There are many, many guides for loving someone else: how to love this kind of guy, that kind of girl, a guy who ____, a girl who ____.
But what about ourselves, the ones doing all the loving?
Once we’ve learnt how to love someone the most perfect way we can, and they love us back, are we ready and able to receive that love? To let ourselves be loved by them?
Actually, even I don’t think I really know if I have all the answers to this. My own dear heart has splintered enough times that parts of it are still being held up by Band-Aids. Then, it becomes almost easy to forget how to let ourselves be loved.
Sometimes the love we let in turns toxic; sometimes it burns; sometimes it just ups and leaves, a giant gaping hole in its wake. We become wary about letting any of it come near us again.
But there have been times where I have been loved, and where I loved back fully, my heart stretched so wide open it was almost smiling. Those days or weeks or however-long-it-was held some secret truth in them, an elixir we should bottle up and use again for when our hearts need mending.
So I’ll reach back to those old days and try, just for a moment, to reclaim a few of those secrets for letting ourselves be loved.
1. First, know that we are worthy
A cliché, but a true one. I think much of allowing love back into our lives is to know and believe that we are deserving of that love in the first place. Know that even if our hearts are a little mushed up, pockmarked in places, bent out of shape, they are uniquely ours and beautiful and strong in their own ways.
No matter how much muck we’ve had to wade through, that heart—you, me—started out in exactly same place of newness and clarity and goodness, as every other being on this planet. By that spark of good that resides in every single one of us alone (and I believe it absolutely does, no matter how many mistakes we have made so far), why shouldn’t you or I or any one of us be as deserving of love as the next person?
2. Let ourselves be loved by ourselves
I know how frightening it can be to rip those Band-Aids off of our heart and open its doors again—we never quite know what will come flooding through, whether it will hug us with the love we hope for or flatten us in sadness.
So how’s this: how about letting in a “safe” love first? How about opening our hearts to ourselves?
Wrap yourself up in the love you would give to another delicate, dear being. Care, nurture, nourish, feed, indulge now and then. See all the prettiest parts of yourself and feel proud, like you would if you were looking upon your own child. Remember the splendid, you-est parts of you that wouldn’t be found in anyone else and celebrate them.
If this is still too hard, we can start by just being gentle and kind with ourselves; allowing ourselves to be wherever we are in each moment. Breathe. Move. Smile. Cry. Dance. Write. Sleep.
Do whatever it is that makes your heart sing and helps you be the you-est, most unique, most brilliant you; this is all part of nourishing and caring… and eventually, falling in love with yourself.
3. Know that we are already loved
I think many of us know this, but perhaps don’t really realize or live it on a daily basis: That “love” or “being loved” isn’t just about the love of a romantic partner.
There is already so much love in our lives, which count for more than we probably really realize every morning as we wake up and stumble through our days: the immeasurable love from our families, the friends who may as well be family, our animals, nature itself as it leans in (through food, weather, the ground, the plants in our gardens) to nourish our bodies and minds and spirits. And most of all, the love we constantly, continually have from our Heavenly Father.
We can let our hearts “practice” at letting love in through all the love that’s already filling our pores and bathing our skins. With each phone call from a friend, a hug from a parent or a wet, slobbery kiss from an excitable Great Dane, let your heart swell a bit more and nudge away a Band-Aid.
The more love we let in—from what is already around us—the more pliable and elastic our hearts get; the more able it is to stretch in the direction of opening and welcoming more in.
4. Know that there is (already) plenty of romance
It’s true, you know. There really are plenty of opportunities for romance every day, whether we’re single, or looking, or attached, or whatever—“it’s-complicated”—status we’re in.
There is romance and delight in the everyday—we just have to notice it. More importantly, we can create it for ourselves in so many of the interactions we have, or the things we do.
Write letters by hand, go for a picnic with an old friend under a favorite old tree, bake something special for someone who helped you recently, buy flowers for yourself, go for barefoot walks and stop to look at birds, sit in the moonlight alone, eat doughnuts messily and get sugar all over your face.
This is also about nourishing ourselves. It is about acknowledging that we’re deserving of romance, joyful delicate things, love and celebration, whatever our “marital status” and whatever we’re doing.
It is about leaning in to ourselves, listening out for what makes us light up and giving that to ourselves. And when we light up, others notice. They’ll want in on it too—to love this light, to love whatever it is that’s bringing us alive, to love us too.
5. Open up the space for more love
To really let ourselves be loved is a careful process. It’s dipping one toe in the water, then a foot, then a leg before daring to dive in completely. It’s about getting comfortable with the idea of being loved in the first place, putting our hands out to feel our way around it.
But here’s the trick: we can “practice” letting ourselves be loved, through any of the four points above. This is getting our feet wet.
As we practice and become more comfortable with what it means to be loved, nourished, cared for, celebrated, we’re acknowledging to ourselves and others that there is love in our lives; that we are worthy of love; that we are grateful for love; that we enjoy being loved.
Like attracts like. So as we recognize and feel the love we already have, our hearts flex and stretch and strengthen their walls, trying it all on for size. Our hearts dare to throw off their bandages, open their cracks a little wider to let more in. We open up more space for more love.
The best part? We’ll be ready when more of that plump, juicy, heart-thumping love does come.
But even if it doesn’t, we’ll already be filled up, we’ll already be loving and we’ll already have learnt how to let ourselves be loved.