What is love? Have you figured it out yet?
Oxford dictionary describes love as both a noun and a verb; as a strong feeling of affection, a great interest and pleasure in something, a person or thing that one loves, and deep affection or sexual love for someone.
That’s nice and all, but how do you describe love?
And how do you feel it?
And how do you know if you feel it, or whether it is something else?
And how do you learn to feel it again when you thought once that it was love but it ended up being something quite different from that, and it left you a jaded, shattered soul who questions whether they could ever open up enough to do it again?
How I ended up with such an immature understanding of love is a mystery to me. I threw the word “love” around like sand on the playground when I was young; writing it in notes passed across the aisles in grade school, scribbling it on my binders, gossiping about it with my friends. I didn’t understand it; none of us did. As I got older, it got more serious – no longer just jotted down with a pen, but it became the ubiquitious final words uttered after spending hours on the telephone, the banter of “I love you more,” the feeling that they are the one and you will love them forever. How did I not learn to decipher love and play in these formative years? They were not all the one, and they rarely lasted in my life more than a few months. And now, with my 27th birthday on the horizon, I think I’m finally getting a clue.
I asked my mum a few months ago when she knew she was in love with my dad. I knew that despite being genetically similar, when it comes to the world of romance, her and I are nothing alike. I wanted to know how “normal” people navigate this complicated world of love. Upon deep reflection, I had finally come to terms that I was not “normal” when it came to this, and now that I was trying to be, I didn’t know how.
She told me that she enjoyed her time with my dad. They spent every moment they could together and it never grew tiresome. She said that after six months, he told her he was going to marry her someday, and she laughed and thought he was crazy. After a year, she realized that when they weren’t together, she missed him and wished he was there. And that’s how she knew.
A few weeks ago, I went to Waterford for a weekend of theatre and catching up with some wonderful friends. During that weekend, the truest meaning of love revealed itself to me, through text and spoken word. My eyes have been opened, the chains around my heart have been released. I have been liberated, set free, and I’m quite certain all of these signs have been pointing to one thing. The meaning of love has been revealed to me; the feeling of love will be embraced.
I remember being asked in the past why I loved someone. I would name off generic things: you’re funny, handsome, ambitious, caring, thoughtful… I should’ve known when this was my response that there was no way it was love. When you describe the character of a person or economic justifications to explain your feelings of love, you’re doing it all wrong.
Here is an excerpt from the play Salt-Water Moon (French 1988, p. 35) where this is made apparent; when Jacob and Mary are discussing Jerome, the man she is engaged to wed:
JACOB: Do you love him?
MARY: What odds to you? He’s a good man, Jerome. He’s quiet and kind, he’s smart and dependable, and once he builds his own house in Country Road, we’re taking Dot to live with us.
JACOB: That’s not what I asked, Mary. He may be all of those t’ings you said, and more. I don’t give a damn if he’s wise like Solomon or strong like Samson. I don’t care if he builds ten houses in the Country Road for you and your sister. I only asked if you loved him.
As if by divine intervention, this message was echoed that same weekend in my reading of Wuthering Heights, when Catherine Earnshaw has just been asked by Edgar Linton to marry him, and she is speaking with Nelly, the maidservent, about it.
“Why, do you love him, Miss Cathy?”
“Nonsense, I do – that’s sufficient!”
“By no means – you must say why?”
“Well, because he’s handsome and pleasant to be with.”
“Bad,” was my commentary.
“And because he is young and cheerful.”
“And because he loves me.”
“Indifferent; coming there.”
“And he shall be rich, and I shall be the greatest woman of the neighborhood, and I shall be proud of having such a husband.” (Brontë 1847, pp. 68-69)
In the end, love is not only the most selfless thing you can do, exposing you to the greatest emotional vulnerability possible; it is also a very selfish act. Love is not about all the characterists of another that you enjoy. It is all about you. It is about how they make you feel and how they contribute to the person that you are. And you being in their life will provoke the same feelings for them. It’s all about the feeling of harmony between both souls. As cliche as it is, the person you love is, in fact, that missing puzzle piece from your life.
Although the context is horrible, Catherine Earnshaw describes it best when she tells Nelly about the love she feels for Heathcliff, her childhood confidant: “It would degrade me to marry Heathcliff now; so he shall never know how I love him; and that’s not because he’s handsome, Nelly, but because he’s more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same…” (Brontë 1847, p. 71)
I had an amazing time in Waterford, catching up with friends, going to two theatre productions, and having lots of laughs, but what I realized then was how much I missed Sean, and how much I wished he was there to share in those memory-making times with me. And also, how much I wanted him to know that. Through the snow squalls and the icy patches, the only thought that came to mind was, “Oh God, what would happen if I died and he never actually knew how I really felt?”
Take a hard look at the “love” you felt in your past relationships, and maybe even the “love” you feel right now. Do you love things about them? Or do you love yourself with them? Do they make you feel whole? Do they make you feel more of yourself than you ever did before? Do you feel like you can take on the world with them by your side? Because that’s what love truly is. And that’s the kind of love that everyone should want for themselves.
It’s the holiday season; share the love.
Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights (1847). Ed. Murray, John. London: NPG, 1910. Project Gutenberg. Web. 8 December 2013
French, David. Salt-Water Moon (1988). New York: Berman, Boals, & Flynn. Google Books. Web. 8 December 2013.