Think back to when you were a little girl. What if, before you were ever conditioned to dream of being a wife, you were conditioned to dream of being in a grown-ass, healthy relationship with YOURSELF? We live in a society that promotes romantic partnership, especially heterosexual marriage, as the ultimate goal for women. It is treated as a priority under the guise that it will provide all the happiness and fulfillment a woman could ever need. To quote the amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, "Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important."
As Adichie explains, "Marriage," or in the case of this article, any relationship, "can be a source of joy and love and mutual support." But if it is the only thing to which a woman aspires, it will leave her unfulfilled in countless ways. We lack self-love when society teaches us it is our duty to love another person more than our own wants, needs, and health. And it is, of course, completely possible for someone to be in a committed relationship with a partner AND with herself. That is the ideal scenario; if you deeply know and love yourself, you are much more likely to love someone who uplifts you (assuming you want to be in a romantic relationship). The problem is that it's hard to learn how to love yourself. It's never really taught to us.We need to subvert this cultural narrative. We need to promote self-love and self-care. As the brilliant Audre Lorde wrote, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
So, this is for all the ladies who are already ride or die for themselves, and for all the ladies who want to get there, 'cause it's a journey. And, again, all of these apply to both women who are single and in relationships, because it is always possible to love yourself even when you are loving someone else. Here are seven signs that you are in a grown-ass relationship with yourself.
1. You take care of your mental health.
Johns Hopkins Medicine states that “women are nearly twice as likely to suffer from major depression than men” and “women attempt suicide more often than men.” Women are also disproportionately affected by eating disorders and severe body image issues. At some time in her life, one in every three women will have experienced abuse in a relationship. If you are a woman, this shouldn't surprise you. We exist in a society that tells women they are worthless if they aren't feminine, if they aren't thin, if they aren't straight, if they aren't cisgender, if they aren't conventionally attractive, if they aren't virgins, if they aren't sexual. We are dehumanized through sexual harassment and assault on a daily basis. Is it any wonder we are depressed? And then on top of all of these factors, we each have unique stressors in our lives: family, previous child abuse, work, creative blocks, friendship, health, addiction, etc. This is why actively seeking and manifesting self-care is one of the most obvious, important signs that you have a real, healthy relationship with yourself.
Seeking out therapy is one of the most romantic gifts you will ever give yourself, whether it's therapy through medicine, counseling, social work, rehabilitation, music, art, yoga, meditation — the list goes on. Loving yourself results in the realization that you deserve help, and we all need help with something. Plus, taking care of mental health often improves your physical health (eating disorders, addiction, etc.).Speaking of physical health...
2. You take care of your physical health.
For those of us who are privileged enough to typically experience healthiness when we are young, we assume our invincibility. Perhaps you demonstrated this mindset by regularly binge drinking, recklessly driving, withholding sleep from yourself, and/or engaging in unhealthy habits like skipping meals, artificially tanning, or chain smoking.
Realizing that health doesn't maintain itself on its own and that it won't last forever signifies that your self-love has gotten serious. When your significant other is sick, caring for them probably becomes your priority. Why don't you show yourself that same devotion? Women are socialized to take on nurturing, maternal roles for others, but not when we take care of ourselves. Treating your own body like a ~temple~ in this kind of world is a huge, profound achievement.
3. You've cut toxic people out of your life. Even if they're family.
If you have that pesky people-pleasing instinct, and many women do, then you have likely let numerous toxic people into your life. They can be romantic partners, best friends, or roommates, and they are controlling, judgmental, and abusive. Their presence in your life causes stress, self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. As hard as it is to get people from those three social groups out of your life, imagine how difficult that task becomes when they are family members.
People who haven't grown up around toxic familial relationships will often ignore the real dangers and minimize the importance of creating separation; they'll make comments like, “But they're your family,” or “How could you just cut them off? That's cruel.” However, genetics aren't handcuffs. You can separate yourself from abuse as soon as you damn well please. When you have finally summoned the strength to demand your independence from their toxicity (and it will take a long time, and that's OK), then you will have reached a beautiful, new level of commitment to yourself.
Similarly, finally gathering the courage to end toxic friendships and romances is a monumental milestone in your journey to self-love, so congrats if you've made it!
4. You validate your own beauty.
The moment that you stop dressing for the male gaze and start dressing for your own comfort, sexuality, gender expression, style, and preference represents a new found romance with your own reflection. This act validates your own standards of beauty and worth, which is one of the most radical things a woman can do.
Women are considered arrogant, vapid, and slutty if they take pride in their own beauty and sexuality. This is because men are supposed to control our ideas of beauty and sexuality. But you don't care about that misogynistic nonsense. You don't need someone else to tell you that you're beautiful in order to revel in the factual.
5. You've traveled alone (or have considered traveling alone).
Traveling alone as a woman can be scary and incredible at the same time. It is also not something that everyone can afford. However, if you have the resources, you should absolutely take advantage of it.
Why should you have to wait for a honeymoon or a romantic relationship to explore the world? Going on a solo adventure, or even dreaming of a solo adventure, demonstrates your independence and thirst for knowledge. You wait for no one.
6. You decide your own goals, and prioritize them.
If you were ever a little girl, then at some point, someone older than you assumed that your greatest goal in life was to marry Prince Charming. The media doesn't help either. Women spend much of their adolescence unpacking that heteronormative, sexist ideal and learning that it is OK to put their professional and creative goals first (if they even consider marriage a goal at all).
Striving for economic independence through a career, vocation, or art that fulfills you is one of the toughest things you'll ever do. So if you continue your pursuit, regardless of the social pressures trying to minimize or stigmatize your goals, then you must really love yourself.
7. You're not afraid of being alone.
Being in a grown-ass relationship with yourself doesn't mean that you can't be in a romantic partnership with someone else. However, it does mean that you know how to be alone, and can survive being alone. But you have found a healthy, empowering, loving romantic partner who improves your life and helps you grow, so you choose to be in that relationship. The relationship should help each of you love yourselves even more. You don't settle for someone who isn't right for you only because you are afraid of being alone — either from personal insecurities or social pressures to be in a relationship.
You don't need a significant other to realize your happiness, beauty, purpose, intelligence, or any of your other amazing qualities, and when you don't need a significant other in order to accomplish your creative or career endeavors, it is because you are your own one true love. As you should be.
Images: Franca Gimenez/Flickr; Giphy (8); Tumblr (1)