Opinion | We need to start loving ourselves before we begin to love others

By Jess Snyder, Staff Columnist

What is love?

Humans have asked this question for a long time, yet it still seems as though no one has a definitive answer.

I’m sorry to say that I don’t have the answer either, but I can tell you what love isn’t. It ultimately seems as though love has to be mutually beneficial, and self-love is where all of this has to start.

I’ve been in my fair share of romantic relationships where self-love wasn’t my first priority. I could say this was unfortunate, but it wasn’t — it was a necessary experience that allowed me to understand what I should be demanding of myself and others.

I know that I’m still young and have a long way to go before I can consider myself a master of self-love. Regardless, this is all a learning process and one where you are required to make mistakes. The way we can learn to embrace these flaws is through love.

Personally, I believe that we can have three types of love in this life — love for ourselves, love for our friends and family and romantic love. I feel like these types of love make the most sense as a hierarchy, with self-love coming first and romantic love coming last. You have to care about yourself first and foremost because relationships will inevitably shift, but you’re with yourself forever. Each type of love is essential, but in order to achieve them all, you have to start loving yourself first.

So, what does self-love look like? Truthfully, I think it can be a range of things, all leading back to the common goal of getting to know yourself better. In general, it can be summed up as caring for and appreciating oneself. Do things you like. Take yourself on dates. Ask yourself, “Do I really know who I am?” It’s a daunting question, and honestly, I don’t think I could answer it.

This goes for things that don’t satisfy your needs — if you don’t want to pick up that extra shift at work, don’t feel guilty! If you need to cancel plans with friends to prioritize your mental health, do it! Instead, you can use these experiences to think about why they aren’t fulfilling you, and learn more about yourself in the process. Essentially, take care of yourself physically and mentally — don’t be afraid to make yourself come first.

Self-love is an essential building block for social relationships and relying solely on self-love can be unfulfilling, even if it’s necessary — that’s where social relationships with others come in. Relationships can be fickle, and dealing with another human who has their own beliefs and experiences can be complicated. We can’t ignore that humans need each other, and we can only rely on self-love for so long. It is essential to create a network of friends and family that you can collaborate with as well.

Friendship is cooperative and mutual, a give and take. If you make a point of practicing self-love, fostering and maintaining friendships will become easier — there would ideally be minimal competition and jealousy if you take some time for yourself every once in a while. Whether you take that time to recharge your social battery or discover your sense of identity, true friends will be happy you did.

Only after exploring self-love and platonic love can one finally be ready for romantic love — if they even want it.

By having love for yourself and others, you show a potential romantic partner that you are capable of loving them, too. Self-love does the same thing for romantic relationships that it does for friendships — it presents your self confidence and lets others know that you are mature enough to meaningfully engage with others.

When you put self-love first, you know when to set boundaries with people, ultimately setting yourself up to be more socially satisfied in the long run. When you set boundaries to keep yourself happy, you can be more patient with those you spend time with, ultimately affording each other more fulfilling time spent together.

So if you have the time and capability for a romantic relationship, that’s great, and if you don’t, that’s great too. Even if the romantic side of love interests you, you still can’t forget to spend time on yourself and the platonic networks that you have created.

How you decide to maintain your relationships is entirely subjective, and maintaining them may not always prove to be enjoyable. All relationships go through highs and lows, even the one you have with yourself. Other people have needs and expectations to be met just as you do, and it’s generally your social responsibility to try and meet those needs if you have a relationship with someone. Self-love puts you in a position to understand your own needs, but also to be secure enough to meet the needs of those you care about.

I would have dreaded Valentine’s Day in past years, but I can rejoice in the fact that there are people that love me, even if no one wants to marry me right now. If all else fails, I will always have myself, even if my relationship with her has some downsides from time to time.

So if you aren’t dating anyone today, take yourself out for dinner and a movie. And then buy the discounted chocolates tomorrow.

Jessica Snyder primarily writes about controversy in art and politics. Write to her at [email protected].