In a shade over six months the UK will no longer be a member of the European Union. Whatever your view of that in principle, the matter of Britain’s membership is a debate that has long since been obsolete. Our love affair with Europe is in its death throes and come next March the political equivalent of a decree absolute will formally be signed by all parties.
Our departure is no longer about the financial terms of the divorce, either.
Events over the weekend (which largely unfolded in The Daily Mail at the pen of Boris Johnson) and this morning, as it was revealed that at least 80 Conservative MPs will vote against Theresa May’s so-called ‘Chequers’ deal, have ensured that the immediate post-referendum arguments over whether or not the NHS would get another £350m a week are also now entirely moot.
The big question today is whether we will have any sort of formal relationship with the rest of Europe at all.
And as we career toward the increasingly likely reality of crashing out of Europe without a deal, there is a growing clamour from the cheap seats to suggest the Prime Minister finds herself in the uncomfortable position of trying to broker a new relationship with Europe from a position of total weakness.
There will be a relationship of some sort simply because there must be. Our economy is not built to allow us to be a Bridget Jones-style singleton restricted solely to slightly grubby one-night stands behind a skip with the US or China. We need the love of Europe if only because so much of our economy relies on her.
So, what has all that got to do with love and romance? Well, quite a lot as it happens, because people who are dating from deficit – where one person believes they have nothing to bring to the relationship but requires a lot in return – is something we see a lot.
What this boils down to in effect is that people can see a potential relationship as the be-all and end-all answer for not feeling good about themselves or as a substitute for whatever they think might be missing in their life – and the result is that they begin to outsource their self-esteem, passing responsibility for their emotional wellbeing to someone else. While that may be the easiest option – subconsciously or otherwise – looking after your emotional wellbeing isn’t someone else’s job.
And anyway, your self-esteem is far too precious to entrust to someone else. The start, or even whiff, of a new relationship can be like getting a regular dose of laughing gas. It can numb the pain you feel and can make you feel invincible. For a while.
But it’s always a temporary respite and given how you value yourself affects your perception of yourself and others, your self-respect and your basic judgement, there’s a highly rational argument to say the last thing you should be doing is making yourself available and, therefore, vulnerable at the very moment you really need all those attributes to be fully functional.
As Natalie Lue, the queen of all things self-esteem, says: If you can’t date with your self-esteem in tow, wait until you can
Natalie is essential reading for anyone struggling with self-esteem in relationships and has written an incredible blog on the subject.
In the end, there isn’t actually a short cut to loving ourselves. We see plenty of people in unhappy relationships with themselves and significant others as evidence of this.
When we take shortcuts, we have to accept the fact there will be consequences every time we abandon the loyalty and responsibility we have for our emotional wellbeing. Those consequences manifest themselves in how we feel, how things go and what happens in the future.
Occasionally it’s quite liberating to damn the consequences and not do due diligence during the dating process, but if that becomes the default solution to every situation life throws at you and you’re not ultimately true to who you are and need to be, then eventually the wheels are going to come off in the howl of tearing emotional metal that will leave you broken at the side of life’s busy highway.
As therapists we’re fond of saying that the best relationship you will ever have is the one you have with yourself. If it sounds like it’s a cliché then that’s probably because it is – in the same way that every truism is, by definition, a cliché.
But when you understand you’re the only person you can rely on to love you for who you’re meant to be, and then live that reality, you’ll find other people will love you for exactly the same reasons. And if they don’t love you, they’ll certainly respect you for it.
In contrast, when you set out to please others before you satisfy your own emotional needs you’re more likely to find your self-esteem is the doormat on which they start to wipe their feet – even if they want to cross the threshold into an intimate relationship with you in the first place
It may be that you’re sitting there thinking, it’s all very well saying I need to love myself, but I don’t like who I am! If that’s the case, then guess what? You got it – you need to change your belief system so that you can give yourself fully to you.
When you create boundaries for yourself and can see the value in who you are and what you stand for, the sketchy behaviour that defines the way other people treat us and behave around us also changes positively. And the reason’s simple: in the first place, we’re far less likely to put up with rubbish behaviour from others. If we have good boundaries, and if we’re used to feeling good about ourselves, we’ll recognise when the person we are dating does the opposite; but if we’re used to feeling bad about ourselves then being treated badly by someone will feel incredibly familiar.
You know that anyway, right? Because most of us have had those moments when we discovered the best things arrive when we’re not trying for them. The way we think and feel about ourselves is not only highly visible – it’s also highly infectious. When we have low self-esteem, we’re more likely to tolerate sketchy behaviour. And the reverse is also true.
If we always arrive at a potential relationship with our self-worth in the red, the chances are we’ll only inspire the person on the opposite side of the candlelit dinner to do one of two things: either they’ll call it a day after the first date; or take emotional advantage of us in a relationship that to all intents and purposes looks normal from the outside but on the inside boasts all the attributes you’d normally associate with a snake pit.
At worst, we’ll end up spending – and wasting – a significant part of our lives with someone who matches who we are, because nothing creates deficit more effectively than unhelpful narratives about ourselves or the opposite sex.
Those narratives are very popular, and they become self-fulfilling and include:
There are no men/women left for you;
All women/men are psychos;
Men only like young women
All men cheat;
You can’t meet anyone over your own age;
All women are money grabbers / emotionally unstable
You only ever attract narcissists
You always get hurt
You’re doomed to be single forever
These limiting beliefs will do a fabulous job of keeping your victim story alive and kicking, give your first dates the tightest screening outside of airport security, fortify your walls like nothing else, and continue attracting all the negative things out there that there are to attract (yes, these negatives definitely exist, but it’s about learning to see the signs and avoid them).
Insistence creates investment. More than that, what we fear we unconsciously attract, what we resist (getting hurt) persists, what we focus on we get more of – and these beliefs either make you feel terrible about yourself or paint the opposite sex as utter monsters – neither of which will bring you the healthy relationship you desire.
When we believe negative things about ourselves we are also much more likely to be subject to what I call scarcity thinking – and then you end up accepting much less then you truly deserve.
If we don’t think we are lovable (remembering that flawed human traits can still very much be lovable) why would we expect anyone else to? If we can’t ‘live’ with ourselves why would we expect to find someone who can?
The good news is that no matter how estranged you and your self-esteem have become, your relationship with yourself is always salvageable. It takes work and effort and, often, the support of a professional therapist – but nothing is ever irretrievable.
Relationships are a mirror of our relationship with ourselves so the most worthwhile thing you can do before going out dating is create a really solid foundation of self-love for yourself, which you do by challenging all the outdated toxic harmful beliefs you have about yourself, relationships, love and the opposite sex and changing them to neutral or positive beliefs that support and uphold you.
If you don’t, you might just find you’re forced to come up with a relationship plan that even you can’t vote for.