There have been a number of times I’ve felt down about dating (and in general), and people have replied with one phrase: “No one will love you until you love yourself.” For a very long time (maybe because I heard it so much?), I believed it to be true. I thought that no relationship, or at least no serious one, could flourish if I wasn’t completely feeling myself. But, as it turns out, this saying is complete and total bullshit. 

For starters, loving yourself lacks a definitive marker. The idea that you either love yourself or you don’t is binary, which is (thankfully) a belief system our society is moving away from. Self-love is hardly as clear cut as say, being on time or being late. Not to mention that what self-love encompasses is unclear. Does it mean being comfortable with the way you look? Having the job you want? Loving your personality? Maybe it’s all of these things, or maybe it’s none of them. And it is most certainly different for different people. Besides, self-love fails to take into account the real-life struggles (clinical or otherwise) that people face daily. 

What self-love encompasses is unclear. Does it mean being comfortable with the way you look? Having the job you want? Loving your personality? Maybe it’s all of these things, or maybe it’s none of them.

“When we [say] ‘no one will love you if you don’t love yourself,’ we’re looking to create a black and white answer because it makes us feel good,” says Michele Burstein, LCSW, psychotherapist at Manhattan Wellness Associates. Plus, this phrase casts love as the ultimate goal and sets an unattainable standard for it in the process. “That term, love, is harsh and intense,” says Burstein. “There’s a big difference between feeling like we love ourselves [and feeling] happy and fulfilled. There’s always something we need to work on. Are we ever going to reach this point where we [think] Oh, now I’m the perfect person so now I can fall in love?” It’s a good question, and personally, my answer is no. Dating, falling in love, or whatever we’re all doing is much more messy and convoluted than that. 

It is also but a small part of whatever your journey is. In every part of your life, you may think you want something, only to, with time and experience, realize you actually want something else. If you don’t date until you love yourself, you are missing out on the very important self-discovery that comes from, among other things, dating, and are ultimately hindering yourself.

What’s worse is that loving yourself only seems to come up in the context of how to gain another person’s affection. “Why are we just focusing on the dating part? If we put so much emphasis on that, we’re going to miss a lot of things that we [do] love about ourselves,” says Burstein. 

Instead of treating the murky concept of loving yourself as the key to a happy and healthy dating life, I believe we should strive for recognizing our worth, general life contentedness, and just liking ourselves most days.

“When we don’t recognize our worth, it can become problematic,” says Burstein. “If you think of yourself negatively, you may [be more likely to] allow negative talk and criticism to evolve in your relationship because you already believe it.”

Of course, that’s easier said than done, and getting to a place of recognizing your worth can take a lot of work. But once you make it there (and you will), you can start rebranding loving yourself as liking yourself. This way, you won’t miss an opportunity to find someone who likes (or loves) you as much as you like yourself.