
The countless realizations and “aha” moments I had while reading this book are too long to list here. But, this was perhaps the most profound and persistent takeaway for me:
We attract and inspire people who are as willing and able to open to Love as we are.
When I talk about Love here, I’m talking about the thing that lives at the heartbeat of every human soul- the desire to experience both the giving and receiving of total understanding, acceptance, and openness. (An aside: I think part of the reason we’re all so confused about Love is because we have one little word for a very vast, multi-catalytic emotion. So someone create a few extra words to describe Love, please.)
Thinking about this cracked something open in me. I began looking more closely at the patterns in my life— the patterns that have allowed me to open more fully, and the patterns that have caused me to shut me down, partially or completely.
As part of this process (and also because I’m writing a book about Love and I have to deal with all my shit—whether I like it or not—in order to write something truly honest), I’ve had to take a metaphorical scalpel to my own relationship history. And the question I keep coming back to recently is this:
Why do I seem to attract men into my life who are not fully able or willing to open to Love?
…in other words: Why the hell do I seem to attract and be attracted to men who are, in some way, unavailable?
By “unavailable,” I mean some part of a man is not able to fully open up in Love. The list includes (but is not limited to): unwillingness to feel the breadth of human emotion (including the less-than-pleasant ones), holding on to a past love/heartbreak, lacking significant self-awareness and self-responsibility, and/or being literally unavailable (e.g. still in a committed relationship with someone else).
One of the beautiful but achy realizations I’m coming to is that perhaps I have not been as open to Love as I thought. (There is, after all, a sizable difference between knowing something and being something.) What leads me to believe this might be true?
Realization #1: I lean very heavily on self-love.
Don’t get me wrong: I think full acceptance of oneself is a *requirement* if you want to have incredible relationships with others. Otherwise, you’re just flinging your baggage around at other people (otherwise known as insecurity and/or projection). Can you imagine being okay with someone actually flinging a heavy suitcase at you? Exactly. The only difference with emotional baggage is that the suitcase is invisible. No person who is truly secure and open-hearted will take that kind of beating for too long.
So, loving yourself is super important.
But if I’m being painfully honest with myself, I’ve used “self-love” as a crutch. Self-love can quickly double as “I don’t need a man to be happy”—which I feel the technical truth of, but I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some fear and avoidance weaved into that sentiment, too.
The thing is, I don’t need to be in a romantic relationship to be happy. Travel makes me happy. My friends make me happy. Doing work I love makes me happy. The idea of finishing this damn book about Love makes me super happy. I don’t need to have a man by my side to be happy.
But this begs a bigger question:
Is happiness my ultimate goal?
Is it? The more I think about it, the less convinced I am that happiness is what I want so much as Openness. Fullness. Full openness.
Openness and fullness, to me, are direct pathways to being alive and awake. And so, my ultimate goal becomes clearer:
I don’t want to feel constantly happy. I want to feel constantly alive and awake.
That means being free to fully experience and express a range of emotion: joy, hurt, sadness, elation, anger, fear, courage, grief, ecstasy, tenderness, vulnerability, compassion.
That means being free to fully experience the kinds of relationships that awaken in me the full range of emotion.
That means being willing to Love. That means being willing to fully open myself up to Love.
Let’s unpack this a little bit.
The reason I want to feel the full range of emotion is because I believe that every human being naturally experiences this range, and if we’re only allowing ourselves to experience the feeling of happiness, it means we’re suppressing all of the other emotions that make us fully human. I don’t know about you, but the only thing I am more scared of than experiencing some of the less comfortable feelings (e.g. hurt, sadness, anger, grief, etc.) is suppressing them completely, leaving them buried as they eat away at my ability to be fully human…fully me.
The reason I think being in relationships (of all kinds, but romantic relationships are at the top of the list) are a critical catalyst for experiencing the full range of emotion is simple:
We all serve are mirrors for one another. The closer we get to our mirrors, the closer we get to fully recognizing, accepting, and loving ourselves—and by natural extension, everyone else. After all, if we love ourselves, we can’t not love our mirrors.
And we never get closer to a mirror than we do in a committed romantic relationship.
So back to the original question:
If I want to be truly free to fully experience and express a range of emotion; and I know one of—if not the best —catalyst for getting there is romantic love; and I know that the deepest kind of romantic love can only happen between two people who are fully willing and able to open to Love…
Then why do I seem to attract men into my life who are not fully able or willing to open to Love?
That leads me to:
Indicator #2 (and this one really rocks me): I am not fully able or willing to open to Love.
Maybe I’ve chosen to be in relationships with unavailable men because I sense from the very beginning, somewhere at my core, that it ultimately won’t work out. I suspect, on a subconscious level, choosing unavailable men has served as a way of justifying my refusal to fully open my very vulnerable heart.
Because if it’s fully open, it might break. It might never heal. It might require that I surrender my (completely artificial) blanket of control. It requires a level of trust that I’ve probably never had for another person—or even myself.
Then I realized something else. Something bigger.
The key to being fully able and willing to open to Love is not fully trusting a man, or even myself. The key is trusting Love—Love itself.
In Dear Lover, David Deida writes:
No person is worthy of total trust. Any man will, at times, waver in his love or falter in his commitment. And you will often waver in your own capacity to love yourself, as you often have. Only Love- the Love that yearns open at the heart of all beings- is worthy of total trust. Rather than devoting yourself to a man or yourself, you can trust, surrender, and be loved open AS Love.
…you guys, I don’t even know what this means yet. But I’m so committed to finding out—and then beautifully, gradually, fully living it out.
Because something at the core of me knows it is true. Because I can feel the shells of self-reliance and mistrust around my heart trying to immunize me from feeling too much pain when these shells are only serving to make. me. numb.
And I don’t want to be numb. I want to be fully awake, alive, and open. I want to be a totally unfenced vessel for Love and all its manifestations (which can look like compassion/joy/ecstasy/trust/respect/etc., but also anger/hurt/sadness/fear/grief/etc.) I can feel all of those things and still, always, choose to be open.
The sharp truth I am gently coming into is this, put to words perfectly by David Deida himself:
Look at your life: you are already getting, and have always gotten, the kind of partner you deserve, equally committed to practicing openness as you are.
In short, you always draw in your reciprocal. You will always get what you are willing and able to give.
So I ask myself the question once more:
Why do I seem to attract men into my life who are not fully able or willing to open to Love?
Because I have not been fully able or willing to open to Love.
This was not—is not—an easy realization to come to. But, it is an honest one. One that brings me closer to myself, to others, to Love.
So what now? Where does one go from here?
I don’t fully know, but I can start with a love letter to my future self. A love letter that says:
Do not be afraid to open yourself fully to Love.
Do not be afraid of the love that yearns to be given and received at the center of your heart. That yearning is at the core of every living being’s heart, no matter how disguised.
Your willingness to stay open will allow you to experience and express the full range of human emotion. In short, your willingness to stay open will allow you to be more human, more fully yourself.
This means being okay with the easy emotions, but also the hard ones. This means accepting full responsibility for yourself—for your feelings and words and actions, as well as the ripples they create in the world. This also means coming to terms with both the beautiful and ugly parts of yourself. This means fully and unabashedly accepting all of who you are.
This won’t always be pleasant. But, it will always be human, open, full, real. Your willingness to be those things will give others the courage to do the same. And that is the point of all of this: to become more of the people we are meant to be. To become more of the people we have always been.
So don’t be afraid to break your heart open all the way, my dear. I know even the idea of that is scary. But when fear overcomes you, remember this:
Perhaps this very thing you feel the most afraid to do is the very thing you were made to do.
This realization seems like a good place to start.
This seems as beautiful and perfect a place as any.