What does love really mean?

As an empath, a water sign, a healer and a writer, love is a central theme to my identity. An identity that has grown more and more complex as I’ve aged. For a long time, I blamed myself for the growing complexity of it.

I was merely born in the wrong century, a time that has long been forgotten. Where people loved each other and took care of each other based around what that person needed, and not what you were comfortable giving. And it’s only recently that I’ve come to the understanding that not only was I wrong about where I was but also how wrong I was about the past.

The past has been romanticized as this place where great people did great things to take care of their people. The weak and downtrodden were lifted up to be part of the group, a group that was viewed as a unit instead of many individuals. The problem with that is that it’s patently false.

Sure, if you fit enough of the mold, you would be accepted. But the outcasts, the ones who believed in “trivial” things like magic, feelings, vibes, and emotions were pushed out. Forced to create their own communities. And even today, the large populous looks down on groups like the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s as kooky or out of touch.

These people are viewed negatively because they embrace their feelings and emotions and listen to the stars, but these are closer to my people than any others. Luckily, in the age of social media, these people are easier to find than ever. We’re drifting toward a society of people who not only embrace their emotions but thrive BECAUSE they do so. Still, there’s a large divide in how we view things like love.

The problem with the word love is that we use it in too many varying ways. Anyone can love sports, their family, their friends, their spouse, and themselves, and each love is different. But we throw the word around with anything we like and expect everyone else to figure out what we actually mean. And for most of us, our problems expressing that love is the cause of divide in relationships. 

To be clear, I also don’t like how we use the word “relationship” either, but for different reasons. When we hear the word “relationship”, most of us default to thinking “Oh, they mean their boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/spouse.” In reality, everyone we interact with is in a relationship with us. We have relationships with ourselves, our family, our friends, our coworkers and really anyone we interact with. You don’t have to love everyone you’re in a relationship with, but it’s still a relationship.

So where do my sticking points come from? While most people’s most difficult relationship is with themselves, mine is not. I don’t say that as a judgment, it’s purely what I’ve observed and heard from people I interact with. That is the part I’ve put the most work into, and probably 99.99% of the time, I do love myself.

But it has been a lonely row to hoe. My family has been there, but I feel our paths diverging. Not in any sort of negative way, but I know that if I’m going to grow further in the ways that I want to, there will be some level of fracture. Nothing permanent or bad, just different from what it is now.

The love of family is strong. It’s almost unbreakable in most cases. People will go to extremes for their families, in ways that they won’t for other people. But that puts a level of weight to it. Almost as if you HAVE to love your family. You can severe any relationship you want, including with family members, but they will always be blood.

To highlight this, look at a family with children. The parents, in moments of honesty, will admit that if it became a choice of their partner or their children, they would choose their children. Why? Because the children are literally blood-related to their parents. The parents, as much as they love their partner, aren’t blood-related.

There are still varying degrees of this, though, so it’s not a black and white decision. Most people would probably choose a partner over a blood relative, but we’re getting too stuck in the mud by trying to assign a distinction to every relationship of every human.

No, my problem is in the friend and partner sense of the word. My desire to love in those areas has typically led me down a self-sacrificial route. When it comes to friends, I’ve mostly always accommodated, never wanting to rock the boat. I’ve gotten better about that, but I was always trying to curry favor in an effort to keep people around. I would agree to go out for a night, knowing it was going to stretch me too thin, and then flake at the last moment. And it meant eventually, I was running people off because I was a yes man, not a friend. 

And in terms of what we call “relationships”, it was more of a selfish-sacrificing pattern. In my teens and early 20s, I was never single for very long. I ignored a lot of warning signs and got into very short term relationships because it was, in my mind, better to have someone, anyone, than to be alone. It’s probably part of why I’ve been single for so long now. It wasn’t a punishment or a lack of potential matches, but I had to teach myself how to be independent.

I had to learn about myself for once and expand myself into new places. I had been running in circles for years and I finally had broken off onto a new path. And it worked. The very, very few times I’ve opened up to new people in the last couple of years, I was confident I was doing so because it was the right decision, and not just grasping at straws or trying to fill a void. Because there was no void to fill anymore.

I’ve acknowledged to myself that I’ll be ok if it’s just me. I worried a lot when I was younger that I would be alone. It’s where a lot of that scrambling to be with someone was born out of, and also why those relationships didn’t prosper. The old saying about gripping on too tightly is applicable. There are no negative feelings around relationships for me either. I had a period where there were, and even times where I was miserable at a wedding because I was making it about myself. As I said, a selfish-sacrificing pattern.

However, it’s been lonely. The loneliness, I used to think, was from not being in a “relationship”. And in a way, it is. But not in the ways we typically conflate. It’s not just about the physical, it’s the emotional and mental labor that you share with another person. It’s the type of symbiotic relationship that only comes when you don’t “have” to love them. When they choose you and you, them. You’ve both acknowledged that your life is enhanced by them being in it. 

Every time I have a rough day mentally or emotionally, it’s all on me. In a healthy relationship, it’s a balancing act. When they’re having a low day, you can adopt more of the load and visa versa. If I have a low period, I still have to make sure the bills are paid, fix the sink, cancel the phone plan, or whatever issues may come up. And for a short period of time, most people are ok. Hell, sometimes people thrive in that situation. I am usually one of those people. But after a while, it does get old. But you learn from letting things fall through the cracks and the mistakes made and you get better next time. 

The thing I wish more people would realize is how grey everything is. There is no black and white, no one single answer for any of life’s questions. People stay for a myriad of reasons. People leave for even more. And ultimately, if you can find that one person that will share your load, don’t take that for granted.

Wrapped up in that, however, is the understanding that we have to love how those people need to be loved, not how we want it to be. If they’re your friends, love them as your friend. If they’re your partner, love them like that. Same with your family. But understand that it’s not about you. It’s about them.

~

Photo by Leighann Renee on Unsplash

 

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