By Dan Teano
Ready or not, love will come—or so we think. Most of us are eager to fall in love. We chat up strangers, scan the rooms we enter, and download apps just to catch a glimpse of something worth holding on to. In our quiet pursuit of a lifelong partner, we hardly stop to think whether or not we’re even ready for a long-term relationship.
It’s a well-known statistic that 50 percent of all marriages in America end in divorce, yet, if half of America’s married couples aren’t ready for what loving their spouse entails, how are we supposed to know if we are?
The true test of love is this: can you love yourself or not? As banal as it sounds, you cannot love anyone if you do not love yourself first. Though we see this idiom again and again in Instagram posts, Thought Catalog articles, and coffee shop decals, its prevalence only suggests that the message holds a grain of truth. Without practicing self-love, someone can’t possibly grasp the idea of romantic love. Nevertheless, is this true? Is it actually impossible to give something to someone you don’t give yourself? When I was in high school, I’d never heard of self-love, yet I claimed to be madly in love with my girlfriend at the time. Did I actually love her then? Or was I simply in love with the idea of being in love?
When you don’t love yourself, it’s easy to fall in love with someone just to feel better about your loneliness. Beware, though: this type of attachment survives on deception, fear mongering, and self-deprivation. In this toxic relationship, the only thing stopping one person from ending the relationship is fear of the other person’s sanity.
So how do we cultivate self-love in order to prepare for the love we deserve? How do we get to a point where we feel comfortable both in our own skin and in our place in the world? While we may never reach total self-endearment, we can at least initiate the process.
Put simply, self-love means taking care of yourself—something that’s easy in principle, but extremely difficult to practice. It entails prioritizing your health, investing in activities that increase your well-being, and saying “no” when you really want to say “no.” When you learn to love yourself, you might not be entirely ready for long term commitment, but at least you’ll have some idea of what it takes to make a healthy relationship last.
But what does it mean to be “ready” for love anyway? We talk about “being prepared for love” as if love is “in the air” waiting for us to catch it—as if love is something you take, and not something you actively pursue.
Traditionally, we think we “wait” for love. Yet how often do the things we really treasure in life just magically fall into our laps? If you feel somewhat “ready,” don’t just expect your lover to randomly add you on Facebook and message you (that’s a bot, not your soulmate.) Like any meaningful endeavor, love requires us to take risks. Introduce yourself to people; get used to talking to the personality you’re interested in. Who knows, you might’ve already met the “right” person for you, and you’re both just waiting for someone to make the first move.