Tyrrell: Show yourself some love this Sunday

Columnist Eileen Tyrrell advocates for self-love on Valentine’s Day. Love yourself more than anything or anyone else. 

Eileen Tyrrell

Every February in ancient Rome, for three days, the altars ran red with blood. 

The people were celebrating the festival of Lupercalia, and pig and dog sacrifices were needed to please the god Faunus. Afterward the animal hides were turned into whips, the slap of which supposedly blessed the receiver with fertility. This went on for eleven hundred years before Pope Gelasius I rebranded the pagan festival into something “more Christian” — St. Valentine’s Day. 

Lupercalia was all about fertility, and Valentine’s Day is supposedly about love. But we all know it’s become more mercenary than that. Total spending on the holiday this year is projected to reach $21.8 billion, or over $164 per person. Even the concept of self-love is profitable, with corporations plugging their wares as a shortcut to one of the most profound inner experiences in life. Glittering face masks! Adorable little succulents! Candles! Self-love means buying things for yourself and not feeling bad about it. At least, that’s what advertisers want us to believe. 

I’ll admit it’s easy to fall for the ruse. The idea of self-care has been surging in popularity over the last few years — it was the #1 app theme of 2018 — and it’s just so tempting to think you can reach that state of radical acceptance and self-compassion by throwing a couple cute tchotchkes into your cart at Target. 

But this Valentine’s Day, I want you to take all your preconceived notions of the holiday AND of what self-love means and throw them out the window. Let’s start from scratch. How can we make Sunday about loving ourselves? What does self-love actually look like? 

“Self-love is — at its core — the unshakable, uncompromising belief that we are worthy of love, respect, safety, and belonging, regardless of our thoughts, feelings, or actions,” psychotherapist Arianna Smith told Bustle in an interview for an online article. She said self-love is not a state of being, but a verb. It takes constant work. And it goes way deeper than buying yourself fancy things or taking selfies. 

Instead, self-love requires respect — for your body, your mind, your time. It means setting boundaries for yourself and for other people’s access to you, which in itself can be challenging. Self-love means showing up for yourself — going to the classes you paid for, getting yourself to the gym, getting yourself to bed on time. Self-love doesn’t always mean relaxing in a bubble bath to destress, sometimes it means tough love on yourself to work toward the things you want. 

It also means forgiving yourself for not being perfect all of the time. Going to college means experiencing a lot of things — being away from home, trying to find a full-time job, taking care of ourselves in the most basic ways — for the very first time. It’s normal and natural to screw up! But in a culture with such intense focus on success and appearance, we often lose sight of that. Self-love can guide you back home. That’s not an easy task, either — it requires accepting the fact that you failed or messed up. But when you can do that, well… that’s where your power really begins. 

Valentine’s Day so often feels fake and forced. This year I challenge you to go beyond the Hallmark hoopla and get to the heart of the holiday: unfettered and unconditional love. Love your significant other, sure, but also practice loving yourself — in a way that’s challenging, difficult and meaningful. It might not sound appealing, but if it were two thousand years ago, we’d all be slapping each other with bloody animal hides on Sunday. I think you can handle it.