What does it mean to fully heal and to really and authentically love yourself? What does it mean to not get attached and to be happy alone?
Often when our unhappily alone friends express a desire for companionship, we immediately shoot from the hip with our criticisms: “You must not truly love yourself.”; ‘”You need to be happy alone before you can be attached to anyone.”; “You need to be fully healed to be happy with someone else.”
Before we join the band of influencers screaming into the void and into our faces every time we open TikTok, it’s important to deconstruct what “self-loving” and “fully healing” actually look like to each individual person. Is it simply drinking enough water and taking yourself out on dates? When are we ever fully healed? Is there someone we can look to as a beacon for successfully earning a certificate of completion for all their healing, self-loving, growing, and mastering of insecurities? Perhaps the same cultural attitude that attempts to destigmatize being single also simultaneously stigmatizes emotional attachment, vulnerability and loneliness without meaning to.
In the wake of these conflicting societal expectations, we’re encouraged to date ourselves and heal ourselves completely in order to manifest the romantic or sexual partner(s) that many of us ironically allege we neither want nor need. The social philosophy behind the pressure for those seeking connection to remain emotionally detached and happy about it often can manifest itself as emotional self preservation, FOMO, over-choice, and fear of intimacy which become detrimental to our cultural fabric as it forms a combative schism between the hugely nebulous and undefined concept of loving yourself and the reality that most people want to be vulnerable with others– in some healthy shape, way, or form.
As a result, the idea that healing oneself through self-love (while beautiful, in theory) can be somewhat unattainable for the average person, as self-development is neither a destination nor something performed as a trade-off for appearing more “date-worthy”. Moreover, self-love as a concept is seldom ever broken down into anything actualized in its promotion on social media and it might look different from person to person. As we move into the era of “dating ourselves” and flexing our capacity to remain alone long term which is perfectly acceptable, valid, and doable, it’s important to also validate others’ need for connectedness which is very real and hardwired into our DNA .
Touch, stability, love, acceptance and connectedness are things we craved since we were newborn infants. According to Psychology Today, contact and swaddling is so essential in the first stages of an infant’s life that if they are not held or hugged enough, they can physically stop growing or die. Likewise, according to the NIH, loneliness and isolation can lead healthy adults not only to have cognitive issues and mental distress, but also heart problems and high blood pressure. Loneliness in unattached seniors without enough social contact can lead to dementia and early Alzheimer’s.
Not being alone can be detrimental but too much aloneness can have psychological implications. Long term solitude can and often does physically change our physiology, increasing the risk of heart illness, dementia, and depression as we age.
Being alone can be and often is hard for many just as not making time for quiet reflection and solitude can become a developmental hindrance. At some point, we need to allow both aloneness and connectedness to reconcile with one another rather than enforcing a pressure toward either exclusively. It is inevitable that everyone craves and benefits from having time to themselves. However, it is vital not to forfeit the importance of social integration and emotional intimacy in exchange for promoting independence. The idea of “happy alone” can, thus, be liberating for many but it becomes especially problematic when it is used as a call-to-action for individuals who don’t express enthusiasm toward continuing a solitary life path and when it is used as a way to label individuals as ineligible to date.
Realistically, loneliness reflects an unmet need, a lack of connection, a lack in the quality of existing connections, and sometimes a deficiency in emotional safety and vulnerability in spite of the many connections we have. These are neurological states that we cannot simply Girl Boss, Grind, or Hustle away. These feelings are psychologically mappable and reflect a need for experiential change. We are a social species that thrives on physical and emotional depth through community, through work, and through love relationships and this need for emotional and physical belonging is, has always been, and will always be as integral to our psychological development as self-awareness is.
The benefits of establishing a relationship to oneself through designating time for reflection and solitude as a regular self-love practice and the benefits of learning how to be vulnerable and secure with others are not mutually exclusive but rather, they have been pitted against one another in society. We often say that happiness comes from within and a healthy shift in perspective. This wisdom is true to some extent as it is important to self-analyze and to nourish ourselves physically and emotionally through fostering a healthy lifestyle.
With this in mind, the self-love trend toward the single, alone and liberated caricature fails to acknowledge that healing has no end point and self-love is a personal journey with nuance that could never take the form of a cover fee into the dating pool.
The social zeitgeist that pressures singles to “put themselves out there” but also continue the path of aloneness with a smile can undermine the significance that healthy attachments and secure emotional intimacy plays in our own personal development when we place too much onus on individuals to “introspect” and “date” themselves into happiness and wholeness. We often learn about ourselves with others just as much as we discover key parts of ourselves through journaling and finding our passions.
The excessive and ironic aspiration of emotional perfectionism as a requirement for being more eligible for love via “fully healing”, maintaining an indifference toward attachment, or being happy alone has the potential to wreak havoc on individuals who struggle with emotional unavailability, perfectionism, mental illness, trauma, heartbreak, and insecure attachments—and let’s be real, in 2022: this is most people.
The collocation of these social attitudes to the stigma of loneliness are what fuels the sociology behind dating apps which profit more from our dating and sexual shortcomings than from our successes to solidify a demand, all the while promising the potential of securing the intimacy that we’re supposedly “not looking for” (whether monogamous, polyamorous, or casual). In a consumerist society that commodifies connection and profits from practices that reinforce emotional unavailability and inconsistency in exchange for commercial access to our data, nothing should exemplify and validate the fundamental need for connection more than the principle of what well over 300 million people worldwide are willing to permit access to in exchange for the chance to find the intimacy and love that we all allegedly are supposed to be able to simulate “from within ourselves” according to the blueprint of self-love theory.
Ironically, the self-love movement would not be anywhere near as popular had it not become trending and profitable content on social media–a satire unto itself that is worthy of further appraisal.
These socialized attitudes surrounding our capacity for intimacy or solitude are idealistic in their lyricism but can be contradictory in how they play out in the real world. The trending beliefs that we’re socialized to buy into whether or not they benefit us realistically can further enable attitudes of entitlement and hyper-individualism that catalyze many of us to label individuals who don’t meet our emotional requirements as toxic, a narcissist, or having red flags at every turn. In a way we’ve managed to create a paradoxical relational landscape that normalizes temporariness and inconsistency as just par for the course in the modern dating world which we are all pressured to express both satisfaction in and disinterest toward.
We condemn ghosting, breadcrumbing, orbiting, and so on and label ourselves as empaths while also justifying our own erratic and harmful relational choices in response to any sort of conflict with a self-love induced lack of interpersonal accountability that results in more unavailability, hyper-individualism and ultimately, a pandemic of loneliness that we aren’t socially allowed to fully express in spite of it being pervasive.
It is true that we do not need to be in love or in a relationship. It is true that self-love is important and that it may look different to each of us. Nonetheless, it is also true that we can embrace being single while also normalizing the need for connection in whatever form. We can facilitate connection more authentically as there is social importance in creating a culture that fully embraces the necessity for emotional safety, stability, and intimacy as well as relational connectedness in a way that detaches us from the slippery slope of our own hyper-individualism and denial whilst managing to destigmatize loneliness at a time where we’re all encouraged to be physically distanced.
Creating a better landscape that clarifies actualized self-love and upholds interpersonal love as equally nourishing, that encourages vulnerability as we approach topics like loneliness with more realism and understanding, that establishes more stability in how we connect emotionally, physically, and casually can impact the dating world for the better and make being alone less… lonely.
We can all surmise that our friends who met their loving partners on an app when “they weren’t even looking” were probably looking and they would likely not give up their significant other for the prospect of dating themselves. It is okay to not have a relationship and to be single. However, it is also okay to express unease with being alone just as much as it is okay to simply be alone. It is okay to accept the need to be understood and desired as a part of the human experience.
Our capacity to look beyond the scope of our individualism and discover vulnerable aspects of ourselves and others in our relational paths with others is a necessary part of our inward journey toward connectedness and self-love– whatever that looks like to you. Our need to relate to others and be desired by others in ways that are substantive is not a defect that needs to be changed, counseled, or repressed, nor is it something anyone should be pressured to deny.
Setting a realistic expectation to simply exercise empathy, acceptance of oneself, self-awareness and reflection is far more feasible than the pressure to journey within in search of the magical antidote that cures you of all the things that ever hurt you, frees you of any need for interdependency, and immunizes you from ever experiencing social, psychological or trauma induced loneliness.
A fundamental aspect of healing that has been discounted is that we can and often do love ourselves through others and we likewise do a plethora of healing through our shared experiences. None of these statements are mutually exclusive. None of us needs to be fully healed, happy alone, or fully in love with ourselves to be loveable. While we can aspire to all of these ideals, it is more likely that we will always be healing and working on ourselves in some facet whether or not we’re attached. The most we can do is be open, authentic, realistic, and self aware. We can try not to condemn loneliness in ourselves or in others, and above all, though we can never be emotionally perfect, we can let ourselves be loved still.