There's a small kernel of truth in the to misguided movement to "marry yourself."
My invitation to you—“Before you fall in love, get married”—could be terribly misunderstood. I’m not inviting you to what would seem to me to be a kind of reality show where people get married to strangers chosen by them from a menu and then see how things go (or, more realistically, how things don’t go).
I’m proposing something very basic. Let me say it in other words, which may be less incisive, but clearer: Before entering into a relationship with another person, you must have a healthy relationship with yourself. The suggestions that I am proposing in this article (and others to follow) are the result of prolonged work carried out with married and engaged couples, or with people who wish to prepare themselves for love in a healthy way, whether because they’ve gone through the hell of an ill-conceived relationship or because they’re eager to succeed in love. I’ve condensed these tips into 10 steps towards happiness as a couple..
The first step is “dare to be yourself.”
It seems the most obvious thing to be—and want to be—is yourself, but it’s not. Psychologist Carl G. Jung says that “in each of us there is someone else we don’t know.” The poet Rainer Maria Rilke explains to a young man that “to live means precisely to transform oneself.” St. Teresa de Jesús, a mystic and doctor of the Church, explains that “there is no worse thief of ourselves than ourselves”.
Hence the invitation, with the sensitivity of the fox that addresses the Little Prince: “Tame yourself.” “Tame your loneliness, your uniqueness.” Taming loneliness is an act of reconciliation with the loneliness that is and must be part of human existence.
No one can make you feel good if you don’t feel good about yourself. That’s why it is urgent to learn the art of being with yourself. If you don’t know how to be well with yourself you won’t know how to be well with others. The way you relate to them will always be utilitarian; they’ll merely be a means to fill your distressing isolation. They will feel used, and you will discover that no one is an extension or echo of your own ego.
If you can’t be comfortable in your own shoes, if you can’t stay afloat in your own existence, you won’t see the other person as a person, but as a lifesaver. If you aren’t reconciled with yourself, the search for another person will always be an escape from yourself. The other person will have no one to meet but a suffering soul on the run who would like to be saved by being looked at with love by someone else, but who still doesn’t love himself.
You cannot live love as an escape from yourself, because in love the only thing that counts is giving yourself.
The interiority of person is like a room. If we don’t find our inner room beautiful and welcoming, we avoid entering it and spend our time outside of it. The more the room remains closed, the more the suffocating smell of being closed up makes it unlivable. To interrupt this dynamic, we must have the courage to endure the initial difficulty of smelling and organizing our inner room. We must begin to inhabit it and get used to living in it.
Fleeing from oneself is fleeing from freedom. One of the great liberating discoveries of existence is that of the “silent room” as Etty Hillesum calls it. When you discover it, you begin to carry with you and within you “a great and fertile solitude. And sometimes, the fundamental moment of a day is the quiet pause between two deep breaths, that moment of returning to yourself in a 5-minute prayer.” Those who want to love (and love themselves) must learn to pray!
Many couples are formed not out of choice, but out of a certain fatalism; not out of fullness of love, but out of fear of the echoes of emotional and effective emptiness of their own existence. Our loneliness is not to be exorcised, but to be exercised. The inability to know how to be alone pushes people to take refuge in love as an antidepressant, as a drug, as a sedative, and to constitute “infantile couples” made up of individuals who take refuge in love from their uncertain identities. The art of knowing how to be well on one’s own, on the other hand, opens up a great privilege: that of being able to choose with whom to stay.
So, the first pillar that I give you is that you don’t have to look for anyone but yourself. And for a person of faith, this “marrying yourself” happens in a wonderful atmosphere — it’s called prayer. Praying is not so much saying prayers, but entering into God’s presence. It’s seeing yourself in God’s eyes. By seeing yourself with His loving eyes, you can love and accept yourself more easily. You will discover that your loneliness is visited by God and that you are “a prodigy.”
Find time to be with yourself to do a life review. It’s a benevolent examination that aims not to judge your life, but to recognize it, and, as a believer, to be grateful for it. This doesn’t take hours. It takes — to begin with — 10 minutes a day. You deserve it!
This is the first article of a series to be published in days following.