It matters that we define love.
That we don’t simply conflate it with attraction or affection, history or chemistry.
That we recognize the ways we love maturely (and immaturely) so we can celebrate our efforts and not be hooked into the places where illusions of love mask the real effort and vulnerability required to leave people in better shape than we found them in; to really heal each other; to finally let ourselves experience and co-create the kind of relational home we truly desire.
Gorgeous friends, raise your hand if you’ve been disappointed by your longing, by your search, by your unfilled hunger for love.
Raise your hand if you over-give, give twice as much, trust in the people who never show up.
Raise your hand if you don’t know how to speak what you really, truly need – instead, you fold yourself in, try to win others over by pretending.
According to bell hooks in her must-read book, All About Love, (which is informing a majority of this post):
“Love is: care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment*, trust and honest and open communication.”
Please pause and read that definition out loud. Linger on every word. Love is not a few without the others. Love is the whole package. Love is the mutuality of these things – the giving and the receiving, the back and the forth.
*The word “commitment” can be quite loaded. I like thinking of commitment as showing up for agreed upon expectations – whatever those happen to be.
Things like neglect, humiliation, repression, narcissism, dishonesty and violence are forms of abuse – and the opposite of love.
But often, as kids, we receive combinations of love and abuse, affection and neglect, commitment and violence, care and unkindness. These strange combinations leave us confused and contorted – wanting to claim the love we’re receiving, wanting to let it in. So we feed off of what we’re given, because it’s all we’ve got, because it’s the best we can do.
The trouble is, we start to choose the same patterns as we grow older, thinking, this is all I can get, this is the best I can do… this feels so familiar, this must be love.
“Love and abuse cannot co-exist,” says hooks.
But who wants to claim that their parents didn’t love them? Such pain, such a huge loss to mourn.
Instead, we contort our definitions to protect our histories. We lose our sense of standard. We don’t stand for the whole package. We lay down in quiet let down and endless longing. We wrestle, alone at night, stomachs churning, wishing we understood why we feel so sick and uncomfortable.
But we are capable of more.
We can put stakes in the ground around ourselves – invitations, boundaries, flags, statements.
Love me with your care.
Love me with your affection.
Love me with your recognition.
Love me with your respect.
Love me with your commitment.
Love me with your trust.
Love me with your honest and open communication.
I will love me like this, too.
I will love you like this, too.
We can practice… practice nurturance, practice protection, practice tending and showing up and being depended upon.
We can let our practice be our love, growing new hope from tough soil, founded on the kind of solid ground that stays through the vulnerability of uncertainty.
Will this really work? Can I do this work? Will he, she, we… be worth the work?
For years, I tended a 100×100 foot garden in the backyard of my vegan co-op. I started the seeds inside in the winter – sang to them, watched them, watered them, kept them warm. I transplanted them to the outside earth when the timing was right. I pruned back their extra. I harvested their fruits. And when they were bolted and done, I composted them – threw them into a heap of dirt, rubbish and sun. Thanked them so truly for what they gave me.
This is love – the practice of growing something healthy in the world.
You don’t have to trust it.
But you do have to define it, and practice it.
Tell the truth about what isn’t it.
Mourn your losses.
Plant your seeds.
Tend them, because they need tending.
And lucky for us – it’s always the right season for love.
No special planning needed.
Just clear seeing, choosing, trying.
Here’s to love.
May we know that we can grow so much bounty, together. And may we take the risk of trying.