“Well? Do you? Do you love yourself?” she repeated.
We’d only just met – as you do, at a BBQ thrown by mutual friends. But as the evening progressed in a wonderful lazy haze of good food, good drink and convivial company, fanned by the same flames that were currently cooking fresh prawns and a delicious mushroom risotto, conversations were growing progressively deeper as personal philosophies and multi-culti musings were aired and mulled.
We were a merry mix of French, Italian, Argentinian and British, deep in the heart of France on a perfectly balmy summer’s night.
Her eyes bore into mine. “Well, do you? Cause you can’t give love if you don’t love yourself!” She waved her glass at me to emphasise her point.
I held her gaze while I considered the import of this wine-induced inquisition.
Did I love myself? And do I agree with this notion that love of self is a prerequisite for love of others?
I swiftly decided I didn’t agree. There must be literally millions of people who feel total, unconditional love for their children, say, but who feel little love for themselves if any at all.
“Nope, I don’t buy that” I said, and stated my case.
“Oui, oui!” she dismissed the parent-child given with another wave of her fast dwindling wine supply. “But what about the love of a partner?”
I said I thought you could. Consider the women who suffer at the hands of the men they love, or men at the hands of women for that matter: their self love must be pretty fragile yet many continue to love their partner unflinchingly and blame themselves for his/her cruelty.
She threw up her hands in a gesture of classic French frustration. And then tried again.
“But can you love a partner who gives you true love in return, if you don’t love yourself? Is it even fair to expect someone else to give you love when you are not prepared to give it to yourself?”
Her powers of persuasion were becoming as alarming as her persistence. Was it fair to ask that of another person? Even sub-consciously?
Finding myself wrong footed, I was grateful that this shift in argument had evoked an animated discussion that spread beyond the bounds of our friendly duel. Everyone was now chipping in with a valid point of view, which gave me time to think.
My first thought flew to that wonderful quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower:
‘We accept the love we think we deserve.’
I remember agreeing with that sentiment at the time, it made sense. People who think very highly of themselves expect others to do likewise, and similarly, those who think very little of themselves expect little in return. Most of us, fortunately, lie somewhere in between.
But my new-found French friend was essentially turning the equation around – and making a sound case for:
‘We can only give the love we think we deserve.’
Hmmm, what would Perks author, Stephen Chybosky, say about that one?
My second thought drifted to the Commandments. We were told to ‘Love Thy Neighbour as Thyself’, shouldn’t we then also have been told to ‘Love thyself’?
The conversation drifted on to new topics and theories, but on the flight home – alone in the sky and technically perilously close to heaven or hell – I continued to muse.
Do I love myself? What does that even mean and is that a virtue or a vice?
‘I love myself’ feels alien to say. I tried whispering it quietly under the radar of human detection, inducing a reflex squirm of distaste at the audacity of such self ego-inflation. Or was it a squirm of being found out in the face of telling a lie? I don’t know.
What I do know is that I love my family and friends – in different ways, obviously, and some more intensely than others, obviously. And that’s good enough for me.
I love life’s little coincidences.
I wrote this blog, yesterday. This morning, 4 days after the BBQ conversation that sparked these private cogitations, I opened my Twitter timeline and one tweet leapt out:
‘Talk to yourself like you would someone you love’ – Brene Brown.
I grinned out loud. Now that, I can learn to do. Consider it done.