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

 

Ideas for a Better Us

I’ve been ruminating on my trip, thinking about the lessons I took away from it. I gained a lot of new ways of viewing things, but I also recognize I have a long way to go in terms of understanding. There’s no way of knowing everything there is to know on this planet, but the more we grow, learn and understand, the closer we get to AN understanding, and the better off we all are.

In pursuit of that, I know I have to make changes in my life to allow that growth and change to occur. Namely, ridding myself of some of the toxic behaviors and generally neutral actions I have in my life. Things that add nothing to my life or take time away from things that I do deem important.

But what things do I value? That’s what I dove into and uncovered, and I think a lot of them could apply to most people. The ideas and stories aren’t always unique, but sometimes it takes hearing them in the right context to allow them to sink in. I’ve known, on a conscious and subconscious level, a lot of the things I needed to change. But it’s only now that I’m actually attempting to get serious about them. We are all on our own journey, and we’ll get there in our own time.

All that being said, here are the things that I’ve chosen to focus on going forward. I’m going to do everything I can to spend my time on these things, but I know that there will be slipups. Time’s where I drift back to the things that aren’t as valuable. But when you become aware that you’ve taken the wrong path, you backtrack and rejoin the correct route.

Consume Health

I worded this very intentionally. It started with wanting to eat healthily, something I’ve always struggled with. Even when eating a primarily plant-based diet, I ate a lot of junk food. But it goes beyond that. We consume every day with all of our senses. We taste, touch, smell, hear, and see thousands of things every day. How many of them are toxic or don’t provide value? I want to minimize that. I want to eat amazing, healthy food. I want to listen to beautiful music and high-quality podcasts. I want to see and watch stunning plays, art, films, etc.

I know these are grandiose plans I’m laying, but it’s not about being perfect. It’s about the attempt. If everyone just attempted to be better, how much better would we be?

Travel

This is a big one for me. And it doesn’t have to include travel plans across the country or internationally. I do think it includes time out in nature, much more than most of us get. Additionally, instead of your regular routine, go to a different gym, grocery or coffee shop. Experience different things. Even if you only go to one Starbucks, go to a different location. You can get your regular while experiencing something new. And that’s what this is really about: new experiences. Our bubbles don’t just exist online on social media. They include the people we encounter, the places we visit and the businesses we support. If we open up to these new experiences, how much can we learn?

Connect with Good Energy

All of that being said, we should use our intuition to connect with good energy. This is different because sometimes good energy can make us uncomfortable. There are many people I’ve met and become close to that I value for that reason. They push me out of my comfort zones and have allowed me to go further. Experiences I never would have had otherwise were opened up by choosing to be around their good energy. Good energy will look different for everyone, but if you’re listening to yourself when you’re around people and in different or new situations, you’ll know what it feels like.

Physical Effort

A lot of times, people conflate being physical with going to the gym or doing what most people deem as “exercise”. Putting that kind of pressure on it is a good reason why people don’t stick with their New Years’ resolutions or workout plans. I find a plan to be beneficial, as I struggle with less structure. But things like walking, hiking, gardening, chores around the house, etc. are all examples of things we can do to be physical without needing new shoes and gym clothes. And aside from the physical health benefits, exercise helps fight mental health issues as well, so it’s a win-win.

Create

Another misconstrued idea is that we either aren’t creative or don’t possess the “right” creativity. We are all creative. We are all capable of creating. Because whether it’s writing, art, dance, cooking, organizing, photos of the dog, bedtime stories for our kids…the point is, anything we make is an expression of creativity. I intend to tap into that, beyond just writing. I want to learn different types of art, and I think I’d be good at the more physical arts that you use your hands for such as pottery or sculpting. But I won’t know unless I try.

Learn

The final piece is the one that ties everything together. I want to learn. I’ve always been curious and attempted to learn the things that interest me, but I’ve gotten away from that wonder that I had years ago. I got comfortable, but it’s time to go back. Any time I think I’ve figured something out or started to understand something, I learn new information. We live in a grey world where very little is black and white. Understanding that opens us up to an endless supply of learning opportunities. Capitalizing on those leads us to evolution and that’s what I’m most in search of, for everyone.

~

Some of these ideas are things that some people may not be concerned about. As I said before, I do think everyone is on their own path. But I know there’s some crossover and I think these are things that would be beneficial to most. I’ve got some concrete goals that I want to layout later, but I think these general goals are good avenues to start down.

~

Photo by Paul Gilmore on Unsplash