Seems we’re obsessed with love, judging by the endless number of songs about finding or losing love. Why? I think we’re all trying to have a love that is so fulfilling and gratifying that we no longer have to resonate with those mournful melodies. Boy was I tuned in and resonating with music like mad toward the end of my twenty year marriage and beyond. I went from feeling I had that soul mate (I Will Always Love You) to: knowing I didn’t (Cry Me a River), to: wondering if there was even such a thing (How Can Love Survive?). There was a surreal period where I felt literally like I was floating in space adrift, with no anchor points.
Is that it? Is that all there is? Will I ever find someone who will actually fulfill my needs and love me the way I’m supposed to be loved?
Then it hit me. Du-uh.
No, duuuu-uuuh (include several inflections for emphasis).
“Wherever you go, there you are” – Unknown
In other words, I am the only constant in my life. So I must fulfill my own needs and love myself.
What I mean is that we can provide everything we need to ourselves without relying on someone else. If I want to feel loved and valued, I have to love and value myself.
Since this, like so many other things, are easier said than done, I considered the Five Love Languages, by Gary Chapman, for guidance. Chapman says that people communicate love in five different ways: touch, service, gifts, time, and words. Interestingly, we may express our love using one or more languages that are different than how we might perceive love. For instance, I feel loved when people spend time with me, but I express my love in service – doing things for my loved one. Odd, isn’t it?
(You know where this is leading…) Problems can arise when you communicate love in a way that doesn’t synch with your partner. So, if my partner feels loved when given gifts, he may not see my service as an act of love. In addition, gifts are not on my love language radar so I don’t give gifts very often. The result will be that he feels unloved. Cruel, isn’t it?
This concept has four major implications:
- Start seeing the love that is already there. Don’t believe your story that you’re unloved, because you are.
- Communicate your love needs to your loved ones. Maybe they don’t know how you prefer to be loved.
- Love your partner in the way that makes them feel loved. Ask if you’re not sure.
- Love yourself in the way you need to be loved. I think this is the most important step, so I saved it for last. (Read more about the first three in Chapman’s book.)
Since time is the way I feel loved, loving myself means spending time with myself. What this mean for me is that if I don’t have a partner or one willing to go do stuff with, then I go on my own. I do not let “being alone” stand in the way of what I want to do, or what would make me happy. Accordingly, I go to the gym, go to movies, volunteer, ballroom dance, take long walks, sit in coffee shops, try new restaurants – regardless of whether I have someone to go with me (Dancing With Myself – well, I find others to ballroom dance with. I’m not crazy after all, just sometimes alone). I soon find I do not mind doing things on my own; in fact it has its advantages. Being alone means I am more open to meeting people than if going as part of a couple.
If I want my partner to help uncover my innermost thoughts and beliefs, but I don’t have a partner, then I can explore my inner world by myself. I journal and meditate to discover my inner world and study to understand its implications. Being alone means I could really dig deep and be honest, since there is no one to judge me or lead me down a false path.
If I want my partner to make me feel like the most important person in the world and loved and accepted unconditionally, then I value and celebrate my unique qualities and talents. I invest in those talents because they’re important . I decide to love myself unconditionally, no matter what I find in my quest for self-discovery or whether I feel in the moment like a miserable excuse for a human being.
There’s no right or wrong way to do this. Everyone has different love languages and is unique in what makes them feel loved. Your self-gift of time will look different than mine. Be as creative figuring out how to love yourself as you might with someone you love.
For someone that is a strong extrovert (gets energy from being with others), this has been a major paradigm shift for me. It does not prevent me from sometimes feeling lonely. But it does help me feel whole independent of what someone else does or does not do.
In my current relationship, I now do not need my partner to make me feel whole. Losing that neediness allows him to be himself and our relationship to develop holistically, without the burden of my unrealistic expectations. I am now also a better partner as I communicate in his love language and ask him to love me in mine.
Finally, I now no longer need melancholy love songs. Footloose and Celebration are the songs on my playlist now.