A New Love Should Complement, Not Complete You

By Erika Ettin Tribune News Service.

We hear this expression all the time: Love yourself before you can love someone else.

What does this even mean?

Obviously, it's up for a bit of interpretation, but what it means to me, and how I explain it to my clients, is that the only person who can make you truly happy is none other than yourself.

We've all met those people who are down in the dumps, and then they start dating someone, and now they see the world through rose-colored glasses. Some people think that finding the right partner will make them happy. Not so. You're the only person who can make yourself happy. In a relationship, 1 plus 1 should equal 3, not 1/2 plus 1/2 equals one. Once you are complete on your own, adding someone else to your life should only add to that happiness.

In life, we're often taught not to focus on ourselves but rather to put others first. In love, though, I'm going to tell you to flip that concept on its head and focus on yourself for a bit before you decide to bring love into your life.

Here are five tips for creating some good ol' "self-love":

1. Treat yourself like you'd treat your friends. A few years ago, when I was just getting settled into owning my own business, I was stressed... like really stressed. I wasn't going to the gym like I wanted to. Heck, I was even skimping on my tooth brushing routine! I've learned that there a few key points: Get enough sleep, work out, buy things that make you happy. Basically, treat yourself the way you'd advise your friends to treat themselves. I still need a reminder sometimes and even have a tattoo on my foot that reads "Be good to yourself." I listen to it maybe half the time... no one's perfect!

2. Find comfort in going stag. I know many people (aka serial monogamists) who jump from one relationship to the next, without giving themselves any time to heal or to mourn the last relationship. This is often because, whether they're willing to admit it or not, they have a fear of being alone. While you don't have to love it, being content when you're alone can be very liberating. Even if this starts with one night a week at home watching Netflix or cooking some Pad Thai for yourself, it'll be a great feeling when you know you're fully self-sufficient.

3. Get to know the real you. Hi, my name is Erika. Sometimes when we're in a relationship or focused on others (children, parents, siblings, etc.), we lose a bit of ourselves along the way. Compromise is very important, of course, but to a degree. After a serious, long-term relationship of mine ended several years ago, I remember one of my best friends saying to me, as she looked at my pink-sequined shoes, "Erika! You're back!" I had lost something. In the process of getting over the relationship, I discovered, and re-discovered, who I really was, someone who loves the color pink... and tap dancing... and singing... well, you get it.

4. Remember that only you know what's best for you. "When are you getting married?" "When are you giving me grandkids?" "Why are you still single?" These questions are so inappropriate and invasive that smoke might start coming out of my ears if I dwell on them too long. Most of us feel outside pressure at some point or another, from parents, friends, even strangers, to follow a preconceived social norm. As hard as it is, tune those people out. You never have to do anything to please someone else. It's none of their business.

5. Sample the many fillings. When you start to feel that void, that emptiness, that loneliness, rather than racing to fill it with the next eligible person, try to fill it instead with something else. Maybe it's a new hobby or a refreshed wardrobe. While those things can't make you happy either, they certainly get you on the right path.

In the end, no one should complete you; your partner can only complement you. Healthy relationships are made up of people who are comfortable with themselves first. Take the time you need to focus on you... and then revel in your next relationship when you feel ready. Finally, ask yourself, "Could I love me?" And if the answer is yes, then you're well on your way. ___ (Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating)

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