“Love is a many splintered thing, Don’t be afraid now, just walk on in” ~ Sisters of Mercy, Ribbons
Love is something mankind has spent centuries seeking and trying to understand. Some of us believe we have experienced it, some of us feel as though it has eluded us. People have killed and been killed for love. Some might say it is the center of our existence. But what is love? How do we know if we’re experiencing it?
There have been tomes of literature written about love, it has been described many ways. We often form our view of what love is based on things we read about the subject, epic love poems, fairy-tale romances, even religious texts. We listen to heart-rending love songs and dream of what it will be like when we finally experience such exquisite feelings ourselves.
In this, I think we are deceiving ourselves. We think of love as one entity, with three main facets: love of family, romantic love, and love of friends. It seems relatively simple, and usually, I am all about simplifying the abstract concepts in our lives. I think we tend to overthink a lot of things in life, but love, I think we don’t think enough about.
We seem to think that each facet of love is a singular feeling that everyone should experience in similar fashion, particularly romantic love. We seem to think that there is one “true” way to experience this love and if your experience doesn’t jive with the literature and pop culture versions, then you haven’t “found” it yet. Fairy-tales and romances speak of “true love” whatever the fuck that is. It seems to be the notion that there is a romantic love that transcends all other loves, which will somehow make everything else in life perfect if we can just find that “true love”. That IS a fairy-tale ideal if I ever heard one. What the hell difference is there from any form of love you feel that would make it less “true” than another? It’s a ridiculous notion in my opinion, at least now. I fully admit to being lured by that ideal in my youth, as many people likely are. It’s a fanciful notion, but without a good center in reality, a potentially dangerous notion at that.
So we have come to believe that love is a “one-size-fits-all” ideal, that we all should be experiencing the same feelings if it is love. I call bullshit on that! How the hell can that be possible, when we are ALL unique beings? Like it or not, we all experience life differently, have different perspectives of the exact same things and differing ideologies and philosophies. There is no WAY we all experience love as the same thing.
What got me thinking about this was a post my good friend Dave Foda made about three weeks ago (October of 2015). He posted his definition of love, which was this: Love (n.) /luv/ – the comfort of being intimately familiar with someone; the joy of reciprocated excitement; the confidence and respite of mutual personal value and respect between oneself and another.
I liked the way he worded this, and at that moment I realized that I had never really thought about what the definition of love actually is. Out of curiosity, I looked at the online dictionary I tend to use and got this: noun
- a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
- a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
- sexual passion or desire.
I realize this is a dictionary, but I found this definition woefully inadequate. I think Dave captured it much more robustly. In one aspect, I think the dictionary gets it completely wrong but more on that in a moment. This definition seems too clinical, too bare bones to even remotely capture the feelings involved. Like I say, I realize this is supposed to be a linguistic reference book, but if someone really wants to learn and understand the concept of love, they won’t glean much from this.
Back to what I said previously, we simply cannot all experience love the same way. Some people are open and generally passionate and feel deep emotions for many people in their lives that they would call love. The feelings may be fleeting or exist long-term but they are usually intense. That doesn’t mean a romantic love by any stretch either, merely that they feel things on a deeper level than other people.
Some people have reason to be guarded and seek to protect themselves. They keep their feelings close to the surface and do not bestow them too far from home base. What they might call love, others would call merely liking someone. Does this mean that the protective person doesn’t really know love? I don’t think so. There may come a day when they do open themselves up to deeper feelings, but to me, that doesn’t mean that their “love” isn’t really love. It can be possible to be content and even happy with that measure of emotion, and to call it false is not fair to those who experience love on that level.
Some people feel that you don’t really love someone unless you’re willing to die for them. I’m sure many people do feel that way about others in their lives, and it is an incredibly powerful ideal. Yet I don’t think this is a requirement to deeply love someone. We may think we would be ready to sacrifice ourselves, but until we are actually in that situation, I don’t think any of us can truly know how we would react. Not being willing to die for someone doesn’t mean you don’t really love them, it means your instinct for self-preservation is strong, and I don’t think that is a negative thing, or necessarily something we can even control.
These are just three very broad examples, and there are billions of us, with billions of experiences inside and outside these examples. I think it’s wonderful that love inspires us to write verse, stories, music, movies etc. about it, but in some ways we do ourselves a disservice by trying to cling to these ideals without looking into ourselves to understand what love is to the individual.
To thine own self be true.
That really is the key to life in my opinion, know yourself. If you don’t know who you are and what makes you tick, how can you possibly expect to know anyone else? This goes hand-in-hand with love as well. I firmly believe that we cannot experience the full depth and rewards of loving others until we can love ourselves. This is largely why people make bad choices when it comes to love, but that is something for another post.
Love occurs when our emotional needs are met, whether romantically or otherwise. When we interact with someone who can understand us and fulfill those needs, it fills us with joy, and in most people, the desire to reciprocate that joy back to the person who gave it to us. The closer you are to living as your authentic self that you are, the healthier this symbiosis will be. Where we see it go off the proverbial rails is when we don’t know ourselves, or cannot be honest with ourselves. I think one of the most destructive things we do in life is to deceive ourselves, but again that’s something for another post.
When the symbiosis works, it is one of the most incredible and sustaining things we can experience. This is why we spend so much time and energy and endure the pain of many failures to achieve it. What needs to happen is ditch the ideal we’ve been fed all our lives and find out what YOUR ideal is, find out what your needs are and what you need to do to have those met. That’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Now I did say that the dictionary got one thing completely wrong, and that is the notion that love is also “sexual passion or desire”. Sorry but sex is NOT the same as love. You can absolutely love someone you want to have sex with, and you can want to have sex with someone you do not love. You can love someone romantically but not want to have sex with them also. The two are not as intertwined as we are led to believe. It is absolutely possible to have your needs met in both departments in different ways and avenues and there’s not a damn thing wrong with that. The trick is to find the combination that works well for you.
This is something that I have only recently come to understand, largely due to the cultural indoctrination that the two things ARE intertwined. There’s no reason why they need to be. The traditional ways we have been creating our interpersonal relationships have fundamental flaws that centuries of doing the same things have not solved. For example, the “nuclear family” is largely a failure because we are trying to force an ideal without taking the time to understand our own needs and desires. The noblest of ideas will fail without the right foundation.
Thinking back to our altruism episode this week(originally aired in November of 2015), I think society has had it backwards for most of our existence. We’ve thought that we have to give up our own personal needs in favour of the needs of the greater community, to forge relationships based on desired outcomes. (i.e.: procreation, religious exaltation) I think that what we’ve been missing is that we could have been so much more as a people and a society if we had taken the time to satisfy the needs of the individual first. I suppose we lacked the knowledge and understanding to get to that place historically, but we have the tools to get there now. I hope we start using them more effectively.
So what is love? Only you know that, and your answer will be different from mine. Where we find that sublime connection, that joy of reciprocated excitement will depend on what our needs are and who can meet those needs. So do yourself a favour and discover yourself. Learn what makes you tick, what makes you feel like you’re an amazing person with the strength to conquer the world. When you know that, you will know love.