Of course, we can’t completely discuss leveling up without discussing the transformation that takes place within your mind, body, and soul as you seek out what makes you feel happiest and most fulfilled. For many women, leveling up includes finding a partner, and as a black woman in a happy marriage (ten years and counting), I want to give some tips for how to love oneself honestly and wholly. Once you are able to love yourself, it will be much easier for others to love you, especially that certain someone.
First, I want to say that I was not some whole, super-in-love-with-herself-and-clear-on-her-identity woman when I got married. Some women are, and I applaud that. But I wasn’t one of them. I was a young bride about to begin graduate school when I tied the knot, and I was only just beginning my journey toward true self-discovery, which included loving who I was, learning how to build lasting relationships, and knowing how to express myself in ways that were healthy and productive.
I had a lot to confront; I had unsettled resentment toward my parents, a deep desire for approval that I needed to sort out, I was terrible with money, and I had not yet learned to be comfortable placing my blackness at the forefront of my identity. To sum up: my finances were bad, I had an idea of who I was, but I was too afraid to dive deeper to get to know her, and I was mad at all the wrong people for all the wrong reasons.
While all of those afflictions are tangled webs that many other black women have had to sort through for themselves, I want to point out that they all have one common denominator: they are steeped in insecurity. And insecurities can tank a relationship. It is true that your spouse can and should function as a source for uplifting you to help you feel supported and not alone, but there are some (many) internal battles that even your spouse cannot save you from.
It’s your mess to clean up, and the only way to really solve the problem is to roll up your own sleeves and get to work. No pointing fingers, no blaming it on mom and dad, brother or sister. If what you are after is a partner you can find harmony with not just physically, but emotionally, spiritually, and fiscally as well, you must create the same type of harmony within yourself. This harmony cannot be achieved if you are running from yourself in order to not have to face what’s imperfect about you.
This means confronting the issues you have with yourself and others and finding healthy ways to deal with them. It means creating closure where you might not have been given any so that you can let go of the heavy burdens they place on your heart in favor of making room for new, more positive things. It’s a big undertaking, and I had no idea where to start when I began, so I recommend connecting with a mental health professional as you do this personal work.
A natural development that usually follows personal work is the drawing of boundaries. Healthy boundaries help us to protect ourselves (our hearts, our minds, our bodies) from what is not good for us. Sometimes the boundaries we draw for ourselves contradict what others want, but that’s also the point. You get to define yourself and your sphere of influence. Treat it like the VIP section. Not just any old body is allowed in.
And as you start to turn some of the love you have for others back onto yourself, you will carry yourself with even more grace. You will have even more confidence. You will radiate. And mark my words, people will notice. At that point, it will be easier for you to decide what you can and cannot tolerate in a relationship because you will be looking out for your number one (which is you) first. It’s very hard to form a cycle of disrespect with a woman who loves herself. Women who love themselves won’t tolerate it.
Now, just because you go on a journey of self-discovery before finding your mate, that does not mean the journey stops after you are married. Marriages that span 40 and 50 years are impressive not only for their volume, but because of the many different versions of themselves both partners undoubtedly cycled through during such an extended period of time. Change is normal, and it is also good.
Part of the reason it is ideal to get clear on yourself before making a long-term commitment like marriage is that when your relationship hits rocky times – and believe me, it will hit rocky times – you can face those challenges with more transparency and assurance because you will already know what you value, what you can’t live without, and in what ways you’d be willing to adapt as your relationship changes. You and your partner will experience changes as you both age, your interests change, your family grows, and as your family shrinks. I believe one of the pillars of a strong, healthy relationship is knowing how to be patient and intentional with your partner through those changes, and loving yourself is the gateway to that process.
Antoinette is an online curriculum designer who moonlights as an author, editor, yogini, and host of The Midday Reset Podcast. When she is not designing courses, authoring books, or recording episodes for her podcast, she is enjoying life with her husband and two children. Find her on Instagram @msantoinettechanel.