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On Self-Love

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Photo by Giulia Bertelli on Unsplash

I've been thinking a lot about self-love today. This morning, Andy, over at the Headspace meditation, talked about how self-love and loving others are essentially the same quality. It's just that for most of us, one is more natural than the other. And I thought to myself that I could never view myself in the same way I love my partner or my children. Then, the daily journal prompt was to write a love note to yourself from the point of view of someone else, and my first reaction was resistance. It feels corny and new-age-y and all-around ridiculous.

Then I stopped and wondered why. Why is it that loving myself sounds so ridiculous to me? Well, for one there’s the cliche of “you’ll never share real love until you love yourself” (Jonathan Larson, Rent). But I think it’s more than that. After my (maternal) grandmother passed away, I was talking with my mom and aunts and was surprised to learn she went to see a beautician every month. I just couldn’t imagine my tough, nonemotional, no-nonsense grandmother getting a facial. I think it’s because I perceive facials as a luxury, a pampering afforded to trophy wives and celebrities.

Why do I have such a perception? Well, for one, Legally Blonde. But also, my upbringing was rather puritanical. Not in the religion sense, obviously. Let me tell you a story about my paternal grandmother. She escaped Poland into Russia just after the Germans occupied it and spent the war laying train tracks in Syberia. She then immigrated with my grandfather to Israel, a newborn country with minimal infrastructure and constant war. She always advocated saving. When I was in high school, she told me I should be saving 20% of my salary (I was working as a babysitter). After I was discharged from the army and found a job and settled, I proudly told her I was saving 20%. She said, “that’s great. Can you save 80% though?”

That’s the kind of mentality I grew up with: self-denial in the service of future generations. It used to be in vogue. It’s also a recipe for a rather miserable life. My dad figured it out when he was about my age. He was a farmer, and when he was in his early 40s, he’s had enough of sleepless nights and being worried out of his mind that the crop prices will drop. He leased his land and helped out where he could. He opted for a lower income and a better quality of life. In our capitalist society, that move seems idiotic at best. But I’m old enough to remember him before he’s made this decision, and I remember him always tired, always cranky. And I remember him after: content, with time to do the things he loved (hiking and reading), always ready to help out the people he loved. When he passed away at 63, my brother told me he wanted another 20 years. I told him these were the twenty years. I’m confident he would have gotten a heart attack had he stayed self-employed on the farm. Instead, we had the privilege of getting to know him.

I have all kinds of privilege. I’m white, I’m wealthy enough not to need an income, I’m healthy, my kids are healthy. One form my privilege takes is that both my partner and I have jobs we love. Well, technically, I don’t have a job. But we can both do what we love to do. I don’t think I would have been able to indulge in being a writer/stay-at-home-mom had my partner’s income came from a job he hated. In a way, writing is a form of self-love for me.

Which brings me back to the idea of self-denial in the service of future generations, and to the way I love my kids. If I didn’t have enough money to send them to college, you can bet your ass I would have worked as a bookstore clerk if I needed to. But that is not the situation. So, instead, I get to give them a mother who is content, with time to do the things she loves. A mother who is always ready to help out the people she loves.


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