This February The Huffington Post UK is running Making Modern Love, a fortnight-long focus on what love means to Britons in the 21st Century. Built on the three themes of finding love, building love and losing love, HuffPost will feature human stories that explore exactly what it is to be in love in modern times
I married myself in 2014 and after an article in the Guardian newspaper went viral six months later, the story about my decision was featured in press around the world. I've been interviewed about the topic time and time again, for radio, TV and print.
It wasn't until a recent walk in an Austrian forest though, that I felt I had much to share on the topic of self-love. Since marrying myself I often felt uncomfortable with people telling me that what I did was an act of self-love. I saw it as a commitment towards more of that in my life, but certainly not a sign that I had figured out how to live from that place.
To backtrack to winter 2013-14, I decided to marry myself following an insightful workshop I had attended with an organisation called Shakti Tantra. I thought it would be good to have a clear set of agreements with myself about my values, desires and priorities. I had been single for seven years and in that time I went on a big adventure to learn more about who I am and what makes me tick. So, I decided to celebrate the relationship I had cultivated with myself by marking it symbolically, in a way that I likely would if I were in a relationship with another. I wanted to celebrate what was working, notice what wasn't and to make vows accordingly. My artistic tendencies then proceeded to weave these ideas into a colourful day and with the help of my dear friend and celebrant Tiu I had a beautiful ceremony. I genuinely underestimated how it would feel having loved ones witness me making important commitments to myself. There were tears (mostly mine) and much, much laughter.
It is safe to say that the unexpected media explosion after my marriage and the consequent trips abroad to do TV interviews taught me more about self-love than anything else had previously. To be in a loving relationship with oneself is a lot to do with connecting to your own sense of self and it not being dependent on what another person or group perceive about you. If I was as attached to what others thought of me to the extent that I had been previously, I wouldn't have survived "going viral". A considerable percentage of the comments and feedback on Twitter and Facebook were less than pleasant but because I believed in what I had done I could accept that my way of doing things wouldn't make sense to everyone but it made sense to me, which was what mattered. I could also see the funny side, which helped. I came to see the whole experience as a giant meditation where my task was to stay centred and calm but instead of the internal dialogue being internal, it became the many voices of the international media.
I have since (whilst walking in the afore-mentioned Austrian forest) come to the conclusion that courage and patience are the foundations of cultivating a loving relationship with myself. To speak metaphorically, the courage to face the gremlins in one's basement and the patience to carry on through life in some form of friendship with them. Like all important and profound things people discover for themselves and share, this is of course easier said than done.
As a photographer often working with therapeutic techniques this is particularly apparent. I've experienced huge courage from one client in particular, who saw my self-marriage story in the Guardian and asked if we could do some photography to help her with her negative self-image as she was recovering from anorexia. It required such bravery to be photographed but despite it being hard to see the image afterwards, she has returned for several more shoots, which demonstrates a beautiful patience with the process.
On the whole, I find the more patient and courageous I become with myself, the more patient and courageous I can be with others, but of course - like all relationships - it's a constantly evolving process that keeps me on my toes.
I'm speaking at and then co-facilitating an event with FemaleInnaSpace in February, including a Valentines Day event for women in London, around the topic of self-love.
Grace Gelder is a photographer and filmmaker - for more information, visit her website here