March 27, 2021
“What is love? Baby dont hurt me, don’t hurt me… no more.”
Anytime I ask myself this question, that hypnotic trance beat plays in my head.
But seriously. What the hell is love? Is it an emotion? An action? A choice? A bodily knowing? Is it a state of mind or a construct?
I always thought it to be a feeling. One that set the standard for any relationship to either succeed or fail. Does he love me? When will he tell me he loves me> I love him… I think?
I love my kids, my friends, my family and my pets. There are some exes that I still love and some that I do not. I also love books, yoga and food. Oh how I love food. I love nature, and the seasons of fall and spring. I love the ocean and I love the mountains. I love writing and helping people. So if I can love animals, inanimate objects, ideas, actions, places and things – what makes the love that we share with other human beings so profound? It seems that it is the cornerstone of every relationship. Have you ever been asked, well, do you love him? Sometimes yes and sometimes, I’m not so sure.
I’ve been told by some that love is a choice, an action or a state of being; a state of acceptance that you chose to be with this person and therefore must love them, whatever that means.
Loving our children however, seems to be embedded within us, as though it would feel impossible not to. To me it was primitive and instinctual. However, many of my therapy clients share that their parents were unloving, absent or even harmful. Have you heard of an abuser hitting their partner, then saying, “this is because I love you?” To that person, perhaps hurting is loving. Perhaps that is the message they received about love in their family of origin. Love hurts, love is chaotic, love is cruel.
Or perhaps you learned that love means we have no boundaries and are entirely enmeshed. Your loved ones are involved in my every decision and a part of your every relationship. Have you ever thought “I don’t know myself without you.”
What do we assume then, is, “healthy” love? There is secure attachment, where we know that our caregiver or partner will be accessible to us no matter what. So is love accessibility? Is love trust? I trust you to show up and be here, not hurt me and provide safety. Is that love?
What about passion and romance? Lust is actually the first stage of love, which is really just a high; a brain surging with oxytocin. That same “feel good” hormone is released in orgasm and when breastfeeding. Many think this is how love feels forever.
My question really is, is love actually universal? I see couples everyday who say they love each other but who fight, lack affection, feel disconnected and have no emotional bond whatsoever. Why do we assume everyone experiences love in the same way or that it is understood the same by all?
Cue in the next song, “What’s love got to do…got to do with it?”
I’m not sure Tina, I’m just not sure.
Maybe then, love is a decision. I am deciding to love you. I tasted that chocolate cake and I decided I LOVED it. Yes, more please. I LOVE this sweater so I will wear it as often as possible this winter. Then next winter rolls around and it’s just another sweater, so I donate it and I’m onto the next style to love. How is this not the same with people?
I look at my 13 year old cat Napa and I think to myself, I love this creature so much it hurts. I have loved her from the moment I held her tiny kitten body and have loved her even more in the last 13 years. But I have nurtured her, cared for her. She is innocent and fragile, I must protect her and feed her and keep her healthy. She has a life expectancy far shorter than mine and therefore her time here is precious and I must cherish it.
But that instinct of love for my pets, for my kids-It doesn’t change, it doesn’t drift. It is constant. I feel it in my bones. It is not the same for romantic love, at least not for me. Maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe it’s ok for the experience of love to change when in a romantic relationship. Maybe the problem is we expect it to feel the same as the undying love for our pets or kids whom we nurture and protect.
Partnership is equality. One is not dominant over the other (unless you prefer that) but typically, one is not master and the other obedient. The equality of it all is where I get stuck. Does this mean I’m on a power trip? In order to love you, you have to need me in some way that I don’t need you? I have to be of value to you in a way that impacts your very survival on this planet? I don’t want a partner to hold me to that standard, that feels icky. That feels codependent.
I always thought love was a thing that was unchanging. But maybe in romantic love, that is all it is doing. It’s constantly changing, growing and evolving. It shifts with each new season, challenge, triumph or loss. Love is a spectrum and the pendulum can swing in either direction at any given time but as long as it’s pulled back to center it can sustain. An energy swings it away then pulls it back, over and over again.
Love therefore, is an energy that lives in the body. It’s a swirling motion, a force that can sometimes rush upon us and sometimes leave us. Sometimes the energy is strong and powerful and breathtaking and others its draining, heavy and defeating. Ever lose someone you love? How does your body feel. It aches, it fatigues. It’s fucking painful. Yet, when you meet it for the first time, or meet it again, it’s filling, fluttering, so alive that it tingles in your belly, your skin goosebumps, your heart pounds. And then, sometimes, it is stillness and contentment. It is a soft touch, a gentle hand. That same thing that created electricity and fire also creates calm, connects you to the divine. It is visceral. It is a tide and it is a current. It is unpredictable and yet remarkable.