The most amazing, gratifying, hardest thing I’ve ever done was fall in love with me. It sounds strange, but it’s true. I’ve always found it easier to love, care for, and be there for everyone else in my world, but avoided doing those very same things for myself. You see, giving to others is gratifying; it doesn’t always require honesty or that you get up close and personal. You can wear the masks and be what others want or expect for you to be without dealing with or confronting your true self. That is, until you are confronted by your true self.

At one point in my life — I now call it the turning point — I was exhausted mentally, physically, and emotionally. My love tank was empty and I had nothing to give because I had given it all to others. I had been to hell and back, and then hell again. I’d become a dressed up mess, hiding behind the pain of being beat down emotionally by love. Wearing the best that my budget could afford, I hid behind the masks of “having it all together” and “dressed to impress.” I was fancy from head-to-toe so that no one would know my little secret: I didn’t love myself the way I loved others.

Everything that’s done in the dark eventually comes to light. Somehow, I thought it was best that I date someone who already had someone because in my mind that man couldn’t hurt me because I knew the truth. Then one night, that very truth set me free. You see, I fell for him and he did not, could not, and would not fall for me.  It was at that moment that I was confronted by my true self. As uncomfortable as I was, it was the first time that I truly saw myself. I was completely naked, flaws and all. I had to get ugly. Getting ugly involved me taking off the many masks and layers that I’d put on. It forced to me to reveal myself, to myself, and quite honestly, it wasn’t pretty. There were things about me that I realized then that I didn’t like. I had to learn to love me at a moment when no one else would.

It was a process, a journey if you will, of discovering who I am and whose I am. So I dated me, myself, and I, and fell madly in love with all of them. I had to acknowledge the woman that I was and appreciate the woman that I am still becoming. I believe that it is difficult to know where you are going if you don’t acknowledge and accept where you have been.

Before you can fully connect with someone else, you absolutely must connect with you. You cannot force someone else to love you if you don’t love yourself. It’s important to take the time to make time to live life and love and get to know yourself, while acknowledging your worth and your wealth. Making love better really does begin within.

Author and Relationship Educator Yolanda “Yanni” Brown believes real love begins by looking in the mirror. She talks about the importance of personal growth and strength as the key to loving relationships in her debut book Making Love Better Begins Within: A Journey of Love Lessons Learned.