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This Is The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have

“Is there, perhaps, one soul among all others--among all who have lived, the endless generations, from world's end to world's end--who must love us or die? And whom we must love, in turn--whom we must seek all our lives long--headlong and homesick--until the end?” ― Robert Nathan, Portrait of Jennie

There’s not an idea more written, more sung, more embraced, than the idea of romantic love. It is for many of us an idea so integrated into our own ideas of life that to be without it seems the most horrible fate. Somewhere along the halls of history we have collectively agreed that outside ourselves is where we’ll find the most fulfillment.

It is a given that anything taken to an extreme can be a detriment to our quality of life, including that philosophy, however it was never intended to be taken to an extreme and it is not in my intentions to deride romantic love nor find fault in placing one’s relationships with others on a pedestal. Instead I would like to encourage black women to place equal emphasis, if not more, on a relationship we so rarely nurture until life has backed us into a corner, and that is the relationship with oneself.

One of Maslow’s most significant contributions to the study of humankind was his theory on human motivations. His hierarchy of needs is a concept most are acquainted with. In brief, Maslow theorized that humans are primarily motivated by higher level needs (creativity, mastery, self-actualization) after our most basic needs (food, water, shelter, safety) have been met and after our psychological needs (belongingness, affection, relationships) have been met.

There are a few criticisms about his theory namely that people who without meeting what Maslow would describe as our most basic needs, are still primarily motivated by higher level needs. Whether you subscribe to Maslow’s hierarchy or not, I think it is important for black women to break down systematically their own hierarchy of relationships with the relationship with oneself at the very base.

When we think of base level requirements, we tend to view them in a rudimentary light. However, the relationship with oneself is anything but simple or easy. In fact, some people go their entire lives exploring the question: “who am I?” And of those who question who they are, even fewer challenge the answer or ask themselves why they are. Despite how complex and existential-crisis-inducing the whole idea of exploring oneself might seem, it is still nothing but a foundational requirement for good relationships with others. This is especially so if you wish to share yourself with someone else or have someone else share themselves with you romantically.

A lot of us view romantic relationships as character building and helpful in self-development because it’s one of the only times we’re faced regularly with our character traits. Our partners nit-pick and nag us about some things we never even realized we did. While oftentimes the subject of our partner’s nit-pickings might be something like not closing the cabinet doors when we’re through with them or teasing about how long you take to get ready, it’s almost just as often that our partners bring to our attention traits we would be better off without.

Instead of asking to talk about something that bothered you the other day (or the day before that), you might bottle up feelings of reproach only to have them all come out in a rage induced rant. Perhaps, you’ve come to realize that you’re a passive aggressive (petty) nuisance who prefers to emotionally manipulate your partner from behind the scenes when they’ve bothered you instead of addressing your concerns with your partner in a forward manner. When we know ourselves, we recognize not only our strengths but our shortcomings too. This gives us the opportunity to react to situations with better control over ourselves and over the outcome as well.

While romantic relationships oftentimes serve as an opportunity for us to look at ourselves in the mirror, the relationship we have with ourself serves as the foundation for the relationships we will have with others. For some of us who’ve already explored within and or were lucky enough to be raised by parents who helped nurture that sense of self, it can be inconvenient at best having to be the emotionally mature one.

No one knows this plight more than black women. Many of us are raised with the tools for nurturing relationships while being told that everyone else has developed these skills, only to find out we’re the only ones who have done the work. While black women are certainly raised to be good supporters and handywomen to everyone else, rarely are we taught to turn those skills inward. We’re quick to help everyone else become the best versions of themselves and then wonder why we, who have yet to practice what we preach, are often overlooked.