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The only constant in your life is you
This Valentine's Day, show some love to the one who’s always there.
The further I get from the simplicity of childhood, the more I realize how complicated holidays can be. There’s the pressure to perform “holiday magic”—a task that largely falls on women’s shoulders. There’s the very real possibility of navigating difficult family dynamics or outdated traditions. And there’s the fact that, depending on your circumstances—if you’re mourning a loss, going through a difficult period, or even feeling insecure—certain holidays can be especially painful.
Valentine’s Day is no exception. It’s a holiday that comes with the expectation of big demonstrations of love and romance galore, but often leaves people feeling disappointed or extra lonely.
My first Valentine’s Day as a widow, just 10 days after Jamie died, was surreal. I was in such shock, such disbelief, that it felt much more plausible that my husband had simply walked out of the room rather than had left this earth. His clothes still held his scent. I still wore my wedding ring. That night, I kissed the box that held his ashes before I went to bed. To me, he didn’t seem dead. And I didn’t feel alone.
The next year, though, was brutal. Reality had sunk in, and I felt more alone than ever. I was bitter, horribly angry. In the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, questions flowed through my brain like poison. Why did all these people around me deserve romantic love? Why do we have a stupid holiday that makes people feel more alone than they already are? Why them? Why me? Why?
I’ve experienced plenty of times when my mind gets stuck in a loop of unanswerable questions. It’s a dangerous pattern—one that causes unnecessary suffering on top of existing pain. My brain loops and loops until, at some point, I have no choice but to shake myself out of the spiral. This time, I stopped my angry questions by remembering one of the biggest realizations I had after Jamie’s death: The only constant in my life is me.
I reminded myself that even if I were to find a new partner, there’s no guarantee they’d be by my side for the rest of my life. But me? I’ll be right here, for all my days.
Suddenly, I had new questions to explore: Why was I so focused on receiving love from someone else? What if Valentine’s Day wasn’t about celebrating romantic love, but self-love? What if it was an opportunity to shower myself with a little extra kindness and care than usual?
So I decided to try that approach. On February 14, 2018, I did something I’d been afraid to do. I took myself out to lunch at a familiar restaurant, treating myself to one of my favorite meals—all alone.
I sat at the bar, ordered a beer, read a book, and savored every second. And I made a promise that I would start finding more ways to practice self-love. To be a better partner to myself. To make my life romantic, just for me.
My path to self-love has been a rocky one. I was a jerk to myself for a long time! Somewhere along the way, I’d convinced myself that I deserved to be spoken to in a harsh, compassionless tone—that by engaging in negative self-talk, I was somehow pushing myself to become a better person.
But none of that was true, and none of those beliefs benefitted me. And while I’m still untangling all the ways I learned that behavior, I’m also relishing this new, gentler approach to myself.
Over the past few years, I’ve worked to make peace with my body (status: this is going pretty well), my place in life (I’m making progress!), and my face (still a challenge). I’ve largely stopped bad-talking myself and I’m making improvement in acknowledging my good qualities and accepting compliments from others. I’m a work in progress, as we all are, but the progress is undoubtedly there.
Perhaps the most notable improvement I’ve made is no longer looking to other people for validation, safety, and self-worth. I’ve gotten so much better at giving myself those things, in part because I now know that I am the person who will always be around. It just doesn’t make sense to be terrible to the one person I will live with for the rest of my days.
There’s no shortage of ways to demonstrate self-love. You can buy yourself flowers, make a delicious meal, enjoy your physical touch, or take a break from a task that’s frustrating you. You can look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re cute. You can dance to a favorite song, laughing at yourself as you flail about. You can even do something as small—but crucial—as stopping before making a hurtful comment about yourself.
My favorite way to practice self-love is by doing things for the future version of me. I’ve found that by thinking about my future self, I make smarter decisions. Instead of making an impulse purchase because I’m sad, for example, I set up a date with a friend who’s good at talking about hard things.
When it comes to being kind to myself, I’d say I am a novice. I’m still figuring out how to be my best Valentine, and I make plenty of mistakes along the way. But forgiving and accepting myself—just like I would a loved one—is an important part of self-love too.
Here are some of my favorite ways to love my future self:
Making my bed in the morning. It’s a pain for approximately two minutes, but it’s a gift at the end of the day.
Keeping a running list of gifts I’d like. It keeps me from buying things in the moment, and I always have suggestions for others or ideas for myself on hand.
Planning the next hangout on the spot. Before saying goodbye to a friend at the end of a lovely visit, I like to compare calendars and figure out the next time we can see each other. It’s one less task to do and gives us both something to look forward to.
Scheduling time every day for exercise and breaks. And mapping out my schedule for the following day before my workday ends.
Hanging art I love and prints that make me feel good. It’s true: Today’s a good day to recognize how far you’ve come.
Always having a good book—or two—in rotation. And always, always making time to read before bed.
Setting weekly intentions. Naming a new, doable goal for myself each week has become a real treat. And doing it with my dear friend and editor Becca makes the practice even better.
You likely have some great ideas, too. (If so, I’d love to read them in the comments!)
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This year, I’ll celebrate my fifth Valentine’s Day with Billy. While I’m especially grateful to love and be loved by him, I know that our relationship doesn’t make me any more special or worthy than when I was single.
Although I’ve grown more comfortable with practicing self-love and spend a lot of time caring for my future self, I often think back to my past self and want to comfort her too. Past Katie spent many a miserable Valentine’s Day looking for love and feeling less than.
If I could show my past self some love, this is what I’d tell her:
The person you’re looking for is you. You deserve to love yourself. You deserve to accept all your flaws, quirks, and past mistakes—and embrace them as part of who you are today. You deserve to show kindness to yourself. You deserve to treat yourself with the same care and patience that you would a dear friend. You deserve to romance yourself, to show gratitude for your amazing and unique mind and body, which you know better than anyone else ever will.
You are your greatest love story.
Now, go make your bed. You’ll thank yourself later.