We are told to love our neighbor, but also to hold out for our one true love. We love our parents and our children, but sometimes only because we have to. You love cooking, I love dancing, and they love Star Wars (well, I also love Star Wars). There are a ridiculous number of books and articles and blogs that try and define and/or explain love in all it’s variation and complexity. In many cases it’s touted as the most important part of human nature, but we collectively have no idea what it is.
The current state of love.
One of the most accepted and well received books about love and commitment, The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, carefully dissects the core of our love problem by describing how it’s received and projected differently for everyone. I think we can all agree that those differences are real. Everyone has most likely accepted that love exist in many different forms. Carsie Blanton explains in her article, Casual Love, that all the warm fuzzies that we get towards others should be considered love. Her idea of letting feelings of love exist with less urgency and expectation seems like a good one. She’s right that having less fear surrounding this important concept is a good thing. She specifically highlights the words we use to express love and the apprehensions surrounding them. I’ve been able to say “I love you” to very few people on this planet. In actuality, I’ve probably loved many others. It makes me a little sad that I didn’t tell them all when I had the chance.
The love struggle.
So, if I were to ask 100 people what love is, I would get 100 different answers. That to me suggests one thing. Love is everything, but because it’s everything it’s also nothing. How is it possible for us to have a word that is so deeply and humanely meaningful, but so incredibly meaningless at the same time? Love doesn’t prevent you from hurting anyone. Love doesn’t keep marriages together. Love doesn’t successfully raise children. Love isn’t the answer to all of life’s questions. So many people are confused yet obsessed with when/if love starts and ends with every person they come across. If we aren’t careful, it can become a point of destructive internal conflict in all of us. How did we get to this point? Maybe it’s because we stopped acknowledging that love is selfish. Started denying the fact that love is a basic human need that we are all constantly seeking out. Started pretending that love is all about selflessness and sacrifice. Love is too ingrained in our nature for it to be altruistic. If you think about it like a basic human need (i.e. food, water), you wouldn’t be so upset that people aren’t providing it to you.
Love is available.
Guess what? Love is out there. It’s yours for the taking. Love is a choice. We can get so caught up in giving love that we lose ourselves. We should be putting our energy into receiving it–receiving it in all its forms, big and small. If we continue to focus on getting love in very specific ways we end up starving ourselves. Let’s make a decision to receive love all the time. It’s easy when it comes to you in ways that feel good. The truth is that love can feel awful too. Your parents disagree with your career choice–it’s love because they care about your life decisions. Your spouse tells you they don’t want to have kids–it’s love because they can be completely honest with you. Your best friend decides to move 2000 miles away–it’s love because they are doing something they believe in and still want to maintain their relationship with you. The impulse may be a negative one, but ultimately you can decide to receive love more often. Instead of feeling the weight of the responsibility to love others, we can all feel free through our independent responsibility to accept love from everywhere. If we are responsible for our own need to be loved we release others from the guilt and resentment normally associated with the perception that there is a lack of love. Get out there and start receiving as much love as you can. Do it all day every day and watch how your live changes. And the best part, once we do that all the definitions and explanations and books and blogs (including this one unfortunately) don’t matter. All you would need to know is what love means to you–and that doesn’t seem so difficult.