Self-respect is essential for any healthy relationship. But when working with individuals in their search for love, I'm still always surprised to hear a common sentiment: "I need to focus on myself before I start dating."
My surprise isn't due to disapproval. I love that people have this feeling; it means they're aware that real love starts within. But here's the thing: dating doesn't mean you aren't focused on yourself.
The inherent problem in this sentiment is that many of us believe that dating or being in a relationship means we can't retain who we are and what we want anymore. It's as if we think a partner necessarily needs to take over our lives, and that they will preclude us from following our own path of self-growth.
But this is not what dating or relationships are about. At all. In fact, dating and being in relationships (even when they "fail") invite us to learn a TON about ourselves ... if we allow them to.
Relationships provide us a mirror to see what kinds of behaviors and habits we bring to the table. Becoming intimate and emotionally vulnerable in a relationship is an opportunity for every one of us to resolve unhealthy dynamics such as codependency from how we saw and experienced love early in our early development, and especially within our families.
Dating serves us in the same way. When you're out in the world having different experiences with different individuals, you will inevitably be triggered by things people say and do, and by how they generally present themselves in a romantic context. Those are amazing moments for you to get clear on why you are triggered, what you are attracted to, what qualities you find non-negotiable (both positive and negative) and what brings you joy in a relationship.
The other myth lurking behind the idea that you need time to yourself before you can date is that you need to be "fixed" or somehow improved before love can be let into your dynamic. On some level, this implies a dynamic of "earning" love if and only if you grow a certain amount.
No matter what is going on in your life, there is nothing to change or fix about yourself, perhaps other than your attitude. I have said it before and I will keep saying it. Actually, having the right partner or getting clear if the relationship you are in is the right one for you is about allowing more of you to be expressed.
And for you to express more of yourself, it's absolutely necessary for you to practice deep self-acceptance. That and only that is the real work of personal growth, and can happen whether you're dating, in a relationship or single. A lot of us feel like there will be a point where the self-discovery will just end and that is when the right relationship will come. But growth is an ongoing process, and one that should continue regardless of your relationship status.
The commitment that my husband Hemal and I have made to each other first and foremost is that we are two people who support one another's individuality. We nurture one another's dreams, aspirations and feelings. We are fully aware that we will be triggered by certain things in life, even by each other, and that we both have continuous growth to do. Acceptance of the less-than-perfect aspects of each of us, and of our relationship, doesn't make our connection any less powerful; actually, I believe it makes it more so.
So trust yourself. If you are just exhausted and truly need some space because you are overwhelmed by life or dating, I totally understand. I am all for taking a break from dating if you are not in a space where you are enjoying it. The main point here is to follow what feels right, not what seems right or what you think "makes sense." Really look at the intention behind the choices you are making.
Love doesn't have to be all or nothing. There is so much middle ground. Just don't hide behind trying tirelessly to improve yourself or thinking you will lose yourself if you are dating or in a relationship. You are safe, all the time.
Your "lovework" is to tell me in the comments if you have felt like you needed to focus on yourself for a while and why you choose to do that. Have you been putting other parts of your life on pause?
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