There is a song I remember vividly from my youth. It is tragic, not only because it reveals my age, but also because it is a microcosm of the world as it is – pretty much. The first verse alone is enough to make you want to go in search of a reasonably high building and a ledge on that reasonably high building; even if only in your mind: I learned the truth at seventeen/ That love was meant for beauty queens / And high school girls with clear skinned smiles / Who married young and then retired / The valentines I never knew / The Friday night charades of youth / Were spent on one more beautiful / At seventeen I learned the truth…
“At Seventeen,” by Janis Ian, is as haunting lyrically as it is melodically; her melancholic voice inducing a tragic-romantic reverie akin to a depressed stupor, to the last strains of the last lyric. Sadly, it is descriptive of a harsh socio-cultural-emotional reality that is as true today as it was way-back-when. Although admittedly tempered by a more liberated sense of femininity and womanhood, the bottom-line remains: the beautiful generally live a charmed life with a special someone; while the un-beautiful generally – well – do not. Theirs is stereotypically the life of the awkward, wallflower loner.
There is, perhaps, no reminder more poignant of this than Valentine’s Day.
Flashback some years ago, to a day in life that brought this point home in a way that hurt – and angered – my mother’s heart: Valentine’s Day 2011. My daughter was in 5th grade, and she came home, visibly upset, but doing her best not to let on. A bit of prodding and a big hug later, the beans came spilling out: “Why did some girls get roses, and I didn’t, Mama? The school sold roses today, and some of us didn’t get any…” Now mind you, my daughter is gorgeous by any standard (not just by the “I’m her mother, and she’s gorgeous in MY eyes” standard), but she is the type who purposely avoids being one of the “populars.” She is quite the anti-“IT-girl,” and honestly, her Dad and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Being able to stand up to peer-pressure; being more concerned with substance of character than mere outward beauty – these are qualities most parents seek to instill in their children. This, as far as we see it, is the way to go.
But not in the world’s eyes. The world seems to reward the superficial and the shallow. The world seems smitten by the popular.
After getting over my annoyance that the school had thought it a “good idea” to encourage “romantic rose-giving” among young school graders, I quickly re-assured my daughter of what she already knew, but momentarily became insecure of: that her beauty goes beyond being gifted with roses. Way, way beyond.
Aaah, those 3 special words: I love ME!
What to do, if you don’t receive roses? Are alone on Valentine’s Day? Fall short of the “popular” mark?
Do we wallow in self-pity? Suffer the blues in a peculiar shade of lace-trimmed red, white and pink? Shoot a certain cherub with a crossbow, as a heart-eating zombie with no worthwhile purpose in life?
We embrace our alone-ness.
We find our own beauty and self-worth.
We love who we are.
And we spoil ourselves silly.
“I LOVE ME!” The words may seem alien to you, and may take a while to roll off your tongue, but say them out loud; with feeling! We all too often speak negative words about ourselves, that we believe our own negativity and become our own biggest critics: “I’m so fat,” “I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never make it,” “I look awful,” “I’ll never be happy,” “I’ll never get that job / be rich/ be successful,” are among the top ego-smashers we tell ourselves.
We need to change all that and be our own biggest fan and learn to love – and cheer for – ourselves.
Goodbye, knight in shining armour
Hours are wasted, pining away for love; waiting to be loved; keeping our fingers crossed for love to find us. Like a princess holding out for a knight in shining armour, yearning for that special love; meanwhile feeling empty, lost and incomplete without it. On that note, it is funny that most literature with which we grow up conditions little girls to passively wait for the knight, while little boys are trained to be pro-active in the search and throw grand parties and balls to that end. Thankfully, this is slowly changing, as long-held stereotypes are questioned and destroyed.
We wait, empty and yearning for someone to fill the void. Some wait ‘til they’re blue in the face or the cows come home, whichever comes first; while others wait in vain – because that’s not usually how life works.
To be loved, we must first have love to give. And this starts with loving yourself.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me
Loving yourself is mainly having self-respect, and this is the first step to creating love in your own life to share with others. When you expect love from an outside source, and someone or something does not fulfill this expectation, this makes you feel worse than before, in a vicious cycle that only loving and respecting yourself can break. Understanding the effects of loving yourself will heighten your ability to love others.
To be loved, you must first have a healthy love and respect for yourself, as much as you do others – if not more so.
Healthy self-respect can be cultivated by changing your self-view and your self-talk. Easier said than done, admittedly, but well-worth the effort. Don’t be afraid to seek out help for issues you feel you cannot change on your own: enlist the services of a counselor, life coach or therapist where needed.
In this same vein, we must also learn to take responsibility for ourselves, and stop relying on others to float our boat.
No more self-abandonment
But don’t take my word for it; I am, after all, no expert on the matter.
Best –selling author and relationship expert (and YES, she has appeared on Oprah) Margaret Paul has this to say about it: “Expecting others to make you feel loved while you are abandoning yourself will never lead to feeling loved and lovable. When you learn to take responsibility for yourself emotionally, physically, financially, spiritually, organizationally and relationally, then you will feel loved and lovable. Taking responsibility for loving yourself fills your heart with love, which you can then share with others. Sharing love is the most fulfilling experience in life, but you need to be filled with love in order to have love to share. Learning to love yourself is what fills you with love.”
In an article on huffingtonpost.com Dr. Paul shares 9 ways to love yourself, which begins with loving – as opposed to abandoning – your inner child:
1. Listen within to your own feelings. Tune in to how YOU feel. Do not allow your inner child to feel rejected, abandoned and unloved by you.
2. Be compassionate with your feelings. Do not judge your feelings, telling yourself you are wrong for having them. Be kind, gentle, tender, understanding and accepting of your feelings, then your inner child will feel loved by you.
3. Open to learning about what your feelings are telling you. Much as an actual child feels loved when you are compassionately interested in why he or she is hurting, your inner child will feel loved when you explore what your feelings are telling you. Learn from your feelings. Painful feelings, for instance, may be telling you that you are abandoning yourself, or that someone is being unloving to you, or that a situation is not good for you. Attend to your feelings with compassion, learn what they are telling you, and then take action to fix the situation. These will make you feel loved.
4. Create a solid connection with a spiritual source of love, wisdom and comfort. Love is not a feeling generated by our mind. It comes from the heart when our heart is open to our source of love. Open yourself to learning with your higher power about loving yourself and others, and love will flow into your heart.
5. Choose to be around loving people. In your personal relationships (because you don’t always have a choice in work relationships), choose to be around caring, supportive and accepting people will make you feel loved.
6. Take loving actions for yourself around others. Speak up for yourself and do not allow others to treat you badly. Disengage from interacting with those who treat you badly. Allowing others to treat you badly sends a message to your inner child that he or she is not worth loving.
7. Take care of your body, your time, your space and your finances. You will feel loved and lovable when you feed yourself healthy food, and get exercise and adequate sleep. Do not ignore your health; doing so sends a message that you are not worth loving. Respect your own and others’ time and space; this lets you know that you are worth it. Do not overspend and put yourself in unnecessary debt, this makes your inner child feel anxious and insecure about life.
8. Find work you love. Since work takes up a big chunk of your life, find or create work that fulfills you. This is vitally important. You need to know that you are worth the effort it takes to create a sense of fulfillment in your life.
9. Create balance. All work and no play, or all play and no work, creates inner anxiety rather than inner peace. We need balance in our life to feel loved and lovable. Rest and rejuvenate. We must nurture our body and soul through activities that bring us joy.
Alone, but NOT lonely
If Valentine’s Day rolls around and you find yourself alone, or you find yourself sans a bouquet of roses, do not despair. Instead, take a step towards loving yourself. Pamper yourself. Treat yourself to your day of shopping. Curl up and read that good book for which you never seem to have time. Or, find a friend and paint the town your own shade of red.
You are worth it!
Turn your situation around and resolve to love yourself; for even tragically depressing songs remind us that “It isn’t all it seems at seventeen…”