February 2018

Love is...

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Do you remember the first person who said “I love you” in a romantic context? I do. I was 15 years old and smitten with an older guy—a 21-year-old smooth talker with a souped-up Chevy Camaro and an air of confidence to match. (This was as close as it got to a knight on a white horse in East Point, Georgia.) He called me darling, bought me my first Tom Collins, put his tongue in my mouth, and whispered, “I love you.” While I’m sure he liked me (you know, for my personality), his definition of love was something like this: Love /ləv/ 1. an intense feeling of lust with an urgent need to copulate; 2. what I need to say to have my way with the girl.

That year, after I lost my virginity to him, he went on to “love” another girl, and another, and another. That was my first real lesson in what love isn’t. And no, I don’t plan to report him, even though he could have gone to jail for what he did. That’s not the point.

I’ve since grown up and learned a lot about love, romantic and otherwise, which got me thinking about the word itself—its many meanings and contexts in our everyday communications. I am a person who enjoys words and who frequently uses the most powerful four-letter word in the English language. In the strongest sense, L.O.V.E. is an intimate knowledge and acceptance of and deep level of affection for another person. It’s the love that sticks—the love that takes couples over the hills and dales of a lifetime. When I say I love you to my husband, I mean I’m all in.

Sometimes I use the word love spontaneously to convey affection for another that is stronger than like. (“I like you” just doesn’t pack the same punch.) Occasionally, I use it to express a feeling that emanates from a soulful sense of connection to another (I see you; I feel you; I get you. Thank you for seeing, feeling and getting me.) And many times, I use the word love to describe something that pleases or delights me. Here are some examples of the variations of use: I love my husband even when I don’t “like” him…and when he has man flu or bad breath or an attitude. I love my cat as much as my husband—but in a different way, of course. I love my family (most of them), and I especially love those friends whose souls recognize mine. I love the color purple. I love sushi and wine, cookies and coconut cream pie. I love rollercoasters, bike rides, suspense novels, romantic movies, bubble baths, and shopping. As you can see, I love many people, places, things and experiences, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. So, how can I love them all at once, and what does it mean?

Since the beginning of time, human beings have attempted to define the mix of emotions we call love, and most adults understand that it varies in range and intensity. Attempting to classify the meanings most frequently associated with the word, the Greeks broke it down into four categories: storge, which is kinship; philia, which is friendship; eros, which is sexual/romantic; and agape, which is divine. While this sounds all neat and tidy, love doesn’t always fit into a Tiffany box, tied up in a bow and delivered with x’s and o’s.

That’s what she said
If I say I love ice cream, or earrings, or the beach, you will have no doubt what I mean. If I say I love my mother, my cousin, or my grandchild, you will understand. But if I say I love you, the words are suddenly open to interpretation. I think this is the reason we sometimes have difficulty establishing or maintaining platonic relationships that don’t cross the border into romance or lead to the desire to connect more intimately. (Philia can so easily mingle with eros and cause confusion.) And it’s also one of the most common reasons conflict arises in romantic relationships. One person’s definition of love doesn’t fit the other’s. Expectations and needs go unmet, feelings are hurt, and emotions become a tangled mess.

Love can also get tricky because, in its purest form, it often demands sacrifice. It is wanting what is best for the other, even when it means giving up something we personally desire. Love aims to please! And sometimes love means letting go—for someone else’s sake.

But can you love more than one person at once? Of course! In his book, LOVE: What life is all about…, Leo Buscaglia said, “Since love is not a thing, it is not lost when given. You can offer your love completely to hundreds of people and still retain the same love you had originally. It would be better said that man ‘shares’ love, as he ‘shares’ knowledge, but he can only share what he possesses.”

Buscaglia goes on to explain that possessing love requires a primary love relationship with yourself. “If you know, accept and appreciate yourself and your uniqueness, you will permit others to do so. When you love yourself, you will love others. And to the depth and extent to which you can love yourself, only to that depth and extent will you be able to love others.”

Unlike the Greek philosophers who attempted to compartmentalize love, Buscaglia doesn’t distinguish categories but insists that love simply is: It can’t be bought, weighed, measured, captured or held, he said. “Love can only be given, expressed freely. There are not kinds of love. Love is love; there are only degrees of love. It’s in everyone and everything in varying degrees and awaits actualization.”

One of the very best descriptions of love I know of can be found in the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” This is a level of love rarely achievable on the human plane, although worthy of striving toward.

In my experience as an adult, love is never quite as simple or straightforward as we would like it to be, yet for all its mystery and complexity, it is certainly satisfying and worth the effort. I believe that love is both a learned response and a force of nature that grows and evolves organically. Love is never stagnant. It may wax and wane, but it never dies. We don’t fall in and out of love. Either we love or we don’t. Love, when it truly exists, is an infinity pool, perpetual and unending.

Whether you are my husband, a family member, a past lover, an old friend, an estranged friend, a new friend, or my cat, if I’ve told you that I love you, I did and I do.

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