What Is Self-Love, Exactly?


It’s Valentine’s Day. That means you are likely either in full loathing, or full Hallmark mode.

Valentine’s Version One: You have plans to go with your sweetheart to some fine dining establishment, where they will ply you with champagne and some five-course prix fixe menu. Or you are heading out of town to some divine resort, where you will slather each other with coconut-scented sunscreen or get couple’s massages and eat chocolate covered strawberries.

Valentine’s Version Two: You hate Valentine’s, because it’s cheesy and a complete money-making gimmick for Hallmark and Jared. Actually, you hate Valentine’s because you’re single, and you hate being single, and you hate being reminded of it by being bombarded with reminders of nauseatingly in-love couples all around you. You resent Valentine’s and consider it an evil device designed to make you feel bad about yourself.

But really, there isn’t so much inherently good or bad about Valentine’s Day. It’s our relationship with it, right? What does it represent? An excuse to be extra romantic? An obligation to have to buy some roses and then carry on as usual? A positive affirmation of love in any form? A self-flagellating day of negative self-loathing? Or an opportunity to give more love… to yourself, or someone else?

The other problem with Valentine’s seems to be expectation. We allow ourselves to internalize that we “should” be feeling a particular thing, or “should” be doing a particular thing. But there really is no good reason for the shoulds. And we actually have the power to change those thought patterns.

If we can love ourselves every other day of the year (or at least a lot of them), Valentine’s Day should be no problem, right?

But what is self-love, exactly?

Here is what the internet might have you believe: self-love is face masks and bubble baths. Or Galentine’s Day? Or just buying yourself the shoes you want?

Now, I’m not knocking those things by any means. They are all good, fun, self-care things. But maybe we’re missing the deeper answer.

Self-love is not reserved for Valentine’s Day. It is something to work on every day of the year. It is a relationship that you cultivate with yourself, day after day. It is - and this is the tough but amazing part - almost a prerequisite for any real love from anyone or anything else. We can play deceptively well at romantic love for a while, still carrying a hole somewhere deep inside in our own self-love and acceptance. But at some point we find we can only love someone else as deeply as we love ourselves. Or perhaps our ability to receive love extends only as far as we can love ourselves. Or maybe the Universe is just being effin’ stingy because we are putting out a cactus-prickly level of self-love, and it is just matching our energy, for better or for worse.

Self-love is neither burying your imperfections, nor beating yourself up over them. It is accepting the strong and vulnerable parts of yourself together. It is cultivating compassion for yourself, and extending that to others. It is holding gentle awareness of our own flaws, and those of others, and choosing a generosity of spirit that allows love to flow unrestricted, to ourselves and others, no matter our stumbles or imperfections.

Self-love is boundaries. It is having the awareness to know your needs, and having the courage to say no or draw a line to preserve them. It is being willing to stand alone sometimes, or hold to our boundary even though others may not like it.

Self-love is developing a relationship with yourself. As Oscar Wilde said, “To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” It is a relationship we choose day after day. We live much of our lives with a subtle inner narrative: “I’ll be happy (or happier) when…” We are waiting for the perfect relationship. A better job. More money. A child. The perfect house. Or life. Self-love does not mean that we abandon these desires. Oh no. I feel this strongly. And it is of course a paradox, in many ways. Be happy with yourself, where you are. Nothing else can give you happiness. And yet, spiritual acceptance is not reserved for only those who merely sit on a mountain or resign all earthly desires. In fact, from a place of fullness in myself, I can manifest my desires even more clearly. Fullness attracts fullness. Elevating your own inner joy attracts more joy from outside. Self-love is learning the art of cultivating joy from the inside out. It is worthiness.

But it is hard, hard work. It is willing to be alone and content with your own company. It is cultivating the ability to sit in silence and calm the hamster wheel mind. It is identifying and changing the negative scripts that have been playing for years in our head. It is replacing these scripts with something new, an affirmation from a place of positivity and fullness, not scarcity. Even if we’re not sure we fucking believe it yet. It is taking time every day to imagine and feel in the body what those feelings of abundance, fullness, and worthiness feel like. It takes courage to dig into the work, and discipline to keep showing up for it. It takes a willingness to navigate shame and vulnerability. It takes deciding you really want it.

And so I celebrate the couples in Cabo and the Caribbean frolicking in their love-soaked infinity pools. I celebrate the women celebrating other women. I celebrate the ways in which we struggle and aren’t perfect. I celebrate the love of friends and family and kindred seekers. I celebrate the relationship I may one day have. I celebrate the place I’m at right now, the imperfect perfection of that place. And I celebrate where I want to be going and the abundance I want to continue calling into my life. I choose to plant my own garden.