Do you need to love yourself before loving others?

A couple of days ago, we asked you, our audience a deceptively simple question; 'Do you have to love yourself before loving others?' This was prompted by some team banter between the four of us, trying to decide where we sat on the issue, particularly through the lens of romantic love.

Ah, love. It's perhaps the most complicated, mysterious and yet analyzed phenomenon in the world. And yet, for all the thousands of songs, poems, movies, novels, quests and relationship experts, that have captured the complexity of love as an experience, I don't think we're any closer to really understanding it. You can boil it down to science, assign all sorts of psychological concepts or language to it, but there's a mysticism about it that still has us leaning in.

I think it's why love stories, both the devastating, fractured ones and the happy shimmery relieving ones, fascinate us so much. Human beings, especially adults, are better at believing in what they can see, rather than abstract floaty things. We're a species of proof, more likely to trust in something when we can see it's worked before, rather than being the one to take the leap and find out what waits at the bottom. So we say we believe in love, but we don't, not really.

That's why videos of older couples who've been together for fifty years go viral on the Internet, why Victoria Beckham ended up being the real star of her husband's documentary series and why I've had so many conversations with all kinds of people about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce over the last couple of months. Because every single one of these things is the proof that makes us hopeful that maybe just maybe, this mystical, magical thing is out there for us too.

A couple of days ago, we asked you, our audience a deceptively simple question; 'Do you have to love yourself before loving others?' This was prompted by some team banter between the four of us, trying to decide where we sat on the issue, particularly through the lens of romantic love. Half our team is married and the other half are single. Some people believed that yes, loving yourself was an absolutely necessary precursor to being able to love someone wholly and fully while others, (me) feel that having someone show you they can love you, while you're still learning and figuring out how to do it yourself is exactly the kind of thing the nastier parts of our brain need to see, so that the evidence helps us treat ourselves better.

A lot of you agreed, as our comments section was flooded with expressive, thoughtful, deeply personal observations in a way we haven't had before. It turns out, we're all asking ourselves the same questions. There's something in that universality, the idea that even if we're going through it right now, we're not the only ones. It's kind of how I feel when I look at the moon and remember that no matter where or who you are in history and time, we've all looked at the same one. Not to get too meta but sometimes 'perspective' is all you really need.

And you gave us so many to consider, reminding us that love is a healing force, that loving yourself can be a lifelong process, that for some of you, the very sentiment we were discussing had thrown a real wrench in and sometimes completely wrecked your self-esteem. Not being able to love yourself had felt like something you were being punished for, an impenetrable wall between you and being deserving of romance or someone else's love. When you consider achieving self-love as something of a conditional step to being worthy of romantic love, that's when things get potentially harmful. How do we reconcile the fact that beliefs like that are the fuel for a global industry worth billions of dollars that profits off how much we subtly and sometimes loudly hate ourselves?

As one reader told us, they believe that thinking of love as a binary rather than an ever-fluid spectrum, is part of what creates the problem. Everything's not black and white. Others told us they used to feel the way I do but have since come to find that loving themselves is what's necessary. It changes how much love you can give, makes things better for those receiving your love and just radically changes your life. If that's the case, maybe that's the place I hope to get to. Who knows?

To understand more about this way of thinking, I spoke to a friend of Missing Perspectives, April Helene Horton aka The Bodzilla (who if you're not following on Instagram, please change that). She had a lot to say about this idea, commenting on our post:

When I asked what was behind the belief she so confidently expressed, she said that she'd read the question and "jumped straight to my personal definition of loving yourself, which is extending the grace and kindness to yourself that you do to others. If you’d offer a friend a meal or recommend them a nap to show them love, but wouldn’t give yourself the same choices because you think you don’t ‘deserve’ that, it’s going to put you in a place of consistently not ‘showing up’ for yourself, being burnt out, physically and emotionally - it’s not going to make you more able to express and extend love to others. People who overlook their own needs 100% of the time are, at some point, going to feel like shit."

I'm not the only one who feels like they need that quote framed on their wall, right? We go further as I feel something click in real-time. Maybe the question we needed to ask was actually "Do you need to think of yourself as loveable to and by another person before it actually happens?" April thinks it's all about "finding ways to love what we've always felt was unworthy - not by changing things, but by changing our opinion on what's worthy" in the first place, judgements formed by the media we consume, conversations we either actively participate in or observe, even as children and the actions of others.

If you started reading this article or looked at our Instagram the other day, expecting a definitive answer to that BIG question about love, sorry to disappoint. I think this will be something we revisit, a conversation that keeps evolving as our life experiences do. It won't be the last time we throw you guys these conversation starters and see where the sparks lead. I think the answer isn't straightforward because it looks different for all of us. When I eventually find mine, I'll let you know. Until then, good luck out there finding your own.