I was cycling home, listening to ‘affection’ by BETWEEN FRIENDS and enjoying the Netherland’s infamously wistful winds, when suddenly the following lyrics stood out to me.
“I’m looking for affection in all the wrong places
And we’ll keep falling on each other to fill the empty spaces”
Maybe not the most aphoristic piece of work, you may say, but allow me to indulge. I personally find this notion of seeking affection in the wrong places to be of interest.
Lately, I have been thinking, hm,
what would it be like if I decided to date myself?
Yes, utterly absurd single people things, but honestly. I don’t think I have ever contemplated the idiosyncrasies of what that would entail. Amongst other things, the affection we choose to allocate into the world matters to us, as social creatures. We precisely invest a certain amount of time and energy into specific things, and our investments are quite regularly reappraised because we generally invest a certain amount when we know the ROI will be proportional.
Of course, human nature is not (always) so transactional in this cold automated sense, but it has been quite profound for me to start looking at my relationship with myself through that lens. I don’t often look at myself clearly because I’m too busy observing from the inside.
Sometimes, I think about the way perfectionism started off as such an empowering trait of mine, that I didn’t realize it had been growing into an ugly ironic trap. The fact that maladaptive and adaptive were categories of perfectionism was a revelation to me. I had always seen it one-dimensionally; something that makes me do better. Whatever that meant in whatever context. And when I did better, I also felt better; even when it meant not sleeping much but achieving enough for it not to matter. Over time, I realized I hadn’t really formed my sense of self beyond my achievements, and I hadn’t taken the time to get to know and love myself in ways beyond that. I consistently set unattainable or unrealistic goals and burn myself out trying to achieve them all because I don’t often know how far my circle of actual needs overlaps with the needs of Ideal-Self Frankenstein.
I’m getting a bit dramatic, I admit, but I always cowered at the idea of communicating – even with myself – about how I feel this cognitive-behavioral pattern has affected me. Mainly because it is laughable when you complain about perfectionism while underperforming. However, since I’ve become an enjoying-the-act-of-living-for-the-sake-of-living hobbyist, it has become so evident to me how important it is to date oneself. To take some time to figure out what you like and what you don’t like; become perceptive and mindful with your mind, words, and behavior; look at yourself with new eyes and, most importantly, with curiosity. We often hear an absence of curiosity can hurt a relationship. Maybe that’s because it often means a lack of desire to find out more. If you’re not curious about what your partner has to say when they’re back from work because you created this expectational schema of what they may say, you’re missing the point. Just like I was, in my relationship with myself.
I had an important person in my life tell me that since I held such high standards for myself, it must mean I also held the same standards for others. I objected. At the time, I was almost hurt that someone could think I held such irrational standards for other people. This consequently led to my oppositional preservation-oriented outlook. Heavily clouded by my lack of desire and ability to come to terms with how self-sabotaging this behavior was.
My shitty self-talk had broken the fourth wall and now everyone could see
And I felt it permeate into other parts of my life, in fact, it only spiraled further every time I got in my own way simply by being so draining to be around. I wasn’t speaking to myself honestly, because nothing felt digestible and I was just far too occupied already. Every time I finally made up my mind, did some self-care or got shit done, I would feel bad for not having made the time to do more or better. I wouldn’t even give myself a moment to shut the fuck up and breathe without it being scrutinized. All whilst remaining confused about why I felt so empty all the time to begin with.
I guess the teacher only comes when the student is ready; because seeing these burdens of my being so clinically has been a divine manifestation. I’m learning to make my mindful inner voice reflect on what my automated cognitions and behaviors say or how they make me feel. Since the problematic ones always make me feel shit, it’s been a fun challenge to mentally laugh them out of my stream of consciousness whenever they came up. I feel like I have so many little webs in my mind: of thoughts and feelings I am only scratching the surface of understanding. And at the rate with which all of them are forming and the pace at which our modern world is going, it’s only natural to not be able to keep up with the strings all the time.
But I’m trying to learn how to slow it down. How to stay curious about who I am in the moment. In terms of this, what has been a lifesaver for me is the act of body scanning. I notice the ways my headaches and muscle pains coincide with times of stress, and through practicing how to be mindful of my gaze, shoulders, and breath(!) I’ve actually been seeing such delectable results. I have actively been taking back my self-related shit-talk when I do too little yoga. Instead, I try focusing on being grateful I found/made the time. I stop getting upset with myself when I catch myself holding my breath or hunching over. Shit-talking only negatively condition me to the exquisite genius of my body’s self-regulating notifications. And that shit is bio. I’m practicing how to smile when I remember, and correct my posture or close my eyes or, sometimes, just redirect my train of thought and mental energy. And, honestly, it has been soothing. Gratefulness is such a gift that keeps on giving. The act of forgiving oneself is a far more surefire method of eliminating bitterness and promoting progress than disrupted self-criticism.
Funnily, before I left to come home this evening, I was speaking to my darling (and muse), Rosalie. We were having a thrilling time, talking about antidepressant names that could also pass for kids’ names (we recommend Trintellix and Brintellix for any parents expecting twins), when we got on the subject of creating small ‘self-care’ routines for ourselves. I was telling her how I have to start faking being a morning person because I hate rushing when I wake up as mornings are so mentally and physically sacred to me but I also really want to make it.
Upon contemplating that, I realized when I do wake up early, I impede that development by not ending my days at an appropriate hour. Even if I spend a whole day at the library, I still expect me-time, which I’ve gradually allotted to the middle of the night!!! (I mean, it’s so late right now, you can say it’s early, but no biggie, baby steps). Everything is just so much sweeter at night and I struggle to dismiss how deeply I fall for the long night sessions of making art or writing. And it was only when my shitty self-talk started encroaching on these things I love and making me run away from them in fear of inadequacy did it really start to bother me.
When I was younger, I wrote so freely. Filling pages and pages of my first blog with all sorts of things that gave me pleasure, no matter how seemingly frivolous. What I did not realize was that I was still a skeptic; what if they really are frivolous? I stopped enjoying the simplicity of playing with my creativity for that ineffable feeling playing gave me. When pinned up against more critical or time-sensitive engagements, naturally the benefits of investing into something inconsequential and intimidating were no longer entrancing. It was that magic-sucking feeling my 10-year-old self vowed wouldn’t creep up on her as she got older. I wish she left behind an instructional manual.
I am realizing allowing myself to do the things that make me truly happy without holding them to some external barometer is a far more rewarding approach. I feel happier when I document the things that mean something to me because it’s a constant reminder of what I love in the world that is special and mine. We learn to do so many things for others yet we’re given little guidance on what to do for ourselves. Documenting a song that made me smile or writing an existential post on my blog means something to me and is a cherished experience that is mine. It is enough for it to make me happy and it is not my obligation to do anything beyond that. And only when I let go of that expectation do I have any potential of moving forward.
Only when my self-worth joyously lies in the moment I am in, being alive and fortunate to experience my simple yet miraculous mortality, can I truly feel and do and get better. Once that’s established, we can talk.
So yeah, I guess it’s official. I have entered a redefined courtship with myself. It’s bound to get tough. But ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’. That’s a thing, right?
P.S. I got the Joe Goldberg meme from a 2019 Cosmo piece and it got me thinking that we should be exercising the same forgiveness with ourselves that we happen to so readily extend to Joe. Don’t @ me.
P.P.S. Thank you BETWEEN FRIENDS, I guess?