For as long as we’ve been thinking about relationships in terms of love (and not just consolidating family power and wealth) there has been a girlfriend or a wise auntie over someone’s shoulder telling her that she needs to love herself before she gets into a relationship.

There’s also the classic “I’m not looking for a relationship, I’m just working on myself right now.” It’s real!

Lizzo is known for advocating self-love but before Lizzo was ever on the scene, self-love has appeared and re-appeared in pop culture.

I first remember coming across this idea during one of the emotional climaxes of the hit Broadway musical, “Rent.” In the musical, well-beloved Angel is a diva, drag queen, street musician, generous soul, and absolute lover of himself/herself. The group of friends has just lost Angel to AIDS and has gathered for the funeral. With everyone’s heightened emotions, two friends, Roger and Mimi, start to fight. As they play the blame game about their relationship in the song “Goodbye Love,” Roger says “You’ll never share real love until you love yourself; I should know.”

Why though?

Can’t you love other people while you’re learning to love yourself? Of course you can. There’s probably a whole list of other people you love, whether you’re ready to embrace yourself or not.

But what’s different with romantic love?

Here are five ways to practice self love and why loving yourself will help you to find or grow a healthy romantic relationship:

Set relationship expectations

There are a lot of bad relationship role models out there. Sometimes, what we’re used to seeing or experiencing is comfortable just because it’s familiar. But familiar isn’t always good. When you love yourself, you know that you deserve to be treated well and you’re in a better position to ask for that… or to walk away.

Set relationship boundaries

Everyone has a friend who disappears when they’re in a relationship. One day you’re chilling regularly and the next they’re MIA. Some people have a tendency to lose themselves in relationships. It’s important not to get lost in another person. When you love yourself, you can set healthy boundaries and make time for your friends, family, hobbies, or whatever matters to YOU.

Know what you want

Loving yourself involves knowing yourself – what you want, need, or don’t want. It involves loving your full self (including your body!) as you are in this moment (we’re always growing and changing). When you know what your love languages are, when you know what feels good in your body, when you know what makes you feel better when you’re stressed, sad or anxious – makes it much more likely that you can find someone to help meet those needs.

Accept what you deserve

Many of us tend to deflect compliments. We’re trained to feel uncomfortable acknowledging that we have wonderful qualities that deserve recognition. How often have you responded to “I like your dress” with “oh this? It’s so old!” or “I like YOUR dress!,” instead of just “thanks, it’s one of my favorites” or something similar? If we can barely accept a compliment on an outfit, how can we accept someone’s love?

Communicate for growth

You can’t communicate your expectations, boundaries, desires, etc. if you don’t know what they are. If you don’t communicate them, good luck getting them met. As you change and grow over time, your needs and desires will too. You need to keep communicating, reminding, appreciating, and – of course – expressing love back!

Can you be in love without loving yourself? Of course. But you’ll end up like Roger and Mimi in “Rent” – by saying “Goodbye Love.”

Katherine Kolios
Katherine is a global health and international development professional, who has lived, worked, and studied on 4 continents - delving deeply into the world and deeply into herself. Her interdisciplinary experience spans education, community health, and behavioral health, with a focus on sexual and reproductive health. Katherine aims to help others maximize their quality-of-life through education, empowerment to make healthy choices, and expansion of infrastructure. She believes health is a universal right that should not be limited to those who can afford to access care, healthy foods, and expensive exercise regimes. Beyond her day job, Katherine explores how she, and people more broadly, can realistically incorporate healthy decisions and healthy practices into their lives. Katherine believes in the power of language, the power of movement, and the power of connection. Katherine is a graduate of Brandeis University’s Health: Science, Society and Policy program and earned her 500-Hour Yoga Certification through Johanna Bell’s Illumina Training program.