Whenever people ask Buddhist teacher Lodro Rinzler to talk about love and romance, he asks them a simple question: “When you go on a date, do you bring your most authentic self?”
“Ninety percent of the time, the answer is ‘Hell, no,’” Rinzler writes in How To Love Yourself (And Sometimes Other People): Spiritual Advice For Modern Relationships, which he co-authored with Christian spiritual teacher Meggan Watterson.
“People don’t see themselves as kind, wise, and desirable. Instead, many people think they are garbage. I hate even writing that word, but I have had meditation students approach me and say, ‘Who would want to be with me? I’m trash. I’ve had loved ones claim they were horrid or broken even as I stood in front of them, loving them,” he writes.
Single people are often told that if they want to find a partner, they first need to love themselves. But that can be a tall order when so many people don’t even like themselves.
So before you try to fall madly in love with the person in the mirror, Rinzler offers a more attainable suggestion: Try befriending yourself.
We don’t require our friends to gaze into our eyes and tell us how amazing and special we are, but we do expect them to listen to us when we need to vent about a bad day at work. We don’t need our friends to buy us expensive dinners or gifts, but they should be willing to meet for coffee.
This might seem like a more tepid form of love than the kind that says “You’re the greatest person ever!” but actually it’s a much stronger and more enduring love. The best thing about good friends is that they don’t need you to be extraordinary. They don’t need you to win first prize, date the hottest person in class or get the corner office. If these things happen, they’re happy for you. But they don’t really change their opinion of you because that’s not why they love you. They just love you because you’re you—no embellishments needed.
But that’s not the way many of us treat ourselves. We love our friends even if they can’t cook or drive beat-up cars, but we have incredibly exacting standards for ourselves, which I think is why most people don’t bring their authentic selves to dates. For many people, the goal of a date is not to connect with another sweet, imperfect soul. It’s to present a shiny, happy package. Look at me! I’m so confident! And positive! And hap-hap-happy!
When it doesn’t work out, when the paramour fails to be dazzled by our glittery array of fine qualities, it feels awful. And that’s when the self-flagellation can come in—when we pick apart our performance, our personalities, our entire selves, and reach a grim conclusion.
So if you find yourself doing this, ask yourself. “Is this the way I would talk to my best friend? Would I say, ‘You shouldn’t have said that stupid thing’? or ‘She probably wants someone better looking’? Or would I say, ‘That stinks, but I’m here for you’?”
We understand instinctively that our friends are complete as they are, and that they also deserve great romantic relationships. So why not offer that same love and acceptance to yourself?
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.