Recently, a friend made plans to come over to cowork a bit before a meeting. I had an hour to myself before my friend arrived, and I decided to take time for myself, time to soothe. I work full time in a field rife with vicarious trauma, and have spent the last several years learning to care for my own body and spirit as well as I would that of any lover’s, so I decided to spend the hour soothing and spoiling myself. I lit a candle on my altar, put a few drops of lavender oil into a diffuser, played music with a good, soothing, deep vibe, and turned on my two lamps that cast rotating colored light patterns onto the wall. Snuggling up on the couch with a cup of warm tea and a good book, I settled in to recharge and renew until my friend arrived.
When he arrived, he walked in to find chill vibes, candlelight, and a very, deeply relaxed me. He looked around (nervously?), and settled into a chair across the room to work. It was only then that it occurred to me to wonder… Did he think this was for him? Did he think I was trying to set the mood for something romantic? Do other people not do this - romance themselves?
From childhood, I’d gotten messages about what it meant to romance someone. You set the mood. You need soft lighting - light candles, play music that awakens the entire body, shifting the body/mind unit into relaxed, receptive space. You fill the room with subtle, alluring fragrance - a nice oil, a lightly-scented lotion, or a tea that smells as lush as it feels warm in the hands.
Well into adulthood, these messages are typically strengthened and clarified. When you want to get someone into their body, feeling good, relaxed, and sexy, you create an environment that strokes the senses with plush feels, warm smells, and rich soundscapes. You dim lamps, flicker flames, and paint backdrops with gentle lights in soothing hues. You offer the tongue tastes in chocolate, berry, and spice. And through these signals, a potential lover is invited into a world beyond the everyday - a world in which their body, its beauty, and its experience of safety and pleasure are the primary focus.
While sometimes this romancing is meant for one night or just for the building of a short-term connection, frequently it can be seen as the beginning of a tender dialogue, a period of mutual intimacy and knowing, setting the stage for deepening relationship and affection. It can potentially lay the seeds for love, or for the transformation, redefining, or recontextualizing of love through sensual awakening. And while I’m not a fan of models that paint long-term commitment as the only valid framework for relationship, or that privilege romantic and sexual relationships over deep, intimate, meaningful friendships, I do believe we can learn self-love from the ways in which we conceive of romance as an awakening, arousing, and blissful bathing of the senses.
For those of us who learned to love ourselves from an early age, romancing ourselves can be self-care, giving us needed moments of solitary contentment and relaxation. And for those of us who never learned how to love ourselves, who were never taught our worth or value, or who still struggle on the daily with how to love what we see in our mirrors and minds, maybe romancing ourselves is the key to allowing tender, sweet love to seed itself. Maybe in showering our bodies with lush luxury and our senses with safe, pleasurable experiences, we can fall in love with ourselves, with the one taking the time and making the effort to bring us nourishing warmth, sensual touch, and renewing awareness of our bodies as sacred, valid, and praiseworthy.
This might include making a special playlist of songs that bring movement in your spirit or expansive feelings to your heart and gut, or a playlist of nature sounds and gentle toning. It might mean getting a fountain or sound machine so you can enjoy the soft sounds of water or rain, or opening your window in the evening to better hear the frogs and crickets.
It might mean playing with lighting - do you like candlelit warmth? A lightbulb in a soothing color, or a lightbulb that makes many colors? Are there things you like in your space, even if they are nontraditional, that symbolize safety or whimsy or sensory pleasure to you? Notice the colors around you and way the light spills through windows at different times of day. Shimmery, patterns, colors, richness, and visual texture - what creates a visual landscape that tends and awakens what is within you?
What flavors and smells stir your soul? A scented candle or essential oil diffuser can fill a room with warm fragrance, as can a loaf of bread or seasonal cakes in the oven. Sip a glass of wine, cup of herbal tea, or tumbler of your favorite spirits, allowing the cup to rest under your nose, breathing in deeply, before allowing it to roll over your tongue. Hold it there on your tongue, savoring the flavor, noticing the swallow. Eat nourishing foods, picking them up when possible, noticing how they feel between your fingertips and the textures they create in your mouth.
Give your body tactile pleasure. Enjoy a soft, warm blanket or fuzzy socks, or lightweight, soft pajamas that graze your skin lightly with every movement of your body. Move and dance and see how they feel, how your muscles move as you do, and how your skin touches fabric, touches other skin, touches the chair or couch or ground beneath you. Curl up in a cozy chair and feel your bottom and back sinking into support. Lean in, lean back. Read something that fills you, and let your fingers drift slowly across the page edge, watching for the exact moment each page finally leaves your skin and lands softly on its predecessors. Graze your fingers softly across your own neckline; gently drag a fingernail down your arm. Rest your face lovingly into the cup of your own hand.
And if you ever show up at my home to find me immersed in candlelit experiencing, feel free to ask for your own cup of spiced tea.