I’ve set myself up for quite the challenge here; the challenge of defining love. Is love one thing? Or is it an accumulation of a combination of things? There are many different perspectives of the true meaning of love, just as there are different ideas of the true meaning of life; hence the challenge.
A friend of mine once asked me if I believed in soulmates, to which I delightfully responded, “Yes!” And he asked me if I believed everyone was destined to be with their soulmate eventually, to which I also responded, “Yes.” My naivety in high school was matched with his determination to break the generic teachings of love. He enlightened me by telling me that love did not have to be that of the sexual nature. He reminded me that love was also the unconditional bond of family members. That love was your parents slapping your wrist and kissing your cheek. That love was those hours and hours of conversation with a close friend, and years and years of advice from your elders. He then told me that soulmates, well, they didn’t have to be married for life. He said that you could find your soulmate in a friend or a family member.
I was young and sometimes overwhelmed by my discussions with this friend of mine. A lot of the times if the things he told me didn’t make sense, I dismissed them. At the time I probably dismissed this as well, feeling uncomfortable with the idea of marrying someone who was not my soulmate, or living apart from someone who would be my soulmate. However, as I grow older and build relations and get comfortable or uncomfortable with specific people, I have come to realize some of the things we spoke about years ago.
Break the Old Ways
If love is all-encompassing and not limited to sexual tendencies between two individuals, and romance is not limited to a singular relationship, then defining love is not all that challenging after all. I suppose the challenge at my age (I’m nearing 25) is the challenge of loving yourself. I tried to recall whether or not self-love was part of the teachings of my elementary school years, and I reached a sad conclusion. Yes, we were taught that love is important and that kindness is key to living a happy life. We were taught that family is everything and strangers are to be avoided, but as you grow older, you give in to that notion of never speaking to strangers because you are forced to do so. Whether you’re applying for University admissions or looking for a part-time job, or even asking for help for an assignment, you are approaching a complete stranger. And in that approach of needing something from a stranger you develop a relationship. You spend your energy on pleasing this individual because there is something that you need from them. You hold up polite conversation and meet up for coffee or a quick bite. And soon enough, you’re allowing this person into the deeper workings of your personal life.
Somewhere along the line of pleasing others, we forgot to teach the importance of pleasing our own selves first. Now there is a thin line between loving yourself and being completely narcissistic. How do you feel when you’re looking at a picture of yourself? Are you puzzled? Delighted? Content? Or do you feel negative feelings? How about when you look at yourself in a mirror or reflection? Are you proud? Concerned? Impressed? What do your diet, exercise and sleeping routines say to you, about you? Forget what people see and say, what does your inner dialog tell you?
Beauty is bone deep
Growing up I also had this image of beauty and I feel a lot of girls had the same image – none of us was born with makeup. I was blessed with curly hair, and I say blessed now because I have come a long way on this journey of accepting and appreciating my hair, but if you spoke to 10-year-old me, or 18-year-old me, you would know that I would use the word “cursed”. I remember my mom’s desperate need to show her daughters that image should not be a concern for such young girls. She would become so angered with us when we would take turns using the clothing iron on our hair, to flatten it out, because that was considered beautiful. Somewhere along the line, as I grew older and started to look at myself in the mirror for who I am, and not what society wants me to be, I accepted the beauty that stood before me.
Almost anything worth having does not happen overnight and, yes, the journey of self-love is anything but a magical snap of the fingers. It takes a lot to turn negativity to constructive criticism. If growing up you were attacked by your family members for your behaviours and “abnormal” tendencies, that in itself can determine the way you channel criticism from people outside of your immediate family.
Patience and Tolerance
One of the things that I noticed on my very own journey of self-love is the importance of patience and tolerance. I realized that I cannot control those around me but I can definitely control my reactions. I can choose to dismiss or ignore any comments that are not productive to my journey of self-love. For example, as a kid I was exposed to racism but somewhere along the line, I either ignored it, or I became less and less exposed to it. Recently, and sadly so, I was exposed to racism again and initially it angered me, but eventually I realized that I cannot change how people behave. What I can change is how it makes me feel. In fact, after many conversations with myself and my close friends I realized that I felt sorry for the people who were consistently racist towards me or around me. I deemed them ignorant and allowed myself to be proud that I knew better than to attack those of a different race or culture.
Listen to Your Inner Voice
I also realized how crucial my inner dialog was to improving my relationship with myself. Not only did I talk myself out of scary situations, but I talked myself into wonderful ones. I allowed myself to tell myself good things, and to reason with myself over the bad ones. No one is perfect, but perfection is also subjective. I challenge you, my readers, my dear friends and loved ones, to work on loving yourself. I challenge you to teach yourself to accept and appreciate yourself before you worry about pleasing others. I invite you to reunite with yourself and to believe in the reuniting of you with your most true self. I encourage you to listen to your inner voice and to follow your signs. Above all, enjoy your own company. When you love yourself, you love your life, and you invite positivity into your life.