It’s not often that a book has such a profound effect on me that I feel compelled to tell everyone I know to read it. But this is one of those very rare times, and so: you have to read this book.
I Wish I Knew This Earlier: Lessons on Love by Toni Tone isn’t a self-help book, but to me, that’s exactly what it is.
I hadn’t heard of the book or, indeed, the author, before I spotted the cover in an Instagram post on its release day. I thought it sounded interesting and bought it on a whim. Consider me #influenced.
In just 160 pages, we take a deep dive into dating, relationships and heartbreak. This book is wholly unpretentious, relatable and, above anything else, insanely liberating.
There’s nothing groundbreaking in terms of the messaging, but sometimes it’s not about what is said, but about how it’s said. I planned on reading a bit of this book before bed and the rest the next day, but I powered through the entire thing in two hours, heart racing, brain pinging off the inside of my skull, every single word resonating with me and my experience with love.
I’m rushing through this part because I want to share some thoughts on what this book has done to my mindset below, but believe me when I say that a book has NEVER made me feel like this before. I feel powerful, inspired, valuable and strong, and my heart has never felt so open. It’s a real lightning bolt of a book, and I really, really want you to read it so you can feel the way that I do now.
With all that said, let’s get personal.
“It can be an overwhelming revelation when you come to the conclusion that your comfort zone isn’t healthy”
My comfort zone, typically, hasn’t been healthy. My formative relationship was extremely toxic, and it’s only with the luxury of hindsight that I can fully understand that. I grew accustomed to feeling anxious, worthless, unloveable, clingy and devoid of value. That, when experienced as a teenager, can feel a lot like what love is supposed to feel like. But I didn’t have butterflies; I had a permanent knot in my stomach, and I was always sad and withdrawn trying to make myself small and quiet and nothing enough to be part of his life.
This, for many years, became my ‘comfort zone’. This was all I knew for years, and if someone was nice to me, I’d feel suffocated, overwhelmed, bored. I was used to fear and worry, and I just couldn’t adjust to a safe, secure relationship environment. I equated this intense confusion with passion, and without it, I couldn’t form a bond.
I see now, many years later, that my comfort zone was anything but comforting. I didn’t feel safe or content in my own skin. Even now, there are times when my response to love and affection is to run. But once you learn how to respect yourself and see your own worth, you quickly learn that you deserve that love and affection, without needing the fear and sadness that used to come with it.
“Don’t go where you’re made to feel inadequate. Go where you are adored”
In this chapter, Toni describes feeling the need to ‘audition’ for someone to prove your worth because the other person doesn’t recognise it. This was my first of many lightbulb moments. As recently as a few months ago, I tried so immensely hard to be liked by someone who could barely be bothered to reply to my perfectly tailored messages within three days.
It’s been a long time since I felt that inadequate. Over the years I’ve made a lot of progress with knowing my worth, but that sent me into a real tailspin. I doubted myself every single day. It was only when I removed myself from the situation and stopped trying that the clouds started to part and I started to understand what I had to offer again.
That experience taught me a massive lesson: you can’t prove your value to someone who isn’t interested in seeing it. My friends make me feel adored, so I actively choose to spend time with them. I choose energy radiators over energy vampires – people who lift me up and make me feel good vs people who drain me and leave me feeling sad and not good enough. It makes all the difference.
“Look out for green flags just as much as red ones”
In this chapter, Toni talks about our tendency to think about the negatives in relationships. As she says, ‘an absence of obvious red flags doesn’t automatically make someone a potentially great partner for you. I think the presence of green flags is just as important’.
What are your green flags? I love kind people, sensitive people, thoughtful people, creative people, open-minded people, playful people. I’ve chosen the people in my life for these qualities, and this is what I look for in any new person coming into my life, be it a friend or potential romantic partner.
Toni then explains that we should think about how these qualities manifest in real life. Actions speak louder than words, and green flags are demonstrated every single day in the way we act. How does someone treat waiters or shop assistants? Are they generous with their compliments and praise? Are they unapologetically enthusiastic about the things they love? How about the things you love? Do they listen to understand and not just to reply? Do they remember what you tell them? Are they curious and easily inspired?
“You can’t possess people, you can only experience them”
This was the point in the book that screamed at me. If you’re prone to jealousy or possessiveness, this point is crucial. Even if you’re not, it’s still crucial. It provides a whole new mindset for the way we relate to the people in our worlds, and it’s made me feel so appreciative of the people who let me experience them every day.
We don’t have the right to have anyone in our lives. Not our children, our friends, our partners – nobody is obligated to be there, and even less so to behave as we want them to. This idea of ‘experiencing’ people is my favourite in the entire book. It’s such a simple idea, but it’s truly liberating. We all know that we don’t own anyone, but to experience someone is an immense privilege, and I feel so lucky to experience all the good people around me.
Toni also writes that loving someone means wanting them to centre themselves in their own lives. It’s not always easy, but the most loving thing we can do for others is to want the best for them, and to support them in getting to that good place.
“You deserve a love that celebrates you as you are – not one that implies you are not enough and you are not deserving of respect”
I have a lot going for me. I am kind and deeply loving and I will do anything in my power to help and support others. I’m creative and open minded and genuine… which, incidentally, are the green flags I look for in others.
My self-love journey is still a work in progress, and I can’t say that I love myself just yet. But I do, finally, respect myself, and I’m strong enough to set boundaries, remove toxic influences and stand up for myself. This has taken a lot of introspection and soul searching, and I don’t think the process will ever stop, but taking time to work on yourself isn’t selfish.
The love that celebrates you as you are – that doesn’t just have to be a romantic partner. As a single woman, my love comes from my friends, who point blank won’t allow me to feel like I’m not enough.
This is the love that I want to show others too. Everyone in my life is enough, and deserves every atom of respect that the world can show them, and I want absolutely nothing but the best for all of you.
What has this book taught me?
In the first section of this book, Toni Tone writes that she wants to provide the ‘big sister advice’ she wanted when she was younger… and oh my god, she gives that in spades. I could write so much more about how I feel about this book, but I’d rather you just read it for yourself, as Toni says it much better than I possibly could.
In truth, this book hasn’t taught me anything I didn’t already know. But what I love about it is that it scratches at the reasons behind why we act and feel the way that we do, and how we can break free of these negative thought patterns.
This book is liberating and exhilarating and it has made me feel so strong and secure. I have always had a lot of self doubt, but this book made me feel at peace with myself. I am so confident that I have so much to offer, and with the right people, who are already all around me, I don’t have to prove that – they can already see it. My heart felt so open to whoever is meant to be there by the time I finished reading. You deserve that too.
Please, I implore you to buy this book and read it right now. I promise you, you will feel so much better about life, love and yourself. Get it here.