New Post: 2nd Tuesday of the Month
This past week, my mentor challenged me to say, "I love me." I had never realized how foreign these three words were to me, pebbles rattling on my tongue, stuck between my teeth. Have I ever said this to myself? Have I ever declared "I love me"?
As children, we are taught to say "I love you". "I love you" to our parents, who are supposed to say it to each other, as a model for us to later say to a romantic partner. We place love in a hierarchy. Sexual/romantic, familial, then friend/platonic, and maybe finally somewhere yourself. Instead of dismantling this hierarchy, the self-love movement places self-love above romantic love, even claiming if you don't love yourself nobody else will. But different types of love exist simultaneously. Even if we don't love and accept ourselves, we are still capable of love. Love is a journey, a continuum, a kaleidoscope.
I'm not a fan of mainstream positivity. Feel-good slogans, like "You are awesome", "You can do anything," "Don't give up" don't address the systemic and institutionalized structures of power. White supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism/imperialism give us different experiences, depending on where we fall in the web of oppression. A white cis-man won't face the same set of challenges as a black trans-woman. Feel-good phrases won't change that. Feel-good phrases won't change the trauma I've experienced as a migrant to this country. Feel-good phrases subvert the work it takes to actually overcome daily anxieties and unhealthy coping habits.
Love shouldn't be coerced. Self-love, familial love, sexual love, platonic love, none of these should be forced on us. Yet, as children, we are told to love our family, sometimes including abusive family.
I am expected to love my mother, despite any emotional abusive she inflicted on me. I do care for her because she was a person in my life, because we lived together for eighteen years, and because she fed and clothed me. But she never took the time to know me, or accept me for who I am. I felt like she only loved me because I was her daughter and that's how she was supposed to feel. Is that real love?
What is love?
We can define love differently. For me love includes acceptance, acceptance of our sexualities, our genders, our skin colors, our depressions, our faults, our wins. For me, my mom's love felt conditional. I had to get straight As, I had to go to college, I had to get married (to a cis-man), I had to get a "good" job, if I didn't do these things, there would be no love, only disappointment.
Is that love?
I struggle to love myself today partially because how I saw love defined through her. My mom grew up in an abusive household, learning to see love as harsh and painful. Maybe her mom also grew up like this, and it's been a cycle for generations. I tried asking my mom to start therapy so she could begin dismantling her self-hate. She didn't want to, she refused to acknowledge her toxic patterns. I even suggested mindful meditation, but to her these tactics were silly and ineffectual. She didn't want to face the monsters inside herself. She didn't want to embark on an authentic journey of self-love.
But I do.
I want to love me, accept me, but also work on myself, ensuring I'm not repeating toxic patterns. We live in a culture saturated in systemic oppression, this can translate into oppressive behaviors. I make mistakes, there needs to be room for that. I need room to grow and learn. This shouldn't stop mew from loving myself but I should be self-aware otherwise my self-love could blossom into selfishness and egotism.
The relationship we build with ourselves is just as important as the relationships we build with other people. I want to be intentional with myself and my friends, lovers, comrades. I want to dismantle the hierarchy of love. I don't value self-love over platonic or sexual or family love.
I should take myself out for lunch and fucking celebrate it. Or go out with friends for sushi. I should masturbate and fucking celebrate my solo orgasms. Or have sex with a lover. I should be kind to myself when I make a mistake. Or show compassion for my friends when they fuck up. These are ways we show love, either for others or ourselves. We should value these types of love equally.
Show up for yourself, show up for others, blend the two. Be self-aware, say I love me and say I love you all in one breath or multiple breaths. Exist simultaneously, in contradiction, own your shit, and don't fucking play into the hierarchies of oppression or love.