Valentine’s Day inevitably gets most of us thinking about our relationships. If we’re part of a committed, monogamous couple, we might be extra thankful for that special person. If we’re single, we’re probably reflecting on past relationships – what went wrong or went right – or hopeful for the possibility of a new one.
No matter what feminists have to say, it’s completely natural to want a romantic partner in addition to wanting to feel loved and cherished by someone you adore. But if we’re going through a rough patch (or a rough couple of years, as the case may be), we’re eventually going to be confronted with the age-old question: should you “fix” yourself before getting into a relationship?
All We’re Getting Is Bad Advice
Before we can tackle the good advice, we have to look at the bad, mainly because there’s so much of it out there. Pretty much everyone has thoughts and opinions on love, relationships, monogamy, and sex, to name a few. Thoughts and opinions are one thing, but when those turn into misguided or downright terrible advice, then it’s time to put a stop to it.
More than anything, we’re told first and foremost to put ourselves first. Self-care has become the buzzword du jour for what probably started out as the simple concept of caring for ourselves in healthy, productive ways. But over time, that trend has grown into excusing everything from selfish attitudes to toxic behavior, all in the name of “self-care” or doing what’s best for us, even if it comes at the cost of others.
Not only that, but the combined forces of the internet and social media are only too happy to dispense supposed knowledge that should come from a licensed professional, if anywhere. Armchair and TikTok psychologists, whether they’re qualified or not, run rampant these days, diagnosing everything from mental illness to dispensing advice (especially to women) on everything from our fertility and sexuality to tracking down West Elm Caleb.
Be wary of any advice that always encourages you to put yourself before anyone else.
We should automatically be wary of any piece of advice that always encourages us to put ourselves before anyone else. For one thing, that’s not the way to go about being a likable individual, nor is it the way healthy and mature relationships work, especially if we’re looking to form a new romantic attachment.
Self-Awareness over Selfishness
Instead of focusing on “self-care,” which can quickly become a disguise for selfishness and self-absorption, we might try emphasizing self-awareness.
Self-awareness is best explained as how well or how little we know ourselves, especially when it comes to our habits, attitudes, patterns of behaviors, and even our flaws. For some, it’s very easy to pinpoint their strengths, but not as easy to outline their weaknesses. Oftentimes, what most bothers us about others is what actually bothers us about ourselves, whether we know it or not. Self-awareness is all well and good for the best parts about ourselves, but it can be even more useful in helping us examine what isn’t so great.
When it comes to any romantic relationship, self-awareness is a tool which should be indispensable to us. An individual severely lacking in self-awareness, for example, is probably ignorant as to why they keep getting into the same kind of relationship, dating the same type of person, or making the same mistakes – and then wondering why they always seem to end up unhappy. For a person who’s successfully self-aware, they can better pinpoint why their last relationship didn’t work and how to better approach future ones.
You’ve Met “The One” – Now What?
In the exciting, early days of a relationship (which most Gen Zers and Millennials have likely experienced as the “talking phase,”), our judgment has never been lower. The object of our affection is new and exciting, and we’re probably discovering all kinds of endearing things about them that we love and appreciate. If there’s an especially strong physical attraction to the other person, we’re probably feeling majorly influenced by that as well. All of that colors our perception of them and what a relationship with them could be.
Self-awareness helps us evaluate how a future with this person might affect us.
If we’re not practicing self-awareness, we might choose to pursue a relationship with them based on the superficial – chemistry, attraction, sex – all of which are important but aren’t necessarily the cornerstones of a long-lasting, solid relationship. If we’re practicing self-awareness, we might pause at some point and really evaluate how a future with this person would affect us. Do they encourage me to be better? Are they kind to others and to me? Do we share the same values, goals, and ambitions? All of these questions are cloudy or completely off the table if self-awareness isn’t at play.
To give an illustration, I met my now-husband when I was 11 years old. When I reconnected with him two years ago, I was, to put it frankly, a mess. I was fresh out of college, pretending to act like an adult, but still falling into toxic habits that had made me desperately unhappy for most of my twenties – drinking too much, spending time with the wrong people, being lazy and failing to follow through on goals and plans, and going out with guys I didn’t really have an interest in but who paid attention to me.
I was by no means 100% self-aware at this point, but I was definitely starting the journey. One thing I realized immediately was that this guy (my husband) was different. He wasn’t immature or unproductive. He had goals and was a hard worker, and perhaps most importantly, he didn’t mess around. I quickly realized that if I planned on pursuing anything with him or wanted some type of future with him, I needed to grow up and not just pretend to be an adult. None of the games or tricks I had pulled with guys in the past would work with this one, and I quickly found that I respected him too much to even try those things. I knew if I did, I would lose him, and rightly so. Basically, wanting to be with him motivated me to grow up in a major way, and doing so has brought me a happiness I didn’t think was ever possible.
Is Fear Keeping Us from Happiness?
We’re told that before we can love others, we have to love ourselves. Is that really true though?
“Loving ourselves” before loving someone else is not only an arbitrary standard (i.e., different for everyone), it’s one some of us might never be able to reach depending on how we measure it. What if we were taught to love ourselves better by loving others first?
Being a good person is a lifetime process, not one that can be switched on and off.
We might stare in the face of a new relationship and primarily see our flaws (I definitely did). We might believe we’re too damaged or broken, we mess up too much, we’re too imperfect, making ourselves completely unworthy of this person. If that’s the narrative that’s holding us back, that’s not self-improvement or the genuine desire to work on ourselves. That’s fear talking.
On the other hand, we have to look at how a prospective relationship would affect our flaws and bad behaviors, namely, would they benefit from this other person, or get worse? For a person struggling with sobriety, for example, whether it’s from an addiction to substances or even sex, it’s safe to say that another relationship isn’t going to be the magic cure-all we might think.
Should we “fix” ourselves before getting into a relationship? What does "fixing ourselves" even mean to us? Steady practices in improvement and self-awareness are one thing, but being a good person is a lifetime process, not one that can be switched on and off. Additionally, the supposed logic in our heads telling us that we need to be an ideal person to be worthy or deserving of another might hold us back from the best thing that’s ever happened to us.
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