What is Love? What does it mean to love someone? Is it a feeling or is it something more? Is it a noun or a verb? What is the difference between love and being in love? Why do we sometimes love those who hurt us or treat us badly? I’ve asked this question many times before and I’m sure most of us have heard these questions answered in many ways. Because there are so many articles on the “definition” of love, I want to focus on my journey. As I am approaching thirty, I realize that what love means to me today is different from the love I grew up with or even from what I thought it was a few years ago. It has been a very long and painful journey, but I think I have finally found the meaning and definition of the kind of love that I want. But before I share what love means to me today I want to share the kind love I grew up with. The parental love I grew up with said:
” I will love you as long as you make me happy. If you’re a bad girl mommy/daddy won’t love you.”
” I love you, but I love me more and I’m going to take care of myself first even if it comes at your cost.”
“I love you as long as you agree with me and ignore what you’re feeling, because it’s not valid. All you have to do is remember that I love you.”
“I love you, even though I abandoned you and left you all alone physically and emotionally. I will continue to do that. I have many reasons for this but you should know that I did it for your benefit.”
” I love you, but you shouldn’t have any needs or expectations, because I’m going to do what I feel like doing. I make decisions based on my feelings and need to take care of me first.”
“I love you, but I’m going to ignore everything you told me was important to you because I come first.”
This kind of love led me to get into relationships with men that left me feeling unimportant, abandoned, lonely, sad, disregarded, dismissed and disrespected. Above all I never felt safe. After each failed attempt at finding the love I so desperately wanted I couldn’t help but feel like I was getting back into the love I grew up with and was wondering what was wrong with me. Through counseling I have discovered that the reason I was picking those partners was because it felt very familiar to me. I grew up with the love that involved a lot of pain and abandonment. The people I met and was instantly attracted to represented the energy I grew up with. We sometimes go through our entire lives without realizing that we are recreating our parents’ marriages because that’s the only love we know and saw growing up. If you’re lucky and you have a family and parents who have a good marriage you might find yourself in a healthy, loving and safe relationship. I am happy for you, as it is truly the most wonderful thing. But since the divorce rate is over 50% I know that the reality is not like that for many people. Through therapy and learning about the part I played in all my past relationships I have realized that I do not want to recreate my childhood love story. I also realized that it is going to take a lot of awareness and consciousness to find the love I DO want to have in my life. Here is my definition of what love should feel like and the type of love I want to have:
- Love is always safe, it does not use fear, threat, force or manipulation to get its way. It is a safe place where each person feels safe and secure of being who they are and asking for what they need.
- Love is never disrespectful. It does not ask for explanation. It respects the other person where they are and with their needs. If a person I love asks me to do or not do something I don’t need to know why or understand where they’re coming from, I just respect their wish.
- Love is selfless. It finds great joy in serving others. It does not ask: what’s in it for me? But simply knows that seeing their partner happy is a great reason to do something even if it’s uncomfortable or not what they’d rather do.
- Love is never punishing or passive-aggressive. It allows both people be open and honest with each other even in moments of conflict. It states what the feeling is and is honest about the pain or misunderstanding caused, without trying to get back at the other person.
- Love is always honest. It does not lie, withhold, add-on or in any way alter the truth.
- Love is compassionate, thoughtful and empathetic. Love allows us to feel deeply for those who are in pain and for each other. It moves us to become better versions of ourselves and help others.
- Love does not need both people to change who they fundamentally are or their goals, dreams and values. It is a place where both people fully accept each other.
- Love has boundaries and does not allow for destructive or abusive behaviors. It always speaks the truth and points out the consequences of unhealthy behaviors. It also sticks to those consequences if the other person ignores the boundaries.
- Love allows both people to feel pain, anger, discomfort, grief and openly talk about their feelings.
- Love should never be painful.
I write about this as a reminder to myself and others that true love is possible and means different things to different people. It is also hard to find and we ultimately accept the love that we think we deserve. The more respect we have for ourselves, the more healthy love we bring into our lives as love is never disrespectful and is always patient, kind and healing. I decided to write about this as I’m currently grieving a relationship that did not work out because it lacked some of the things I mentioned above. It’s very easy to be in denial and make excuses for people when we love them, as well as compromise on the very things we say are important. At least it was easy for me to do and I realized it eventually. I also realized that we shouldn’t try to change other people, that in itself is disrespectful. I don’t ever want to be disrespectful to someone I love. At the end of the day we are responsible for our own happiness. People only change when something no longer works for them. As I have learned with my family, sometimes they never change at all.
Lastly, through this I’ve learned not to ever take for granted the love I do have in my life. Love doesn’t just come from romantic relationships, it is all around us and in difficult times, friendship love can make the world of difference.