We have arrived at the national celebration of love… Valentine’s Day. The implication is that we are to romantically celebrate our cherished partner(s). But, realistically, a lot of us are quietly pining over a crush, healing from a breakup, not interested in intimacy, or trying to explore our identity (to name a few) So, let’s talk about different areas of love.
Let us start with the most important (and potentially the most challenging): Self love. The notion that we love ourselves in a whole and unconditional way. Recognizing and affirming who we are – without critical, negative self-talk. The exploration and acceptance of our “flaws”, needs, wants, desires, and dreams. In order to love others in a healthy and unconditional way, we must first love ourselves. Self love is a life long journey that ebbs and flows with changes and shifts in our world. With that, it is something we must always assess and check in on. Self love isn’t just about bubble baths and sleeping in. It is also about the hard truths. Going to therapy or taking medication, healing past wounds or trauma, setting healthy boundaries in relationships, taking care of our medical needs, and more. We have to assess what our true coping skills are, because sometimes they aren’t great. Start by taking a full assessment of what you do when things get tough, what you say to yourself internally when you are sad or stressed. Write it down. Consider alternatives options to implement. (taking a walk, calling a trusted friend, journaling, meditation, drawing). Look inward, decide what really feeds your happiness and take small steps to build a gorgeous foundation.
Next up is community love. This includes our family and chosen communities. The importance of having a strong support system is paramount. We need to be able to feel heard and accepted. To celebrate in happy times, to connect with others who have similar interests, and to lean in when we need support. Start by assessing who you have around you. There are different “layers” of friendship. It’s important to have someone to catch a movie, a work BFF, a community action group, or a neighbor to gossip with, but also someone that you can trust in a challenging situation. It isn’t about quantity, but quality to meet what your specific social needs are. Relationships take commitment and effort. Once you are able to see what you have, consider where you might want to grow. Try using Meetup to join a queer book club or hiking group. Check out Queer City Sports to join a friendly and active social league, look at the Queer Networking Happy Hours, or the DMV Sober Queers on Facebook. Join the Chamber of Commerce for local volunteering events. There are so many opportunities to find your people, and to celebrate the ones you already have!
And finally… romantic love. So many layers to this. If you already have a happy and healthy partnership or relationship … yaaassss! Continue to nurture and support it. Check in on areas to grow together, new things to try, and always communicate about your needs and wants. But, if you are overwhelmed with the dating scene, I hear you. It can be hard out there. We are in the age of scrolling through Tinder or Grindr, HER, or Bumble, it can make it hard to think there are real people behind that. If you’re feeling burnt out, try joining one of the social communities mentioned above, and make sure you are taking care of yourself first. Pause to take an assessment of what you want-what kind of connection are you looking for? How does dating feel right now? Checking in on our goals is important, and projecting them into the universe is equally imperative. Yes … we attract what we put out into the world, but we also need a realistic sense of “red flags”, an ability to assert our needs, and most importantly strong personal boundaries! If you aren’t sure what your boundaries are, take a pause and assess them. (Consider mental, physical, spiritual.) They can range from needing one night a week to yourself, to not wanting physical intimacy for a certain amount of time. Once you’re clear on what they are, start asserting them with clear and direct communication. If someone pushes back – I promise you, they aren’t the one. Always be kind to yourself in your romantic journey. As humans we value connection in different ways. Continue to consider what you value, love yourself in all of your glory, and connect with those who feed your happiness.
I hope that each of you find a bit of love today.
- Elizabeth Harring, LCSW-C - Licensed therapist and owner of a group practice for LGBTQIA adolescents, young adults, couples, and families in Baltimore City. She is an advocate for creating connection, healing, and healthy communication for queer youth and families. After graduating from New York University, working in Washington DC with youth in foster care, she couldn’t resist a return home to Baltimore where she has room for her book collection, garden, dance parties, and great dane.