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I can't deny that every time Valentine's Day comes around, I think about being with another person. I think about whether I'll switch that status on Facebook to "in a relationship." I think about kissing the crap out of someone on the Sundial (screw the PDA haters). But yesterday, when I walked down the aisles of Duane Reade and my eyes glazed over in front of the heart-shaped boxes, the reds, the whites, and the pretty pinks, I was thinking about myself as much as I was thinking about anyone else. If there's anything I learned at one point in my past four years at Columbia, it's that love needs to be, first and foremost, love for yourself. I had to learn that lesson very, very hard one time. I learned it when I was in an emotionally abusive relationship that took a toll on me, my sleep, and my grades. From the beginning, the person constantly made comments about my sexual history. Jokes like, "You've probably done half the school." Jokes like, "I'm afraid of getting AIDS from you." I told myself they were just jokes. The mere fact that he thought I was important enough to be jealous over made me proud, self-important, and fulfilled as much as it made me feel uncomfortable. Over time, the person became withdrawn when we were together. The jokes became more pronounced, more deliberately hurtful. He became more depressed, and at the same time, more aggressive. I tried to help him, tried to convince him that I could support him. When he continued to get more depressed and equally more verbally hurtful, I blamed myself. To be fair, he had many other problems that anyone else would have crumbled under. This column is a truncated description of the relationship—one in which I focus on the bad, because that is what is relevant. The beautiful and wonderful aspects of it simply won't fit in 800 words, and aren't relevant to the lessons I learned. I hope he is in a better place now, and I forgive him. But to be just to myself, none of what happened was fair to me—and that took me a while to realize. I recognized it for what it was months after it was over. I remember I was eating a Belgian waffle in Artopolis when it hit me. I don't quite remember how it all clicked, but it did. I had degraded myself so horribly, I had failed to notice how twisted the relationship dynamic had become. I had stuck through because dropping out would have felt like a failure on my part. That was the wettest, saddest Belgian waffle I've ever eaten, and I'll never forget it. Yes, selflessness is beautiful in theory. Yes, going out on a limb for someone else going through depression, anxiety, and a combination of any other issues might make you feel a little better inside, and might even help him. But before you can love another person, you need to love yourself. It sounds so obvious—as obvious as "the sun rises in the east and sets in the west." But it's not. Otherwise, I would've dropped out of my relationship when the going got bad. I'm not saying that not loving yourself or not appreciating yourself as much as you should means you'll end up in an emotionally abusive relationship. My anecdote is an extreme—which I know is more common on this campus than people might expect, unfortunately. And then there are the more familiar feelings that many of us, including myself, have experienced in our lives: feeling rebuffed when someone doesn't respond to a text, overanalyzing an emoticon to conclude that the person might not like us so much after all, hurting from the pangs of heartbreak when someone doesn't like us back. It's always the same thing. We're basing our self-worth on what someone else may or may not think about us. I've heard it from my friends many times. I see it on Columbia Admirers all the time: confessions to a secret crush with self-deprecating jabs at the end. It's a bad habit that takes us ages to get rid of, that took me ages to get rid of. Valentine's Day just passed, and you've probably heard enough about it—but allow me one last word. If there's anything I can take away from this holiday this year, next year, years from now, it's that as hard as it is for me, for anyone, to achieve self-love, it's one of the few types of love that, once we reach it, will always keep us going. Andrea García-Vargas is a Columbia College senior majoring in English literature and creative writing. She is a former Spectator editorial page editor. The Elephant in the Room runs alternate Fridays. To respond to this column, or to submit an op-ed, contact

Valentine's Day Love abuse