WHAT is love? Of course, there are many kinds of love. And then, the love is different based on the application. Or maybe that is a little story we have fabricated that’s not true, not really, and maybe there is just one love.
We tell teenagers they can’t possibly be in love, that their love doesn’t count, that they need to grow up first, and then they can understand, and therefore have love. This is how we teach them that love isn’t real, their feelings are not real, and in fact, to stop loving.
We talk about whether or not a couple seems to be “in love,” based on what we gather with our senses, in their presence. But we never get to see what happens in the dark of night, behind closed doors, and over time. We tell people we love them, but are not “in love,” and we tell people we “love them,” when, bound by obligation, we do not even like them.
We talk about love, and we write about it. We sing about it. We elevate it, worship it, and consequently, we place it just out of our reach. Highest shelf, too pure to be for just anyone.
For each person it looks exactly different, too. We set rules and constraints, qualifiers and measurements, barriers and admonishments, and then, we make it clear: if we follow these, just right, and only then, we will find love at the end of the labyrinth. And onlythen, it will not be fake love, it will be real love, if we ever get there.
In this way, we make love completely unavailable–to ourselves. We leave it to lay all around us, unfelt, and unreceived. Going through the motions. Saying, “I love you,” and never feeling it seep in. Shining love out in gallons, never quenching our own thirst.
And we like it that way, because that feels safe–dying of thirst, but feeling safe.
Love makes us soft, like taffy, then stronger than we are without it. But along the way, there is discomfort–moments where the love is a challenge to the heart, a pull on the strings, and growth. We don’t keep all loves. Some are too big, too mixed up, and too unruly. Sometimes we can’t seem to find love at all. Sometimes, a love breaks, and love then feels broken, too.
Love is full spectrum. When we dissect it into little segments and sections, and we want it to show up in certain ways, we are missing something we need, or want in our lives, and that is not to be overlooked. But love is all around us, and it is is there for every one of us, and it is just as robust in any little pocket or appearance.
I am coming to understand parts of things, because I am getting older. I don’t profess to know much, really, though my decision to write about such things could be misconstrued as a statement of proficiency, rather than decisive musing. This winter, hunkered down in the weather, I can see some things in new light.
I understand, perhaps, some of the story of my family a little better. (That is a story for another day.) I understand, with certainty, that I’ve not been able to feel love, fully, until now, and while that feels a little sad, it’s been so sweet to realize.
I sure know how to love, more than is even believed by others to be sincere or possible, sometimes. I know how to love, so much so, that I have been judged harshly for it, in fact: as in the case of a client who was dying from her addictions, children lost to her addictions, and with all hope lost. In our last appointment, standing beside her, with my hand on one shoulder, and looking at the wood floor, I told her I loved her.
I shared that I worried for her as we were transferring care. In the end, I am incidental, even if helpful, in the lives of my patients, and transfer is inevitable. My job is to take up very little space in the grand scheme; be barely there, yet welcoming, and be just effective enough to serve as a bit of firm ground, for a season of life, however long that may be.
Loving patients is not in the textbooks, lessons, nor Cliffs Notes. It is somewhat of an unspoken rule you don’t break. You are not to tell clients you have love for them. You just don’t. But I always pondered, “Why?” All the science says love, turn toward, and maintain safety, boundaries. That, I felt, is easy, as long as you’ve studied psychodynamics, which I did. Colleagues don’t often ask why you’ve proposed love as a treatment modality, but they do assume the worst about you. Those were hard lessons.
Here, now, after loving so many people, and their children, I have learned to access the feeling of being loved, for myself. I thank my children, for this, and I most definitely thank my husband. I honor our many years of scrapping for it, and laying our guts and hearts on the line, over and over again. I am grateful for healthy doses of good luck, and I also have myself to thank, for realizing I did not enjoy the life of the martyr, and starting the work to change that–to learn to love myself, shortcomings and all.
This particular musing ends with a question, and some maybes. Are you looking at love, wherever it might be coming your way, and slowing down enough to feel it? Maybe in our lives, it is not love that is missing, but rather, our ability to unabashedly let it in, as one warm and soft element available to everyone. Maybe it is about methodically dropping rules, and defenses, and breaking the importance of inaccessibility.
Where are you blocking the love that is readily available in your life?