"Learning to love yourself," a strong and counterintuitive song from way back tells us, "is the greatest love of all." I never really thought about those words when I first heard them when I was young, in the same way that I did not give riding roller coasters or eating fish balls a thought back then, only to find out much later (sadly and with a sigh) that the first is now too difficult for my mind to grasp, and the other, as they say, is really bad for you.
It is perhaps when we earn years and gain mileage that what had gone unnoticed or unthought becomes not only foregrounded but made problematic. That is why children are carefree, and we live in daily anxiety. But I'm already digressing.
Why say such a thing?--that loving yourself is the highest form of love.
From the definition of the words themselves self-love becomes a contradiction: if to love is in a wide sense to desire (eros), to sacrifice one's self unconditionally for the other (agape), and to be generous (caritas)--then the self could be a rather odd object of love. If I desire myself, I am vain. If I always think of my welfare above anything else, I am selfish. If I give myself wrapped presents, I am insane.
So how can or why should the self--above beloved, neighbor, God--be the object of the highest love? Or to avoid using lofty words: Why is it important to love yourself?
In everyday talk, we hear about the importance of loving one's self when a relationship gets taxing or difficult. When I say "I need time for my self," now referred to as "me-time," "a break,"or "space" or some "breathing room," what I am saying is that I need some rest from the everyday gestures and formalities of loving someone. And this does not indicate a shortcoming or weakness on the lover's part. It's not that I do not love him any longer, on the contrary, resting from loving only prepares one's self to give again, to even love more, and it possibly indicates how much you love: you never get tired when you do not work hard or give your all.
When the lover rests she is then only re-gathering herself, re-grouping, or re-treating--something in between a spiritual retreat or a military retreat, both still aiming to go back to everyday life or to war. What usually follows from the lover's rest is recovery: you love again and forget or lose your self in love's progress.
But there is also another possibility: you do not recover, you do not go back, and you leave what you had loved the most.
And there, in a world suddenly divested of the light love brings upon our lives, making it joyful, hopeful, and meaningful, you not only suddenly see that you are all alone, you also discover that you have always been so.
* * *
Let's get down to it.
Being alone and loving yourself are both necessary and beautiful.
Necessary: because there is no other way and it's always a matter of survival. You pick yourself up, lick your wounds, slowly walk toward that point where you know you can no longer go back, face skyless days and stand those hours when the restless heart provokes the strength of your decision to go it alone. And it is that tension between what I know is easy and what I know is right, between what I fancy I know and the only thing I know, which I find interesting because it precedes the definitive act and settles the score. Is one to love again (whoever is a matter of indifference) only in order to escape the vertiginous and nauseous air of solitude, armed only with a prayer I do not mean and a hope I do not really believe in? Or is one ready to take up the heartrending wager of loneliness, which, through some way you still do not fully understand but can already feel in your heart, can absurdly also grant you a happiness of a different kind, perhaps more difficult to win but surely better to live by and may be even worth dying for?
Living alone, naturally, is never easy. Aristotle said that to be alone you must be an animal or a god. But the irreverent Nietzsche corrects the genius and adds a third: you can also be a philosopher.
When one philosophizes, as banally and innocuously repeated by most, one loves wisdom. Yet what that could also mean is that aside from desiring knowledge or explaining Being the philosopher has to be alone in order to do both. Philosophers are bad partners or husbands. And one does not need to list down here the names of the great philosophers who never settled down with someone or much more marry (a look at the history of modern philosophy is enough to prove this). But that would already be missing the point.
The point is the philosopher is a bad lover because he does not as yet know what he loves (for what is that wisdom which can never be achieved, "man" in the abstract, above all Being which is the question of questions?). Yet what the philosopher does know is how to love; he has an insight as to what love is or can be. Even Socrates, that fabled man who insisted he did not know but knew he did not know, admitted that when it came to love he knew.
Which makes it all the more difficult for the philosopher. Knowing what love may be, the philosopher takes it seriously: No one, no beloved, cannot not be loved truly or faithfully because to fall short in loving would be to do injustice to love--the queen of wisdom--itself. If only the philosopher did not feel in his bones the crushing weight of love, if only he did not shudder or tremble at love's possibilities, if only the philosopher did not know how to love--he could easily give love away, make or have fun or a riot with it, take it back, throw it around, suppress it, kill it. But he cannot do so unless he stops being a philosopher.
Left all alone and always afraid of finding love once more, the philosopher learns how to be alone. The difficulty lies in the beginning when the memories of past loves or the sight of the smiles of other lovers debilitate you and freeze you. But as in all science and art you get by because you have decided. Empty of any reality yet available to all possibilities, the philosopher through his sheer will to love, the only will available to him, is able to slowly discover that there is an unmistakable beauty in solitude: nothing can be taken away from you again but you can give everything back at any time.
So be that philosopher. To philosophize is to learn the art of being your own lover.