I first met my husband, Noah, ten years ago. If you had known me, you would have thought to yourself, Now here is a smart woman. She’s getting her M.B.A., great job, confident. Here is a woman with tons of self-esteem. And you would have been right. That was all true. Which is why what I am about to tell you is even more shocking.
By our third date, Noah was so taken aback by my big reactions toward his small acts of kindness, that he felt compelled to take me by the hands and say to me, “Christine, I don’t know what is going to happen between the two of us, but regardless, you have to raise your standards for men. You can’t like a man because he is nice to you. He is supposed to be nice to you!”
What? My M.B.A. brain reeled in total confusion as if Noah had just proven to me that the world was actually flat. In all my thirty-plus years I had never considered the fact that the minimum bar of acceptance was a man who was nice to me. And like a time-stamped Rolodex, my brain reeled back to all the not-so-nice behavior I had endured, experienced, and come to expect.
So yes, it was true, I was a mentally intelligent woman, but I was emotionally retarded. And as I looked around at many of my friends, I noticed a definite trend. Beautiful and well-liked women with successful careers who constantly chose men that didn’t treat them with the unconditional respect and love they craved and deserved. Which, of course, just like me, made them chase them, want them, and change for them more.
Yes, we all had smarts. What we were missing was self-love.
What we didn’t know was:
Unconditional Love and Respect in Your Relationships Is Not an Upgrade. It’s a Must.
While we all knew that we could do the job, get the grades, and build the career, what we had failed to see was that unconditional love and respect was where our expectation bar for men should be sitting, and that in order to do that, we had to be able to give that same unconditional love and respect to ourselves.
Fortunately for me, when I had this epiphany I was three months into my now ten-year journey of self-love, so I really took a step back and asked myself, How did I get to the age of thirty before I realized that men were supposed to be nice to me? What can I do to make sure I never sell myself short again?
From one smart woman to another—who finally did learn to love herself—here is what I discovered:
Three Reasons Why We Expect Men to Not Be Nice:
- Bad training. If you were lucky, your mother told you to expect men to be nice to you, or you were out of there. My mother, like most, never made it around to that talk. Not because she had some sick desire for me to suffer, she just didn’t know this fact herself. Ignorance and tolerance are like bad family heirlooms passed down generation to generation. The good news is that you have the power to break the cycle whenever you choose.
- Set points were set with immature boys not good men. Our first experiences with the opposite sex in regards to the whole boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic are set on the playground, playing out adult dramas in totally childlike ways. One minute he’s your boyfriend. Next, he’s spitting spit-balls at you. This continues through high school and college, so your brain creates set points that say this is the normal state to allow. Problem is, “spit-balls” don’t feel any better at the age of twenty-seven or thirty-seven than they did when you were eight.
- Bad examples, everywhere. From the movies, TV shows, music, and Internet, it’s a constant barrage of men being jackasses. This is bad rap for men, and bad input for you. Subconsciously your brain stores bad as normal (92 percent of the images you see go right around your conscious thoughts into your subconscious). Add your own personal experience of men—from family, friends and strangers—and you could see how your subconscious brain could form all kinds of thoughts you had no idea were there.
So What Do You Do? Choose Self-Love.
All of the negative programming and low expectations can be reversed and avoided by changing one thing—your relationship to yourself. The truth is that every relationship you have is a direct reflection of the relationship you have with yourself. If you don’t have unconditional love and respect for yourself, there is no way that you can expect it from someone else, which is quite often why you will settle for less.
In my book Choosing ME before WE, I talk about the five vows of self-love every woman must make with herself first, before she can have a loving relationship with another. Here are four of those vows. I invite you to take it, keep it, and honor the most important relationship you’ll ever have—the one with you.
- I honor myself.
- I never settle for less than my heart and soul desire.
- All of my relationships support me to be my best me and to live my dreams, or I don’t have them.
- I give unconditional love and respect, and I expect it in return.
This doesn’t mean that all of your relationships are perfect, void of difficulty, or that you are absolved of giving the same respect and love you desire. Unconditional love and respect go both ways. It also doesn’t mean that you go cutting people out of your life without taking a good deep look at what you want from your relationships, what part you play in creating that relationship dynamic, and then taking steps to transform, let go, or grow the relationships you currently have so that every single one reflects that same unconditional love and respect you have for yourself.
Self-love requires that you choose me before we in every relationship, which is not about being a self-centered, narcissistic, its-all-about-me kind of person. What choosing me before we means is that because you have made a commitment to create what your heart and soul desire, and you don’t have space in your life for relationships that drag you down, hold you back, create negative ju-ju feelings (like shame, guilt, self-doubt) or take more energy than they give.
You are a beautiful woman. Be nice to yourself. And believe you are worth being nice to.