The One Relationship You Can Never Leave


The One Relationship You Can Never Leave

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Do the work of being in a loving, healthy, committed relationship with ourselves or suffer the rest of our lives with an internal roommate we hate.

Relationships are hard. Romance fades, our best friends drive us crazy, and families (the holidays may especially remind us) are minefields just ready to go off over a late night game of Scrabble. Most of us are lucky enough to be free to leave these relationships: we can move away from home, let friendships fade, and get divorces. That freedom is wonderful and important, but it also means that we can avoid some of the most rewarding experiences of long-term relationships that survive our worst selves.

Fortunately (and painfully), we are all born in to one relationship that we can never get away from, no matter how we try: our relationship with ourselves.

The choices we make about how we treat our bodies, what we do with our time, how we talk to ourselves, and who we spend time with matter—a lot. The world is a difficult place to live in, and sometimes the things we do to feel better in the moment—eat, drink, have sex, binge Netflix—can have longer term consequences when we stop using them for pleasure and start using them to escape our inner world.

It’s natural to want to escape ourselves from time to time, and we all do it. Sometimes we do need to take a quick break from the voices in our heads. There’s nothing wrong with that—until we go past the point of pleasure and into numbness. This can work for a while, but a joylessly numb life can get pretty boring, and even if the mind can take it, the body will often rebel against its neglect after a while.

I am sometimes grateful and sometimes really annoyed that I have a very sensitive physical body. If I don’t eat well, sleep enough, or give myself time to process difficult emotions, my body will find some way to let me know. I tried to drink and party my way through a major breakup once, and got slammed with a three-week flu with nothing to do but feel my feelings. Later, I was overdoing it at work, anxiously avoiding any quiet time by myself, and I got strep throat. Three times. The fourth time I tried to do that my back went out. I can lie well enough to my mind, at least for a while, but my body doesn’t tend to let me get away with it for very long. Pain is an excellent teacher because it forces us to change something.

So we have a choice: do the work of being in a loving, healthy, committed relationship with ourselves or suffer the rest of our lives with an internal roommate we hate. A lot of people choose the second option—it’s unquestionably easier. But over time, the body or the mind can rebel against its mistreatment and try to start to force us to work on this relationship. Either way, leaving isn’t an option.

Self-love isn't a given, it’s a practice. We’re not always good at it, and that’s okay. Part of the practice is forgiving ourselves and being gentle when we falter. The best thing we can do is start somewhere.

So we acknowledge the pain. We let ourselves feel it. We explore its edges and see if it can teach us what needs to change. We can make small choices that are genuinely kind—not momentarily relieving, but genuinely loving— for our bodies, our minds, or our relationships. And when we don’t, when we slip back to our comforting escapes, we forgive ourselves and try again tomorrow.

It’s certainly not always easy to choose to turn love, presence, and compassion towards our own selves. But when we choose the path of loving commitment and turn it inwards, we end up meeting the truest, most lasting love of our lives.


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