So I went on a date with this really cute guy named James and we talked for two hours and he had a gorgeous smile whenever he laughed and seemed to reject capitalism and I sort of wanted to see him again. We had some honestly mediocre because he’s a white man who hasn’t been socialized to communicate effectively decent text exchanges before he told me that he would like to see me again but not romantically because he hasn’t been into guys lately. Here are some thoughts I could have had, if not for my queen Audre Lorde:
“ok so clearly if I was a conventionally attractive white man with blue eyes, a more prominent jaw, and a six pack he would have somehow seen through my sweatshirt, he would have asked me out again and paid for dinner, and also like 27 novels”
“hm ok, I’m 23, I haven’t dated a man long-term yet, and sure I’ve turned down a bunch of guys but maybe there’s something wrong with me, like maybe I’m doomed to become a cat-owning isolated trench-coat wearing freak who reveals too many details about his personal life online on an obscure yet still-functioning WordPress blog”
“maybe if I had more peer-reviewed publications on my CV he would have asked me out again. I literally don’t know how that makes any sense but let’s heap on the self-hatred just for kicks”
But I didn’t have any of those thoughts, not even one. Over the past several years I have spent a lot of time cultivating self-compassion and self-love, through reading, therapy, and friendships. So instead, I thought to myself:
“Okay, his loss. Yeah, I may have enjoyed the first date, but either way I’m a well-read, compassionate, socially aware icon who knows how to satisfy myself and take care of my friends, clients, and students. Sure I have things to work on about myself, and I’ll continue that process regardless of whether a man loves me, or how many publications I have, or whatever. Also I have excellent music taste, so stream ‘thank u, next’ and some BlackPink song too.”
We live in a society that tells us we are incomplete, insufficient, and in need of an external fix, especially if you are not a straight, cisgender, able-bodied, financially well-off white man. I have talked to so many female and femme friends who have felt self-loathing for not being thinner, not being in a romantic relationship, for having darker skin. Men and masc people have shared similar feelings with me, feelings of wanting to be buff, accomplished, and strong, or at least strong enough to get a girlfriend so they can feel less insecure. And so companies capitalize on these feelings and sell us things, things that will help us secure “happy objects” as feminist scholar Sara Ahmed calls them: slimming diets so we can get the romantic partner, images of beautiful, white weddings so we can toll toward the marriage of our dreams, and articles and books and lectures about how to be more productive so we can get the job or promotion or prestigious title.
Maybe instead of producing things we can start producing changes within ourselves, changes related to self-compassion and self-love. Because if we love ourselves, we can listen to our own voices instead of the voices that tell us we are not enough. Loving yourself doesn’t mean thinking you’re perfect or treating yourself to a Lululemon splurge, rather, it can consist of tangible actions that improve your health, or shifts in negative thought patterns that you’ve internalized over time. I think about all the time I spent starving myself over a decade ago – while I know I did the best I could then, what if I had taken my energy and directed it toward creating a more compassionate and just world, instead of carving away at my own body?
Two months ago I drove to a mental health setting where I provide group therapy. On the way there, my left front tire blew out in the middle of the highway. I had heard weird groaning noises from my car the day before, but I ignored them and hoped for the best. So I sat in my gold Honda Accord on the side of the road at peak rush hour, the sun still shining and other vehicles whooshing by at over 60 miles per hour, until the traffic stopped them all, right beside me.
I could have hated myself for my mistake, for not having my car checked out, for missing out on an important, meaningful commitment. Instead, I told myself, “you know Thomas, you’re doing the best you can in this moment, and that’s what matters.” I called my group co-facilitator and said I couldn’t make it that evening, and I sat in my car reading Rebecca Solnit’s Call Them by Their True Names while listening to Ariana Grande’s Sweetener album until the tow truck came. I felt kinda happy about how it all went down, actually.
I still struggle with self-compassion sometimes. I wonder if I am doing enough for the causes I care about. I dislike how I don’t write that much creative nonfiction anymore. I occasionally ponder if I should be doing something different to get a boyfriend, and then I mentally slap myself for viewing a boyfriend as something I should aspire toward at all.
But I have made great progress on this journey over the years. The negative self-talk happens less, the self-affirmations arrive more easily, and the humor and laughter and joy abound more than ever. My self-love emerges in moments, moments like: when I feel appreciation and awe toward my body after I execute an excellent tennis stroke or when I run at full speed to BlackPink’s “As If It’s Your Last,” the quiet contentment I experience when I finish a novel on the couch in my living room or when my students laugh at my obsession with Ariana Grande, the happiness I feel when I dance to “thank u, next” in my bedroom by myself or when I FaceTime a friend and feel so connected and understood. In these moments, I pause. And I make sure to cherish them.
What are your feelings and thoughts related to self-love and self-compassion? Is it easy for you or hard for you, and how has your relationship to those concepts changed over time? Any tips on how to practice them more? Would love to hear from you all and will post again soon.