The statement in my blog post title can be completed in so many different ways, and it has been, by so many different people – in songs, stories, poems, books, cinema. Love is freely (and perhaps over) used to express our feelings about other people, events, places and things. Love is used to manipulate, protect, inspire, scare, heal and teach. Love is used as a bartering chip, withholding it or offering it until or unless certain conditions are met. Love is defined, argued about, berated and cherished the world over by people of all different walks of life. There seems to be this almost universal need to understand love, to define it. Otherwise, how will we know when we find it? How will we know if we want to? How will we know if we’re experiencing it or doing it right? How will we know love?
I have pondered the meaning, purpose and acquisition of love my whole life, in my family, in my community, in both my platonic and romantic relationships, trying to understand what it means to me and what it means to other people.
There are so many aspects and components to love and relationships. Some people need sexual or emotional monogamy to feel loved, while some are fine with sexual freedom and polyamory, and others prefer not to have sex at all (asexuality and celibacy are real, y’all.) Some need to share homes or have rings or swap vows, while others are content to live separate and independent lives and spend time together how and when they mutually agree to. Some need to feel control over their partners while others want their partners to make their own decisions. Some value different things to different degrees: sex, emotions, compatibility, money, status, etc. Some want it all, some settle for what they can get. Some care more about how they feel towards their partners, while others care more about how their partners feel towards them. Some believe in forever, some believe in for now.
Through my experience, I’ve come to my own understanding and realization about love. (Of course, these are solely my opinions and beliefs, and you’re free to disagree, interpret, or ignore them as you see fit.)
I do not think we all love the same way. I don’t think love means the same thing to all of us, nor is it as important to each person, nor play the same role in all of our lives. We all define it, express it, and understand it differently, and we all welcome and reject it for different reasons, imbuing it with different expectations.
For me, loving another person means loving them unconditionally, accepting them warts and all, caring about their well being, feelings, and opinions as much as my own and, at times, more than my own. It means never making decisions without taking into account how those decisions will impact the persons I love. It means sometimes putting their happiness and desires before my own. It’s not a choice I make. I am incapable of not taking into consideration how my actions and words will impact someone I love, and it is not possible for me to not care about the wants and needs of someone I love. That’s just how I’m built. Of course, I’m not perfect, and I screw up sometimes, no matter how hard I try not to. Even when my anger, resentment or selfishness get the best of me, and I thoughtlessly say or do things that negatively impact the people I love, I am eventually (often immediately) filled with shame, remorse and/or regret. And while I am not always quick, nor is it always easy, to make amends, (especially if I stubbornly think I was in the right,) I do, eventually, apologize for the hurt or damage I’ve caused. And even if I think I am “right” or “justified” I still feel bad about hurting someone I love and I try to put their feelings of being hurt before my feelings of being right or justified. Because seeing them in pain, or feeling them pull away or question my love for them, especially if my actions and words have caused it, is as painful (or so I think) for me as it is for them.
Consequently, I have often questioned the sincerity of the love others profess to feel towards me, when their actions and words seem contrary to my understanding, beliefs, and feelings about love and how I exhibit it. Admittedly, I’m insecure. But even accounting for that, I have at times, doubted someone’s assertions of love for me.
I think I’ve been wrong this whole time.
I think part of my struggle with loving, or being loved by, someone, comes from wanting and expecting them to love me the way I love them. When they do things or say things I would not say or do, I sometimes question if they really love me.
Maybe the questions I should be asking are: Do they love me the way I want or need to be loved? Can I accept and appreciate the way they express it and show it towards me? Are our ideas of love, though different, compatible?
For me, it all comes down to figuring out what I want and need from another person (not always the same thing, mind you. There are things I may want, but can live without out. There are things I need, that I can’t) and what I’m willing to give. There are things that are too big to overcome and things that are too small to matter. If those things are compatible, even if they’re different, then I have a workable foundation for a relationship; if not, then the relationship is in trouble. I have come to realize that I do not need someone to love me the way I love them (although, of course, I want them to.) I do not need them to always agree with me, put me first, or make every decision with me in mind. I only need to know the answer to one question, that we both must answer, every day:
“Am I happier with this person in my life than I would be without them?”
If the answer is yes, then everything else is small potatoes.