Around this time last year, I broke up with my boyfriend of almost 2 years. I didn’t know it at the time, but we weren’t breaking up because we wanted to see other people. Rather, in my eyes, the relationship ended because I felt like I hadn’t seen myself in months: I didn’t know myself or love myself anymore. This was not my ex-boyfriend’s fault; in fact, he was lovely and always tried to make me feel better and support me when I had those feelings. But the external validation and support were not enough. In my eyes, I needed to completely detach myself from the relationship in order to find out who I was.
From a young age, I’d been exposed to what is now known as the post-breakup glow-up. This is a kind of ritual usually shown in the media as the moment when the ex-girlfriend bounces back and gets a new haircut, goes out more often and suddenly seems like a whole new, happier person (think Princess Diana in her revenge dress). I believed that in order to feel like myself again, I needed to perform this ritual: to have a post-breakup glow-up, and then magically I would find myself again.
“I thought that if a complete stranger could treat me well enough, then certainly there was something about me that was likeable and attractive.”
In a way, this worked. I cut my hair, I went out with my friends, and I started to feel truly happy. I felt independent and capable of weathering any storm (because if I can get over my ex-boyfriend, what else is left?). But somehow, I still did not feel as though I loved myself. Despite leaving my former boyfriend in order to find internal validation, there I was on Tinder or out in the clubs finding validation from other, perhaps less well-intentioned people. I had swapped out care and support for meaningless and shallow interactions, because at the time this felt more empowering than having a partner’s love and affection. I thought that if a complete stranger could treat me well enough, then certainly there was something about me that was likeable and attractive. However, I quickly realised that the cool stoner from a dating app was probably not the answer to all of my self-image and self-love problems, and more than anything, it just taught me that it’s okay to have a good time with a stranger. While these experiences did wonders for my ego, I did not feel empowered. Instead, I felt lost and would question if I had made the right decision in leaving my boyfriend.
But I knew I couldn’t (and didn’t want to) go running back to him. When we broke up, I was aware that I was going to struggle a lot; I was losing a strong support system as well as a friend. But as much as this loss frightened me, it was also exciting. Being able to finally stand on my own, instead of as one half of a couple, felt extremely liberating. Even in the moments when I questioned myself and the legitimacy of this path to loving myself, I knew that I had made the right decision. This assurance that affirmed I had made the right choice for myself was incredibly empowering. I started to realise that my own opinion was one that I should value a lot more than I had been previously.
“Prior to breaking up with my ex-boyfriend, I had unknowingly entered into a toxic relationship with myself. This manifested itself in the way I spoke to myself, the way I treated my body, and the way I let others treat me too.”
This is when I had a sort of breakthrough. I realised that I had been neglecting the most important relationship that I would ever have: my relationship with myself. Prior to breaking up with my ex-boyfriend, I had unknowingly entered into a toxic relationship with myself. This manifested itself in the way I spoke to myself, the way I treated my body, and the way I let others treat me too. To put it into perspective, if a partner had treated me the way I was treating myself, the relationship would have ended instantly.
You spend your entire life with yourself. I feel stupid for not realising it before, but if you don’t treat yourself with respect, kindess and compassion, then there is no way you can love yourself. I focused so much on trying to care for others (mostly my boyfriend) that I had forgotten that I could, and had to, care for myself as well. I guess sometimes it can be hard to realise that love is not only reserved for other people.
After understanding that I had to be kinder to myself — and by no means did this happen overnight — I met my current boyfriend. For the first time, when I met him, I felt sure of myself. The question of whether or not he was interested in me at the time didn’t seem to worry me as much as it would have a few months prior. I felt that if he was to let me down, or not reciprocate my feelings, I would be confident enough in myself to accept things as they were rather than spiral into self-doubt and questions about my worth. I have now been in a relationship with him for the past few months. As my friends know, I was largely against the idea of being in a relationship again. I was worried that I would lose my independence and start seeking validation from my boyfriend, and in turn, forget that I can also be a source of love for myself.
While I believe that you can only truly love yourself if the love comes from within, I will give credit to my boyfriend and say that external love from a partner goes a long way. Being with him, I feel respected, empowered, and beautiful. Finally being in a more mature relationship, I feel no pressure whatsoever to be someone else, or act differently. I can continue to be independent and grow — in fact, it’s somewhat encouraged. If there is a misunderstanding we can talk about it rationally, and I don’t get a sinking feeling in my stomach. A while ago it would have been worrying for me to think that someone could care about me in this way — I think sometimes it is difficult to accept love from someone when you don’t love yourself. But in this relationship, now that I am more secure in myself, I’m much more comfortable receiving that kind of respect and love from someone else.
“I can sincerely say that I am far from loving myself fully; the road is long but I am getting there slowly.”
I remember watching RuPaul’s Drag Race and hearing the iconic line “If you can’t love yourself, how the hell are you going to love somebody else!” — I can sincerely say that I am far from loving myself fully; the road is long but I am getting there slowly. However, learning to show myself love has allowed me to feel secure in myself again. It has also allowed me to open up to love from others, something which is scary, but also exciting.