It was a sweltering hot day in December when he picked me up.

We’d agreed to hang out earlier that week. I’d felt uneasy all day. Something was chewing away at me. So, I set off on an early morning walk to calm my unsteady mind.

As I strolled through the bush reserve behind my house, I pondered my options. 

Did I like his company? Most definitely.

Did he make me laugh? All the time.

Did he seem like a half decent bloke? Well, he was better than the guy I’d shared a kebab with on Courtney Place at 2am a few months back. 

Did I wholeheartedly love myself, and therefore deserve to have a significant other that was willing to love me back? No, no I did not.

So it was settled. I’d break it off with him that afternoon. 

I looked at the time. Shit. He was picking me up in 30 minutes. I quickened my pace, turned up my tragic 90’s RnB playlist and started my way back home. Just as Usher was reaching his crescendo, I lost my footing. The dry dirt beneath my feet gave way, and Usher ironically cooed “U Got It Bad” as I rolled head first down the side of the hill. 

The dust cloud settled and I untangled my limbs. My leg burned in pain, and started oozing blood. Well, fuck. A rubble filled gash on my thigh wouldn’t make for a cute date look. No time. When I deliver the news to him, he won’t care that I’m in the first stages of a massive blood infection anyway. We cool. 


We pulled up to the Lyall Bay coastline and sat awkwardly in his Honda Civic. I tugged on my dress to hide my seeping cut. I felt like I was floating above my body as I kicked off the well rehearsed yarn:

“The thing is, I need to work on myself first, you know? I’m just all kinds of fucked up.. I don’t want to be a burden. It’s been fun, but I really need to love myself before I can be with anyone else. You get it right?”

I could feel a palpable sense of sadness in the air. Was that coming from him, or from me? The car felt suffocating. I’d said my bit, and I wanted to go home. The girls were keen to go out later. Maybe I’d smash a bottle of Savvy B and text Kebab Guy.

That’s when he noticed the cut on my leg. He asked if I’d treated it. I just shrugged it off -  why did he give a fuck? I could be entering Septicemia territory, but that wasn’t his problem anymore.

Yet he insisted. I’d just cooly and nonchalantly broken off our ‘thing.’ But he was intent on tending to my wound. So we awkwardly drove to New World. He disappeared inside the supermarket, emerged with a little bottle of antiseptic, and told me to apply the cream every day. 

When he backed out of my driveaway, I meekly waved, grasping the antiseptic cream in my right hand, still unsure what had just happened. Then I went inside, threw the cream into my side draw and poured myself a vino.

A loving and fulfilled relationship: the ultimate self-love prize 

Have you ever ended a relationship with the classic “I need to work on myself” line? Do you feel the pressure to love yourself before you dare love someone else? Are you scared of being a burden, a pile of complicated emotional baggage that’s undeserving of a right swipe on Tinder? 

Well, it’s no surprise you feel this way.

Our culture insists that we pursue self-love, bolster our self-esteem, and then post a I-love myself selfie on the gram in order to find someone willing to love us back. We live in a time when a love for the ‘self’ exonerates all our brokenness, and makes us worthy and ready for love. 

In fact, Hollywood has made mega bucks off this narrative - a person feels they need to be single to ‘find themselves.’ So, they end things with their partner, embark on the ultimate white girls on tour trip around the world, and 90 minutes later, they learn how to love themselves. Then, as the ultimate prize for their self-discovery endeavours, they find their soulmate, and skip off into the sunset; their life of boundless happiness stretching out endlessly in front of them. 

Being in a loving relationship is a prize awarded to those whose self-love cup is the most full. 

Relationship advice from the Ask Karen column 

I grew up reading trash magazines. As I moved from pre-teen, to teen, to young adult, my subscriptions shifted from Total Girl, to Cleo, to Cosmo. I’d always flick straight to the romance section. An all-knowing columnist would outline the ten traits men find most attractive. Self-confidence was the chart topper - it was the necessary bartering chip you’d trade for a lifetime of male attention. After all, men love nothing more than a woman who is strong (but not too masculine). Who is resolute (but willing to change her plans to suit him). Who knows what she wants (as long as what she wants is him).  

When I was in my twenties, the self-love movement started to take off. Now, not only did women need to be confident to attract a mate, we were expected to invest in ourselves first before we could lay claim on a significant other-  ideally by coughing up heaps of cash for life coaches, self-help books, and girl power workshops. We needed to know our love language, our attachment style, and our goddamn Myers Briggs personality. 

Being a self-loving single was the necessary precursor to a healthy, romantic relationship. 

We’re terrified that if we’re not like those confident women gracing the pages of my Cleo magazine, we’ll be unlovable. We’re embarrassed of our past. We’re scared of being truly seen, only to be rejected.

Well you know what? I take issue with the Cleo columnists of the world, who demand that I can’t be in a relationship until I love myself more than Kanye loves Kanye. I refuse to believe that I’m undesirable because I don’t feel 100% confident all the time.

So, here’s why ‘loving yourself’ first isn’t as straightforward as the Cleo columnist would have you believe.

When it comes to emotional baggage, most us would exceed Jetstar’s carry on limit 

All of us have been broken at some point. What broke us might vary widely. Some of us have had an easier go at life than others. A large majority start off on the back foot, and spend their lives trying to survive in a world that wasn’t made for them due to the shape of their body, the colour of their skin, or the nature of their sexual orientation. Others might have enjoyed a life of ease and joy; only to be jolted into sadness by an unexpected loss, a traumatic event or an unforeseen life change. 

Most of us are desperately trying to squish our emotional turmoil into a Country Road carry on bag. Addiction, unemployment, a violent ex, a failed marriage, a strained relationship with a parent, all spilling out through the cheap zipper. We prefer to force our troubles into a space that they can’t fit inside, instead of wearing them on our bodies where they can be seen by others. 

Everyone has wounds and disowned parts that they’re never going to be totally okay with. 

If we waited until we loved ourselves wholeheartedly, and fully came to terms with all our messy bits, then we’d all be single forever.

Yet we continue to push people away until we can uncouple ourselves from our burdens and our struggles. Because, no one wants to write “I don’t love myself, I struggle with unresolved trauma and I’m not totally stoked with my bodies’ squishy bits” as their Tinder bio. That’s a guaranteed left swipe.

In reality though, being broken is interesting. It’s a part of the stories we can tell others in order to forge connections. Revealing the parts of ourselves that we’d rather stuff into the overhead locker can actually help us heal. It can help us form stronger bonds with other people - whether that’s a platonic relationship, or a romantic one. 

Self-love is a spectrum; it has no end point

We tend to think of ‘loving ourselves’ as a sexy endpoint. We romanticise the shit out of it. We expect that once we reach the pinnacle of self-love, we’ll have 24 eligible bachelors lining up to accept our rose.

We are told that true love is out there, all for our taking, but only when we are truly ready and whole within ourselves.

We spend our life waiting for the grand reveal of change and transformation.

But there is no arrival, no endpoint. 

Life doesn't follow a neat narrative.

People enter your life when you aren’t ready. Lovers, best friends, soul mates show up when you’re half way through your healing process. Connections are formed in the thick of trauma. 

Someone will love you even when you don't love yourself.

Someone will accept you even when your life is a shit show.

Someone will believe in you even when you don’t.

Don’t get me wrong. Toxic friends, volatile partners, people with ugly agendas and uglier hearts can also show up during these times too. So, I’ll say this:

Know the difference. Know that kebab guy’s agenda is to benefit from your desire to please others over yourself. Know that antiseptic guy’s intention is to support you with the tools and resources you need to improve your self-worth. You don’t need to ‘love yourself’ to make this distinction. You do need to recognise what could come from a potential relationship, and whether that’s something that might serve you well, or set you back. 

Past trauma can’t be solved alone 

As self-love exploded onto the scene in the 2000s, we all clambered to buy self-help books. We desperately searched for a way to love ourselves that didn’t involve others. We didn’t want to bother others with our troubles. After all, the ability to love yourself rests entirely on the individual’s shoulders, am I right?

Not necessarily. 

We are designed to learn, grow, and love through other people. We are tribal creatures. And as much as little introverted me would like to disagree, we aren't meant to do life alone. 

When we experience healthy love back -  someone treating us like we have value, worth, without conditions and judgment, we learn to treat ourselves that way. Sure, we may not accept this love straight away. But over time, we learn. 

And it's through loving others, whether that’s a fiance, a friend or even your pet ferret, you increase your capacity to love yourself over time. Yes, you need to put in the work. Yes, you need to prioritise your own mental health and emotional health at times. 

But when someone worthwhile comes into your life, it can be incredibly motivating.

Here’s someone who accepts your quirks, your triggers, your self-doubt. This helps you be more gentle with yourself. 

Here’s someone that doesn’t reject or humiliate you when you share icky stories from your past. This frees you from the shame you might have attached to a traumatic experience. 

Here’s someone who shows up for you, even when you don’t have the energy to show up for yourself. This helps you accept that self-love is still a shit fight, but it’s a journey you don’t have to embark on solo. 

For many, this kind of love can blossom into a healthy and lifelong relationship. For others, it can be an experience that puts them on a path to finding their true purpose in life. Their relationship just laid the tracks. 

But, know the difference between intimacy and connection, and codependency and drama. You should feel safe and supported, not tethered and tumultuous. 

No relationship is ever without risk

None of us enter adulthood unscarred. We all have our stories, stuffed away in our carry on bags.

For years, I’ve neatly folded an emotionally abusive relationship, an eating disorder, and ongoing anxiety into my luggage. Tucked away from sight.

I’ve carefully managed risk, jumping from one ‘thing’ to the next, travelling light, and keeping my distance. All the while, attempting to discover this nebulous thing called ‘self-love.’

Did I find ‘it’ before getting into a serious relationship? No, no I did not. Sue me.

Don’t be fooled by this predominant narrative that says once you ‘love yourself’ the right person will show up, and your relationship will be without hurt and struggle.

Relationships will always be hard - whether you’re a self-loving master, or not. Triggers from past relationships don’t naturally disappear when you’re in a new relationship. You’ll self-sabotage. You’ll argue. You’ll get fucking annoyed about how loudly they breathe. You’ll snap back into bad habits. Our stories from past relationships might imprint onto our current relationship. There will be times where you will be selfish. When you say something unkind in the heat of the moment. When you need space.

One of the many joys of being in a relationship is being confronted with your own bullshit.

One of the many things you’ll learn from being in a relationship is that self-awareness, combined with honest communication, can help you navigate the bullshit.

Sometimes relationships are weird, and lopsided and flawed and sweet all at the same time. 

Don’t be so risk averse that you deny yourself from all this glorious, galvanising goodness. Don’t carefully manage the human experience until you feel removed from life itself.

What I’ve learned about love - observations from someone who isn’t a beacon of self-love 24/7

Love isn’t poised stage right, waiting for your cue. It won’t follow the script you’ve written for yourself. 

You don’t have to be a walking self-love emblem to deserve love from someone. 

Love is patience and love is learning.

It’s seeing who someone truly is, the best and most awful parts of them, and choosing not to look away from everything you see. 

It’s wanting to be the best version of yourself for your person but also for yourself, especially for yourself. 

It’s also accepting that your significant other can’t treat all your wounds for you. But they can share in your hurt, and they can encourage you to tend to that hurt.


The other day, I was in a flurry of Marie Kondo inspired cleaning, when I pulled out a box of weird, nostalgic paraphernalia I’ve been hoarding over the years.

Inside, a bottle of half-used antiseptic cream. A bottle given to me by a man, who in a few months will be my husband.

A man who has accepted my hurt and loves me anyway. A man who, for the weeks after that December afternoon when I pushed him away, would text me and check whether I had been applying the antiseptic cream, to prevent my wound from getting worse. The man who eventually, made me realise I didn’t have to love myself wholly, before I was deserving of love from another.

For some bloody brilliant resources on healthy relationships, help with healing from emotional abuse and other general gems of wisdom, check out my friends at Prepair.

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