What if love was something I could produce on my own, like a hydro dam generates electricity? Several years ago, I tried an experiment with myself as the subject to see if this was possible.
The year was 2012 and it was a particularly tough year. A dying relationship was finally taken off life support. It coughed, sputtered and, as it flatlined, I moved out.
I can spare you the details, but I would not have disagreed if you had referred to me as being in a deep depression.
When the relationship was gone, also removed were the excuses to not be happy. My crutch was gone, I could no longer lean on the excuse of an incompatible relationship preventing me from being happy. He was out of the picture so I could no longer blame the situation for my sadness.
It felt as if nothing was going well. I had taken on a new client for a doomed project that I was now responsible to bring back on track. I wasn’t charging enough for my services and I didn’t believe in the project. I lived alone in a little carriage house in the countryside. I tried to be active. One time I went for a short run, felt like screaming at the trees, decided the trees do enough and don’t need to absorb my frustration, and went back home.
The dishwasher stopped working. The check engine light was on in the car. I was draining my savings. Stress was everywhere. I hated myself for being in this position. Good friends, well, one in particular, said they couldn’t do it — couldn’t be around me anymore.
I had created a world where I was pushing people away, as if I built an energetic isolation chamber.
I wasn’t working much, but I was reading. I read about self love — a concept where we love ourselves and take care of ourselves. Every time I tell this story, people giggle when I say “self love” cause that could mean “self sex” and that’s a funny topic. It’s important to note that love doesn’t equal sex. They pair nicely together, but that’s not what this is about.
It was one line in one book and I accepted the challenge:
What if I could fall in love… with myself?
As a Project Manager, I naturally projectified this endeavour. The primary goals of The Love Project were clear and I’m happy to share both the results and the tactical steps here.
In one of the many arguments with He Who Is Now Referred To As “The Ex”, I was pointing out his annoying tendency to leave dishes by the sink. In defence, he alleged that I would often leave the kitchen cupboard doors open. Lies, all lies! I’ve never seen the doors open.
He said he’s been closing them. Frequently. Whatever.
I had moved in with him too quickly and committed myself to someone I barely knew. I was in love with the idea of us and my idea was wrong. It turned out we weren’t compatible.
If he was oil, I was water — I hated myself for not being able to become oil so we could get along.
I tried to change. I felt so weak. I wasn’t working much and grew dependent on him financially.
I’ve been in love several times, and I’ve also flirted with infatuation. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to fall in love, as it’s pretty amazing. At first, everything about the object of love is either perfect, or near-perfect. Tendencies and habits that could be annoying later in the relationship are, at first, adorable and endearing. It’s so interesting to get to know every aspect of them. The butterflies of metaphor take up residence in my stomach, so they may flutter about whenever Love Object is near. I’m so happy I found this person, and my life adjusts to act in a way that will accommodate their needs and wants.
For my Love Project, I decided that I would channel the experience of a fresh, blossoming love. Oh, Jess, I’d think. Oh, you. Aren’t your quirks cute. There you go again with those… habits of yours. You’re just so interesting. Gosh, what will you do next!?
As the months went by, I softened and created a safe space for myself.
I dropped the negative critical loop in my head that told me when I did things Wrong, Kind of Wrong, or my favourite, That Could Have Been Better. Over time, the voice that was fascinated by my behavioural quirks was easier to hear than the critical one that demanded only perfection.
I knew I was on the right track when I walked into my small house in the country, looked up as I was removing my boots and saw:
Every kitchen cupboard door was open.
I realized the Ex was right.
I realized that I am truly guilty of Inappropriate Door Ajaring.
I burst out laughing. Oh Jess, I thought. Oh you.
My first instinct was to laugh at the absurdity of having left every kitchen cupboard door open. Not only laugh at it, but to love myself for my weird habit.
I’ve been working at my Love Project for several years and it’s absolutely changed my life. The frustrated expectation of near perfection has faded, and I move towards my goals with a steady (and realistic!) belief in myself and my abilities. It turns out that a by-product of self-love is self-respect, so I now set healthy boundaries both with work and within my relationships.
To put it simply, I’m calm and confident.
Want to fall in love?
This is where my analytical, project management trained brain can’t help but break the process down. (Contact me directly for the “Fall in Love with yourself Gantt Chart!)
For starters, recall a first love experience. Unrequited love is ok, but be mindful if that’s going to bring up residual hurt—we don’t need to make this harder on ourselves.
So, with the Early Love Experience in mind, consider:
How did you feel about this person? If the relationship lasted, is there a specific example of something that was endearing at first and then got annoying?
1. Tell yourself “I love you”.
It feels a bit funny at first to think in the third person.
“I love me” is a good start, and start there if that’s what you’re comfortable with, but eventually move towards, “I love you, <insert your first name here>”.
This will probably feel a bit silly at first, and that’s ok. (Many years have passed since I started this practice and I still feel a bit apprehensive to share this!) I liken it to doing kegel exercises in public — seriously no one knows.
The point is, for many of us it’s easier to give love away. This time, you’re going to keep some for you.
Being in love with yourself is a love that can’t be taken away or lost. This has naturally led to changes to my diet and lifestyle over the years — it’s interesting what I’ll do for someone I’m in love with.
2. Make eye contact with yourself in the mirror and smile.
I suspect many of us scowl at what we see in the mirror. I attended an art exhibit years ago where the photographer displayed two pictures of each subject — one where they were looking in a mirror, so the photo captured their “mirror face” and a second image of their posed “camera smile”. To me, most of the subjects in the installation had a critical look in “mirror face”.
Practice your kind expression in the mirror. If this is tough, I’ve found that thinking of something inherently adorable helps — like a basket of kittens, or perhaps a baby panda sneezing. Awwwh.
Imagine how endeared you’d be towards someone who always looked at you with an eye to search for fault!
I am now quick to catch my “mirror face” and soften it into an expression of seeing someone I like.
Maybe you’re better at looking at yourself with kindness than I was — this step took me a while before I started to feel comfortable. Once you’re comfortable, explore your eyes. This can be intense. Over time, instead of “mirror facing” in the mirror, I was able to witness my actual emotions without judgement. Sadness, grief, worry… over time my default average mirror gaze became one of contentment. It’s tough to explain, but I feel that it’s from this practice that I learned my own authenticity.
3. Notice if you’re more critical of yourself than of others.
Accept this for now. It’s a tough habit to break. Keep repeating step #1 to help with this.
A practice I learned elsewhere that can help to alleviate the self-criticism is to look at your hand. Ok, not just glance at your hand, but consider it for a full minute and love every line, every hangnail, every scar. Some things could be perceived as imperfections and everything that could be perceived as an imperfection. This is a small but powerful practice.
I wonder sometimes if noticing imperfections is a byproduct of being smart. This ability may lead us to powerful jobs since we’re aware of what perfection looks like. Life has gotten a lot better since I’ve adjusted my expectations of myself to be more realistic.
I invite you to kick off your own Love Project, and I’d love to hear how it goes for you. For me, the results weren’t instant, but they have definitely been worth it.
I feel more attractive — some types of beauty are skin deep, and this beauty glows from within. Looking at myself with a kind expression in the mirror has been revolutionary.
When I look in the mirror, I see a person I love and it’s made it so easy to love others.
I still have the brow furrow as time passed during my self criticism time, but other than that, my countenance has softened. I’m aging, but feel I’m aging well. I’ve asked my hairdresser to not colour over my grey streak since I’m proud of it. I’m not ashamed of my stories or my age, as they are aspects of my experience that I accept unconditionally about myself.
I’ve found that love is easy, actually. We all deserve love, and it’s easy to find when we’re already generating our own.