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In this time of physical isolation and fear, the need to spend quality time with ourselves has never been more urgent. And in my personal and professional experience, many of us do not know what this means. I am not talking about busying yourself with tasks or hiding behind your work or a bottle of wine…
I am speaking about one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself during this time — discover how to enjoy being with yourself. Learning how to date (and love) myself has certainly been one of my own greatest personal breakthroughs as well as the inspiration for both my book and my original book title, I Just Want to Date Myself.
While some of the dates I planned for myself and stories I share throughout this chapter may not apply during this time of business closures, the lessons are paramount.
Today, I’m thrilled to share with you an excerpt from Chapter 8 of my book Belonging: Overcome Your Inner Critic and Reclaim Your Joy.
Please read to the end and take on the practice this week and let me know how it goes!
My relationship with self-awareness began on the heels of a breakup. It was likely the most extreme moment of personal devastation I had experienced, and it had little to do with my former partner. I had placed so much of my own value and perceived self-worth on this partner and my concocted vision of his potential that, in the process, I had completely lost sense of myself.
This relationship was certainly not the only one where I turned into a chameleon; however, it was a loud example of it given our starkly contrasting interests, values, and preferences. For the years we were together, my goals were his goals. My desires were based on his desires. My sense of fashion defaulted to what he preferred to see me dressed in. I remember one day when my best friend called me on it, exclaiming, “Catherine, why are you wearing boat shoes, seersucker, and pearls?”
She had always known me to be a woman of loud colors, artisanal jewelry, and heels that popped. But I didn’t see it. I was living in a clouded world where my values had become forgotten and my self-worth had been firmly placed in the hands of another by none other than myself. However, one day, completely out of the blue, I was dealing with a breakup…and much more than my relationship had been taken away from me.
In the aftermath of that breakup, and with the support of a wonderful therapist, I began to discover myself again. In the beginning, I didn’t much like who I found. I found a talented woman who received a lot of external validation for her field, but it filled her with discontent and a sense of dread each morning on her way to work. I found a woman who didn’t know what she liked and, as a default, reverted to the preferences and choices of those around her. I found a woman who didn’t know how to take up space and be seen, who constantly put herself in the role of being a listener and cheerleader. And I found a woman who couldn’t directly ask for what she needed. I found a woman who felt justified in being resentful of others for not hearing her passive-aggressive attempts to ask for what she needed nor intuiting what she was thinking without ever directly communicating it.
Mostly, I found a woman who didn’t know how to enjoy spending time with herself, and the time that she did spend with herself, she couldn’t help but fill it with chores, cleaning, organizing, and the list of tasks goes on. In this way, she could be productive and prove herself to herself. Like so many of us do at some point or another in our lives, I found myself asking, Who am I?
Separate from the relationship status, the items and chores I checked off the to-do list, and the awards and achievements I found myself so consistently adding to my expanding resume, I realized I didn’t know. So often when we’re asked to introduce ourselves, we default to responding with our job title or place of employment, as if that defines us. I asked myself, Since when did the contribution we could make to another human being depend on what we did or what level of hierarchy we reached in our career?
Coincidentally, in the aftermath of imagining I had experienced “heartbreak” for the first time, I discovered the beauty and glow of what it was like to truly love me. I had experienced heartbreak much earlier in life, when I first experienced dissociation, a common phenomenon that results in a disconnection between a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of self. In the aftermath of this breakup, I discovered that loving me looked like beginning to date myself. Quite literally, I began to take myself out on dates, to notice what gave me pleasure, to give in to what my heart longed for. I began the long journey of starting to meet my own needs versus waiting expectantly for someone else to meet them for me.
Along the way, I got in touch with what I liked, separate from any feedback from another. I began to have these conversations with myself:
What are my preferences?
What do I want to eat?
What do I like to do on the weekends?
What would bring me pleasure in this moment?
What am I passionate about?
I discovered I was passionate about running and started training for a marathon. I agree with Haruki Murakami’s sentiments in What I Talk About When I Talk About Running when he says that “Being active every day makes it easier to hear that inner voice.” This was certainly my experience as well. Following a passion helped teach me an important life lesson. Passion is infatuating. When we have a passion (whether it’s for a career, a hobby, or a new goal), it can be an all-consuming pursuit. It also opens up our eyes to new passions all around us.
I followed that passion and started to explore my home city and take myself out on the dates I always imagined my partner would take me on. Julia Cameron explains this concept of an Artist Date in The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity: “An artist date is a block of time, perhaps two hours weekly, especially set aside and committed to nurturing your creative consciousness, your inner artist. In its most primary form, the artist date is an excursion, a play date that you preplan and defend against all interlopers. You do not take anyone on this artist date but you and your inner artist, a.k.a. your creative child. That means no lovers, friends, spouses, children—no taggers-on of any stripe. If you think this sounds stupid or that you will never be able to afford the time, identify that reaction as resistance. You cannot afford not to find time for artist dates.”
When I put down my own resistance to spending time alone with myself, I found my favorite works of art throughout the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I spent hours imagining myself living in the times of Manet, John Singer Sargent, Mary Cassatt, and Degas. I fell in love all over again with nature and delighted in the orchids at the U.S. Botanical Gardens and wistful afternoons spent reading novels and classics outside or on the lawns of the Smithsonian Mall.
When I started taking myself out on the dates I had always dreamed of, I found myself in the process. For many of us, the process of learning to date ourselves and spend quality time with ourselves is novel. Clients often share with me how joyful and delightful the experience is, and that is my hope for you today as well.
TAKING ACTION: TREAT YOURSELF THE WAY YOU’VE ALWAYS WANTED TO BE TREATED BY ANOTHER
This week, your job is to take yourself out on a date. It does not matter when you do it, where you do it, how much time you spend on yourself, or how excessive it is as long as you treat yourself luxuriously and spend quality time doing something that delights you and fills you with joy. It is important to begin spending this quality time with yourself. As you begin this journey of self-discovery, it will be natural to revert to old behaviors and habits of doing what your friends want to do, or busying your mind with work or tasks around the house. Begin valuing yourself over your habits. Journal what your date will include right now. Write in as much detail as you can and how you will spend this quality time with yourself below:
Now, declare the actual date and time you’ll take yourself out on the date. Write that down now. Pull out your calendar or your phone and block that time off in your schedule this week, just like you would for your best client or for your boss. Do this now.
Learning to treat myself the way I wanted to be treated by others made the most meaningful impact on my ability to take responsibility for making myself happy. I hope this week’s date with yourself will be the first of countless dates. Begin getting curious about what you notice and experience on your date. What is it like to be with yourself? What qualities do you delight in about yourself in those most quiet and cherished moments?
In this article series, I share excerpts and stories from my book, Belonging: Overcome Your Inner Critic and Reclaim Your Joy. I hope you enjoyed this post — if you enjoyed what you read, let’s connect. You can reach me via email, my website, or connect with me on social: Instagram, LinkedIN, or Facebook.