by Charlotte Eyres

Image credit: Bonnie Calderwood Aspinwall

Content Warning: eating disorders, bulimia

I remember scrolling through Instagram a few years ago as a young, naïve and wholly inexperienced fifteen year old and pausing on a picture of a quote: “You have to love yourself before you can fall in love with someone else.” I looked at it, considered for a second and thought yes, that makes sense, and I liked it. The conclusion that I came to was not based on any empirical evidence, yet I believed it for years afterwards.

Only recently, in the week of my eighteenth birthday, was this theory put to the test: out of nowhere, I was asked out on a date. I emphasise out of nowhere because this was someone in my year at school who I had never associated myself with before, but a few jokes at a pub quiz had turned into romantic curiosity on his part.

My first reaction was not one of flattery but of confusion. Thoughts such as, why me? Look at me. Look at him. Why me? spiralled through my head. I should add, at this point, a crucial element to the story: I have bulimia. What I’m going through feels ugly. I feel ugly. So the notion that anyone could be interested in me seemed incongruous. I couldn’t explain the discrepancy between what I saw and what he was seeing.

Now let’s go back to the quote for a second. As a bulimic, I had clearly not succeeded in loving myself, so could I go on to fall for this guy? I suppose it helped that he liked plays and philosophy, wanted to be a screenwriter and was utterly gorgeous. But then again, it did add to the confusion that such a guy could fall in love with someone who was quite the contrary — at least, according to my eating disorder.

I spent the whole week after the date confused, trying hard to think of reasons why someone who I saw as much cooler than myself was admiring me. If I’m being brutally honest, at times I felt inadequate and self-conscious. I was left questioning my ability to be open to loving someone at a time when I was so full of self-loathing. So many of my thoughts were taken up with complete bafflement and doubt that this was all really happening that there was little room left to adore him. I was simply unable to muster a substantial amount of affection because I was distracted by my lack of belief that love could come my way.

Of course if I were conducting a scientific experiment, and not simply philosophising for the sake of an article, I’d factor in the amount of time we’d spent together and how well I knew him, but I’m not, so let’s continue playing Plato.

Perhaps my lack of self-love is what caused me to believe that his affection was all in my head. Perhaps my low self-confidence is the reason for our subsequent agreement that we shouldn’t take things any further than what we’d shared in those first few weeks. However, in the short time we’d spent together I noticed that I took better care of myself. I did not binge. I did not make myself sick.

Somewhere deep down I must have felt that if someone else could like me then I could learn to like myself a little bit. In some way I felt that it gave me worth. Clearly I was struggling to find self-worth within myself and perhaps this external source – this other person – helped me.

So maybe you do have to love yourself to be in a position to open your heart (and mind) and let someone else in. But my theory is that love from others can give you the confidence that you are worthy of love and encourage you to love yourself. Don’t take my word for it – I am not familiar enough in this field to conclude with any confidence but, for now, based on my own experience, this is what I think. What about you?

Author Image: Charlotte Eyres

Charlotte Eyres

Charlotte Eyres is currently studying History, Ethics and Philosophy and Music at A level. Having kept quiet about her struggle with eating disorders and depression for a long time, she has recently discovered the healing power of writing and sharing her experience to educate others and make some people feel less alone.