So lately I've been doing this really embarrassing, Oprah Magazine-y, you-go-girl type of thing. I've been writing love letters to myself. I don't mean that as a metaphor. I don't go out and get a latte, feel guilty, and then say to myself, "You totally deserve this, beautiful," (to the weird looks of other coffee-going customers). I literally and legitimately have been writing long, syrupy, sometimes kind of sexy love letters. Then I put them in envelopes, address them to myself, and put them in the mail with a stamp. Yes, I know how much a stamp costs. And yes, I know that I live close enough to myself that I could easily walk to my house to drop off the letter in person. But there's just something about getting a letter in the mail -- especially an emphatic, doting, periodically salacious one -- that is particularly exciting.
I think I originally got this idea from The Artists' Way, which is where I get all my really embarrassing ideas that I should not share on the Internet but inevitably do. Julia Cameron, doubtlessly wearing a tie-dyed shawl and holding a baby squirrel as she wrote, waxed poetic about really letting your love letter be honest. The first time I tried it, I really let my love letter be honest. I wrote things like, "You're not fat, per se. At least, no one really gets to see you with your clothes off for the most part and you have excellent posture that makes it at least look like you're not really fat." I have to tell you, reading it back to myself I felt slightly worse than I had before, and I wanted to have a doughnut.
But I've gotten better at it. The key was to write the love letter with selective honesty. The key was to write the love letter like you write an actual love letter to a person you are actually falling in love with.
I am great at love letters. It is the primary way I show affection, actually. There are plenty of normal, not-outdated ways to show someone you love them. You can hug them, for example. You can spend quality time with them. You can genuinely listen to them when they have something to say, and then praise them to their face. When I try to do any of those things, I look like a seven-year-old in high heels and her mom's lipstick trying to buy porn: no one is believing it for a second, although in certain circumstances it's almost adorable to watch me try.
But love letters: I'm a pro. I rule at the long distance relationship, for example, because my epistolary skills are top-notch. For one thing, I like writing letters. I enjoy being in love with someone from a great distance, and then searching through piles of Rilke poetry until I find just the right one to guide a four-page written meditation on how fond I am of this person's ear. I've been in so many long distance relationships that my friends have started to ask if maybe I haven't been able to make a relationship last because I always insist on wedging 500 miles between myself and the person I'm in love with. I don't want to be the one to tell them that I think that's actually why those relationships work as well as they do.
The problem is, I require constant validation (I know, I know: unique!), and no one is as good at writing love letters in return as I am at writing them in the first place. When I'm not being validated constantly by someone else, I start to believe something is inherently wrong with me. I start saying really mean things to myself. Like, really mean things. I'm secretly a super-mean bully. "Hey Sophie," I say to myself, "You're unsuccessful. You're bad at your job. You're a lying, worthless, weak piece of shit, and no one would care if you died." Then the other coffee-going customers give me weird looks.
Then comes the downward spiral, where all these super-mean bully things I say to myself start to sink in, and I get under the covers and wade around in the muck of insults that I have told myself. Then I feel like a narcissist for caring so much about what I think of me.
Things had gotten bad lately, and I realized that it was probably time for me to start turning them around. I didn't have anyone in my life writing me love letters. So I decided I would get to writing them to myself.
I started a week ago. My first love letter was short. I tried to think about all the things I genuinely liked about myself. At the time, I was in a pretty bad emotional headspace, so the letter basically said, "Dear Sophie, Your Spotify playlists are the only ones I listen to. Thanks for having the BEST taste in music. Love, Sophie." I drew a picture of the Spotify logo on the letter, threw it in an envelope along with a Lisa Frank sticker, and sent it off to myself.
When I got it in the mail, I was actually surprised. I don't think this says anything good about me, but there I was, happy and surprised to be receiving unexpected (?) mail. I tore the letter open and read it.
It did nothing for me.
Distraught, I read it again. This was supposed to make me feel better! But, nothing. It made me feel stupid. It made me feel like the kind of desperate person who writes letters to herself. Which, as far as I know, is a camp that includes only me.
This was not working. This was doing the opposite of working: it was actively making things worse. And then this picture of my dog that my sister had taken flashed on my computer screen and I happened to look at it at that exact moment. I decided to re-read the letter and pretend it had been written by my dog.
First of all: dogs can't write, and I know that. I decided to ignore that fact. It was surprisingly not that difficult to do. My dog is really smart. I feel like it's not that far-fetched ("fetch" pun intended) that she might learn to write. Second: if you know me at all, you know that my relationship with my cat is way more serious than my relationship with any dog. Or human. Why, you might be asking, didn't I pretend the letter was written by my cat? I didn't pretend the letter was written by my cat because my cat would never write a love letter. No cat would never do that. Come on, reader. Be a little bit thoughtful.
So I read the Spotify letter and imagined Foofy had written it to me, and do you know what I thought? I thought, "That's really nice that someone appreciates my playlists. I work really hard on them." That felt good. And so I sat down to write myself another letter.
My letters have gotten long; I've improved at them. I think really hard about things I genuinely like about myself, and I frame them in honest-but-kind ways. Slowly, these silly love letters have shut down the mean-bully self-talk almost completely. Sometimes I get rejected from something, and the bully voice comes out for a second, but this new, powerful, letter-writing voice is right there to back me up: "NO WAY, BULLY. I ACTUALLY AM REALLY GOOD AT BRAIDING. YES! BRAIDING! LIKE HAIR! MY OWN HAIR AND ALSO THE HAIR OF OTHERS!!! SO WHO CARES IF NO ONE WANTS TO PUBLISH MY ARTICLE?"
Here's the thing: I'm great. Your'e also great. We're all really great -- even though, sure, we all make mistakes and are not perfect all of the time. But we are much better at telling ourselves about the imperfections. I don't know why that is. It seems evolutionarily disadvantageous. But in any case, there might not always be someone around to write you a love letter and tell you how great you are. JUST KIDDING! There IS always someone around. YOU'RE always around. And really, there's nothing terribly embarrassing about writing love letters to yourself. No one even has to know! Unless you scrawl it all over the Internet.
I always end my love letters to myself the way I'd end a love letter to anyone else: "I love you so much that I can't find the words to tell you. Please know that wherever you are, and whatever is happening, I am here for you, unconditionally."