Love is not for the faint of heart.
We are taught from a young age through hallmark holidays and other cultural memes, to think of love as a fluttering feeling in your gut, the ecstasy of the first few months of a romantic relationship, and something that is purely feeling based. We also know that many who claim to love us act in ways that are unkind, unloving, and sometimes cruel. So what does it mean to really love someone?
I believe that love is an action verb, a collection of millions of tiny decisions you make throughout a lifetime to act with care and kindness towards yourself, the people around you, and the larger culture. Even after we’ve lost someone we love, or have chosen not to have someone in our lives anymore, we often still carry a deep love that person, regardless of their physical absence in our lives. Love is undeniably, a visceral feeling – but only when combined with action are we engaging with love, doing love, and showing love.
Truly loving – exposing our deepest selves, engaging in painful and difficult reflection about how we impact those around us, expressing deep care and concern for others – is one of the most difficult and important things we can do with our lives.
But, many of us don’t know how. We haven’t had good examples to model our relationships after. We don’t know how to heal the parts of ourselves that need healing in order to open ourselves to love. We falsely believe that love isn’t real and doesn’t exist, because its easier than examining the lack of love in our lives, and the reasons why. We often feel afraid to expose ourselves to the potential loss, rejection and pain that vulnerability can bring. We seek for love outside of ourselves, and feel defeated when our efforts fail. We focus more on getting and keeping partnerships rather than really loving.
“To return to love, to get the love we always wanted but never had, to have the love we want but are not prepared to give, we seek romantic relationships. We believe these relationships, more than any other, will rescue and redeem us. True love does have the power to redeem but only if we are ready for redemption. Love saves us only if we want to be saved.”– bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
The type of self-honesty and self-reflection bell hooks references in this quote does lead to redemption, but you have to really want it. All of us want the benefits of loving relationships: the support, the feeling of closeness, and the connection between you and another person. But doing the work to create authentically loving relationships is another story.
This work includes sitting with the unloving and cruel parts of ourselves, feeling the sting of words we wish we had not spoken, accepting the end and loss of relationships we may not have wanted to lose, and looking at our part in that. It involves being honest about our capacities for listening, for compassion and empathy, for consideration of others’ needs. It involves making a commitment to grow these capacities. It involves taking risks that another person will hurt us, because we know there is no way around that. It means letting go of hurt when it seems almost impossible, because you know you’ll be better off for it.
It is my life’s work to open myself to loving as big as I can, and as deep as I can, for as long as I can.
I hope you join me on the ride.