The Limits of Self-Love

Michael Curran

Contributing Writer

 

Self-love is something that’s often brought up in the context of someone being heartbroken or having poor self-esteem. It is supposed to be the thing that helps them recover and shape who they are. Of course, there is truth to such a statement. But let this be a reminder that self-love is a necessary but not sufficient condition for human flourishing. All too often, the rhetoric of self-love seeps into the narrative of self-help (which does have its value) which individualizes problems far too much. This is not to sidestep the issue of personal responsibility in matters of, say, romantic relationships but it is to recognize that simply recommending and preaching self-love is sometimes not enough. 

That is to say that there are external factors that affect the probability and quality of relationships. Let’s consider just one example: unrealistic body standards. It’s fair to assert that unrealistic body standards, at least to some extent, have given heterosexual men (and women and others as well) an unrealistic images of bodily beauty. Nearly a year ago, Norway’s Parliament passed a law requiring advertisers and social media influencers to attach disclaimers on digitally retouched photos. A small step, surely. But this is just a small illustration that the quality and quantity of romantic relationships cannot be solely reduced to individual confidence and personality (though these are necessary and important).

Some folks genuinely do want a person in their lives to call a committed partner or spouse. Not everyone is simply content with being single or having superficial relationships (romantic, sexual or otherwise) that barely last. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that there is something wrong with them. Neither is the converse wrong. I am almost certainly not the first person to touch upon this theme and probably won’t be the last. Though I feel it’s a necessary reminder, given that Valentine’s Day has since passed (as of writing). Self-love has its place but so does outwards-love, in more ways than one.