By Ta Bennett

From the moment I learned what a goal was as a child, it has been one of the primary goals of my life to find, bond with, and build a shiny new life called “Our life” with my soulmate – a.k.a. my person, my lobster, my other half. That last one makes me cringe to think of since my adult self is now fully aware of the fact that I am, always have been, and forever will be a whole-ass person. But I digress.

For over a decade, my blind pursuit of this goal – my personal high-stakes game of “Where’s Waldo”, if you will – drove me from one ill-advised “situationship” into another, stubbornly seeking this fabled lover who would complete my story so that I could finally relax into the happy ending I so desperately desired – the happy ending I deserved. And I’m not being hyperbolic, I really did deserve it! I had always gone above and beyond in my relationships with significant others, friends, colleagues and family to ensure that the “other” in the equation felt loved, seen, heard, understood, appreciated and supported to the extent of my capacity to give of myself. I was so proud of my giving nature- basking in the noble martyrdom of my selflessness, certain that if I continued to give and give and give without asking for anything in return, the universe would eventually reward me with all of the love that I had put out into the world times three and embodied by my ultimate “other”. Except it just kept… not happening.  

Near the end of my decade-plus run of failed attempts at finding the love of my life, something occurred to me. In reflecting on the final moments of negotiation that took place in nearly all of my doomed relationships, I noticed a disturbing trend that usually sounded something like this:

Me: I’m unhappy in this relationship and think it’s best if we go our separate ways.
Other: But I don’t want you to leave. I know I’m not perfect, and I sometimes take you for granted, but I love you. You make me a better person, and no one has ever loved me like you do. Please don’t go.
Me: I’m glad you feel my love, but I’m exhausted from the effort and I honestly don’t feel like you’ve matched my energy. I’m afraid I can’t keep going on like this – it’s depleting me.
Other: What if I told you… I could change?
Me: You’ve said that before, but nothing changes.
Other: True, lol.
Me: Did you just la–
Other: I hear you, but if you could just keep giving me your love, that’d be great, mmkay? K, thanks.
Me: *screams internally*

I was beginning to understand where I had gone wrong: I’d spent my life dispensing every ounce of love I could muster up on those around me, as though blasting my love outward like radio waves was my only hope of reaching some form of life that could return my signal – and my sense of fulfillment in love was so dependent on that damned signal. Why, I wondered, did love have to come from someone else for me to feel like it was truly mine? My insistence on seeking love from the outside in only led me further and further away from my desire, and I only had myself to blame. After all, how were those previous objects of my affection supposed to know that I expected equal love in return for mine? As I said before, I’m a giver! It was my whole shtick.

My mother imprinted upon me from a very early age that “You have to teach people how to treat you.” I have since learned that we are able to accomplish this in two ways: by the boundaries we set with others, and by example in the way that we treat ourselves. Both of these are directly tied to Self Love. And while I would never have said at any point in my life “I don’t love myself”, my lesson plan wasn’t fully aligned with my intentions. As an exercise, I made a list of all the things I loved about myself. I was surprised to realize that nearly all of those things were directly related to the value I felt I brought to others’ lives.

How could I expect anyone to love me for me – not just for how my affection and good intentions could serve them – when I was not truly loving myself for me?

Giving is rewarding in many ways, but it was clear that I needed a healthier balance. So I decided to try loving from the inside out.

In the years since my personal epiphany, I have shifted my lifelong love goal towards cultivating an unshakeable sense of Self Love that becomes the foundation from which other healthy relationships can flourish. I have made great strides in this direction by:

– Making a commitment to deeply connecting with my authentic self on a spiritual, emotional, mental and physical level.

– Setting clear intentions for my life based on self-exploration, with a focus on nurturing those things that bring me joy.

– Moving away from comparison mindset and unhealthy idealism in favor of embracing my imperfections unapologetically, compassionately, and with a grateful attitude.

– Setting healthy boundaries with others in order to protect my energy and peace of mind.

– Establishing and maintaining a Self Care practice that reinforces my belief that I am worthy of goodness.

As a result of my efforts, my love tank is never on “E”, regardless of anyone else’s decision to love me or love me not. The freedom of that alone brings me deeper joy and satisfaction than my relationship with anyone else ever has and probably ever will.

“You cannot pour from an empty cup”, or so the saying goes. Nowadays, instead of bleeding myself dry from loving others first and foremost, I strive to keep my cup full by prioritizing Self Love. Love from any other source is a welcome overflow. And somehow – via the law of attraction, perhaps – my cup almost always “runneth over”.

Ask yourself: “Am I loving from the outside in, or from the inside out?” and “In what ways can I begin to cultivate more Self Love?”

Also See: 30 Delightful Ways to Practice Self-Love