Love – there is more than one type. There is romantic love, which is the most popular. It is the one we all seem to focus on. But there is also self-love. Then, the love you feel when you simply care about someone else’s well-being. We will call it, caring love.
My younger self ignored the two underrated types of love and only focused on the mainstream favorite, romantic love. I have been chasing it as far back as I could remember. There was the girl who lived in my apartment complex when I first moved to America. I was infatuated. First it was a crush, which lead to imagining different scenarios with her in my head. It was very innocent but it never lead to anything. I was too scared to tell her how I really felt. Plus, I could not even have imagined how I would tell her (early beginnings of my fear of rejection). Then, the daughter of my parent’s friends. This is when the touching started……and by that I mean holding hands. We would turn off the lights in the basement and hold hands under the throw pillows while we watched movies with other kids around. She used to rub her thumb across my knuckles while our hands gripped each other tightly. It was soothing. She was my first kiss. A quick five second kiss in a room in her basement before I walked up the stairs, out the front door, and home with my parents. The kiss drove me insane. It was the only thing I could think of for a while. Next was my first relationship. Everything was new and explosive since the very beginning. We guided each other through learning the human anatomy. Through her, I learned that touching certain areas of the body could cause different, unexplainable, and intense feelings. She showed me what it felt like to be touched. After her, was my first real relationship. She taught me a ton of essential lessons. She opened my mind to new experiences, new emotions, a different way to see the world. The relationship was dynamic, even dangerous at times. Essentially, she acted somewhat similar to a guide. Somebody who accompanied me on a physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual journey. Similar to most journeys, ours also came to an end. Then, there is the one who hurt me the most. Our time together was brief. She was exciting and unpredictable. She was the girl I wanted but the universe kept placing road blocks to impede my path towards hers. In retrospect, the road blocks were more like signs to warn me off. But I did not care because I wanted her. Even when we were together, the universe kept throwing signs at me. I still do not know if I chose to ignore them or if I just did not notice them at all. It was probably the first though. Do not get me wrong, the story is not all one-sided. I was not perfect. I might not have been a great boyfriend at all. I probably turned out to be someone different from what she expected. I can admit to my wrongs and shortcomings. Nevertheless, she eventually decided to move on shortly after we became official.
These women all played essential roles in my journey and I do not have any regrets. However, chasing the romantic type of love through different stages of my life allowed me to put up a wall to ignore the other two types of love. It provided a distraction. It was not until after I felt the feeling of being broken by someone for the first time, did I decide to truly explore self-love and caring love. It felt like I hit rock bottom, or at least close to it. I was never diagnosed with depression. But if I could imagine what depression would feel like, I would guess it feels like what I was feeling then. The break up was not the only factor that contributed to what might have been the darkest time of my life so far. The post-college-graduation-pressure was also heavy on my shoulders. It was one year after graduation and I could only think about the future. Where is my life heading? What career should I pursue? I cannot even provide another example. Those negative ideas are so far removed from my current thought process that I cannot even relate to my thought process then. Anyway, the societal pressure to move out of my parent’s home, a torn left Achilles heel injury, a realization that my friend group is steadily shrinking, and the frustration of paying off my damn student loans were also contributors. There was nowhere else to go but up. My focus shifted away from romantic love and towards self love and caring love.
How do you love yourself? I would answer that by saying, you love yourself by taking care of yourself. Take care of the needs of your mind, body, and spirit. This process is self-care. Self-care? Guys are not supposed to be sensitive to their emotional and spiritual needs. Any guy who is in touch with both is not masculine enough. If this is not the perspective 75% of our society has on self-care, please feel free to correct me . I never expected self-care to affect my life. I was certainly not taught how to “self-care” by my parents, my teachers, or my friends. The gym and basketball were my only outlets when I was younger. The process of learning how to “self-care” required experimentation and patience. The willingness to try new things or things I am fearful of, needed to be developed. A person cannot know their true self if they claim “I do not like _____” but have never experienced or tried _____. It ultimately prevents you from learning more about yourself. The willingness to scrutinize your own ideas and thoughts needs to be present too. Is the way I am thinking about this certain topic beneficial for me or is it hurting me in the long run? What is the reasoning behind my opinion on this other topic? Do I believe this because I truly believe so or is it simply because it is the popular opinion? You must be able to let go of your old ideologies and be open to new ideas. It does not mean you are always wrong but you must give yourself an opportunity to admit that you are wrong when you are. Self examination and questioning is an essential part of self care. It is much more than just working out, wirting in your journal, or face masks.
Writing everyday has helped me in becoming more self-aware. It does not matter if it is one paragraph or five pages, the practice of writing thoughts on paper allows me to be objective and step outside of my head. Although I try to everyday, there are days when I will not write in my journal. Some days are just busier than others and that is alright. The next time I find the space to do so, whenever that is, I just hop back on it without talking down on myself for missing yesterday. Being kinder to myself was one of the biggest changes I have made too. We all have things we want to do and sometimes those things are not done. We all fail at certain moments. We will never be perfect and it is important to recognize that. Sometimes we expect ourselves to almost act like a machine. Wake up, be happy, go to work, get everything done, go home, remain happy, work out, complete personal projects, go to bed, then repeat it all again the next day while remaining happy. Humans are fickle. We are dynamic. It is not natural for us to constantly follow a routine. We must actually put effort into maintaining our daily routines. Sometimes, we do break away. Sometimes, we will unconsciously behave differently. We will make a choice that does not match our aspirations. We will feel emotions that we know we do not want to feel. Once you can accept the idea of being human, it is much easier to be kind to yourself. It is alright to stray away.
Daily written mantras have also been key in my transformation. I try my best to continuously live in accordance to these. I even got a tattoo of one of my mantras! I am not sure how the psychology works (I would love to learn how if anyone out there knows) but writing and repeating these statements has ingrained a step by step guide to how I want to live my life inside my consciousness. The mantras have made it easier to catch myself whenever I am thinking negatively, being judgemental, over thinking, etc. Once I recognize that I have strayed away from my path, I simply attempt to guide myself back by repeating a mantra.
Self love is an everyday process composed of various factors. Each factor could be different for each individual. Different things work for different people. There is not one set way to practice self-care. You will only discover what works for you by simply trying it. We are human and we will never be perfect. But the daily act of working towards the best possible version of yourself is definitely worth it.
Throughout the past year or so, I have also been molding a community around myself. It feels like for the longest time, I have been searching for a group of people who I could call my community. I have jumped around from one friend group to another. I have also tried going into my shell, cutting off communication from anyone who knew me. At that time, I was riddled with anxiety and insecurities. Am I saying the right thing? Am I acting cool enough? Is he/she having fun with me? Right now is the most comfortable I have felt with the people I have in my life. It began with solidifying my relationship with my brothers and parents. Our relationship has always been solid but I made it a point to strengthen it even more. Countless hours were spent with the little brothers. We truly act like friends to each other. We could talk about any topic, nothing is off the table. We can be serious, we can roast each other, or we can be goof balls and spend all day laughing. We could start off talking about girls, then go into sports, and somehow lead to talking about people’s ability to be self-aware. Then find our way back to figuring out who is the ugliest out of us three.
As I am getting older, I am also witnessing the effects of aging on my parents. It has allowed me to see them as more than just my parents. They are regular humans, like me, who also get older as the years move on. They have experiences that have shaped their lives. They have ideas and opinions that they cling onto. One day, it clicked….I should really get to know them even better. We share meals together and I can enjoy just watching them interact with each other. I definitely picked up a few lessons from watching a couple who have been together for more than twenty years. One favorite is sitting with my mom as she is eating on the dining table and allowing her to just talk openly. I will sit there and listen, allowing her to share her stories and go off on her tangents (she loves talking). My dad would butt in from the couch and give his two cents every few minutes.
The discomfort I felt around my friends was caused by more than anxiety and insecurity. I was living inside of my head. It felt like I was holding onto expectations of how we should interact with each other, what topics we should talk about, or the things we should be doing. What is this “should” business? What exactly “should” we be doing? Who knows. I am not sure why I had all of these expectations. I had cemented this idea inside my head of what I wanted my friend group to look, behave, and talk like. If someone did not fit into this idea, he/she must not be the person I want to be around. Yea……I dropped this ideology and it has been one of the best things I have let go of. I did, and continuously attempt to, let go of expectations. It was an extremely slow process but I learned to accept people for who they are. Be thankful for who someone is at that exact moment I am with them. Learn more about them instead of judging them for what they are not. Look at someone for who they are and just accept it. This has helped me tremendously in current interactions with my friends. I feel so much more comfortable. Instead of constantly worrying, I just feel gratitude. I am able to appreciate the conversations and the time we spend with each other. I realized I had good people around, I was simply blind to it because I was always looking for something that is more than what is in front of me at the moment. The practice of dropping old ideologies and adopting new ones has allowed me to focus on the caring type of love. I am now able to fully embrace and show gratitude towards my parents, brothers, and friends. I express how much I appreciate my time with them without worrying about their reaction or the outcome. I will reach out first. I will respond to their text messages. I will share a thought that comes to mind without fear of being judged or ridiculed. The ability to ignore the outcome and allow myself to express myself is a foreign feeling but it has been liberating. The freedom allows me to say “I appreciate you” without expecting them to say the same to me. I can simply love.
I do not have a girlfriend right now and I have not been romantically involved with anyone for a little over one year. Life has not presented a new romantic love yet and I am not in a rush to find one. But life has allowed me to discover somebody else. I have discovered myself. I have discovered my community. I have discovered a different way to love.
How do you practice self-love? Do you find yourself using somebody as an emotional crutch? Have you felt the different types of love in your life too? I would love to know.