By Dan Teano
It’s very tempting to look for love outside of yourself. When you see all your high school friends getting engaged and your suitemates are always having pajama parties with their significant others, you can’t help but think, “If I had someone to hold at night, I wouldn’t be so miserable.”
As much as we think someone else can make us feel better about ourselves, our emotional wellbeing is no one’s responsibility but our own. Besides, how are we supposed to give love to someone else if we fail to give it ourselves? We can’t pour from an empty cup—and we can’t receive until we know what it feels like to be full. While that all might sound good and true in concept, it is important to understand what this “full cup/empty cup” metaphor actually looks like in real life. Until we see the consequences of not filling our own cup first, we’ll continually pass it up as someone else’s duty and consequently, live a half-full life. To help illustrate this metaphor clearly, consider this hypothetical scenario.
A boy named Dan thinks he meets the love of his life in math class. Although attendance isn’t mandatory, he shows up religiously anyway—Dan swears she sits behind him because she likes him. Halfway through the semester and a few study sessions later, they eventually sit next to each other in class.
Dan and his classmate are dating, but not happily ever after. In less than a month, Dan gets anxious about her ex-boyfriend still being her friend; in turn, she gets jealous about other girls in Dan’s class. To prevent strangers from homewrecking their newly formed relationship, they begin to control each other’s lives. Dan reads her Facebook messages every night and in the morning, he is told to change into sweatpants because apparently, black jeans and a rolled-up flannel look too good on him.
Do these two love each other, or do they really fear being alone? If they did love each other, wouldn’t they have trust instead of paranoia, optimism not fear? Ironically, they both claimed to be in love, but neither one of them was happy.
So how does this happen? How does a relationship that begins with smiles and butterflies end up hanging by a thread held loosely through mind games and fear-mongering? This happens quite frequently, actually, and it happens when one’s romantic relationship takes priority over their relationship with themselves.
If you neglect yourself—your dreams, emotions, and needs—you naturally (and desperately) look elsewhere. Our bodies need love and our souls need nourishment. Without them, life would be bland and we would have no compelling reason to keep going. So we don’t have it, we search for it. We look to our significant other to make us feel human. We give them the impossible task of keeping our sanity in check which, of course, only drives us more insane. Because our life-source comes from outside of us, we do ugly, dehumanizing things to make sure they don’t ever think about leaving. We do this by controlling the other person’s life by inducing fear. We say, “Don’t go to this bar or else you’ll sleep on the couch tonight.” Or, “Every night I will go through your phone to make sure you aren’t fooling around.”
If I’ve learned anything from the relationships I’ve seen come, go, and self-destruct, it’s that fear is a terrible motivator. If you want someone to love you, you can’t threaten them to do so. Think about it: if they comply to your mind games, they do so out of fear for your sanity and theirs, not out of love.
If you want someone to love you, you need to love yourself. If you don’t do this first, your life will be ruined because you ruined someone else’s.
When Dan broke up with his girlfriend, he was inconceivably depressed. Not only did he not know who he was anymore, but he also couldn’t forgive himself for the damage he imparted on his partner. If he loved himself fully, he would’ve set up personal boundaries. He would have trusted that her ex-boyfriend was a thing of the past—and frankly, he wouldn’t even care, because he would know he’s such a catch, she’d be dumb if she left him for anyone else.
For your sake and your future partners’ as well, date yourself first. Take yourself out for a drink and then splurge on a jacket you may or may not need. Explore a new city on your own and practice the art of being by yourself (no phone, music, or TV). When you can be with yourself, then people will naturally want to be with you too—not because you forced them to either.