Prompt Images

“You can’t love someone until you love yourself first.”

Every time I hear this phrase I cringe a little on the inside. Partially because I don’t think it’s entirely accurate, but also sometimes I don’t think that people realize how hard it is to truly love yourself. I mean, maybe they do know, but it just seems like the right thing to say in the moment. Maybe it’s just part of the relationship advice cliché arsenal, along with “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” and “it’ll happen if you just stop looking.”

I know that there are people out there with enough self-confidence that appreciating themselves and loving themselves comes naturally. I might have had this inclination at one point, but it’s been gone for a while. I very obviously don’t love myself the way I’m expected to. Want proof? When my boyfriend asked me to name qualities that made me a good partner, it took me two months to figure out just even one potential answer. We both knew that was bad. After some thinking and coaxing, and reassurance, I reminded myself that I am a loyal, loving and emotionally supportive person; seeing the important people in my life happy is what makes me happy.

I knew in the abstract I was someone who had good attributes, but why couldn’t I believe it?

It seems my brain was trying to convince me otherwise. It told me that I was too [insert negative adjective here] to find someone for me. I was too incomplete, a burden. Someone who had already passed the prime age for getting a boyfriend (knowing my penchant for drama,  I was probably like, 21). Simply put, I was destined for spinsterdom.

Trying to “love myself,” was getting increasingly harder because it was just easier to convince myself that something was wrong with me.

If I was supposedly so great, why was I still single?

I must have been doing something that made me unworthy of love or romantic attraction. This only got worse as I slowly started to fall into the comfort of my depression and anxiety, which never improves things. I know it’s not a switch, or the equivalent of “just don’t worry about it,” but sometimes it’s presented that way—as if all those years I’ve spent doubting myself will just go away.

But this isn’t a pity piece.

Because while maybe my self-love needs work, I also don’t feel bad for myself. I don’t need pity. I just need a reminder, I suppose, that sometimes what society tells us about relationships needs to be taken with a grain of salt because it is often contradictory. In order to truly get better at loving ourselves, we can’t constantly be surrounded by messages that we’re broken without someone to love, or someone loving us. It doesn’t work that way, nor is that a healthy environment in which to grow.

That mindset fails to recognize that at the end of the day, we take care of ourselves. And that is no small feat.

So, readers of The Prompt Mag, here’s a little pep talk to remind you that you are worthy of love. You are not broken, whether you’re attached or otherwise. Take some time to think about one thing that makes you awesome, or a happy memory, or a cool thing you did. Take a break from the sadness.

I don’t care if you think it seems stupid. If you’re proud of something—no matter how big, small, or frivolous—then celebrate it. Honestly, being a person can be hard; some days just even getting out of bed once is a huge accomplishment. Especially when the comforters are cozy and it’s cold outside.

Being kind and loving to yourself can be an incredibly hard task.

So, maybe instead of creating ultimatums like “You can’t love someone until you love yourself first,” we need to rewrite the script. Maybe it’s more complicated than that. I’d argue that you can’t love someone until you acknowledge your imperfections, develop self-awareness, and slowly work to recognize your worth. And of course, finding someone doesn’t end up being a cure-all for your anxieties and self-doubt—you have to keep working on it!

But know that even with the small steps, moments, and reminders, you’ll get there. Plus after Valentine’s Day, you have the added bonus of severely discounted candy.

Jessica Lulka

Jess Lulka is a Boston-based creative. When she's not writing or editing, you'll find her at any bookstore, art museum, or looking at cat pictures.

learn more
Share this story
About The Prompt
A sweet, sweet collective of writers, artists, podcasters, and other creatives. Sound like fun?
Learn more