If you know me well, you know I love Jon Foreman’s music. In one of his songs he wrote something that haunts me: “If it doesn’t break your heart it isn’t love.” I have agreed and disagreed with this many times over the years. I have wrestled and screamed and cried at times, trying to figure out what love really is. How do I know I’m offering it? How do I know I’m experiencing it? What am I doing that’s keeping me from receiving it? These are mostly rhetorical questions I never fully answer for myself, yet there are some things I’ve found to be true for me in some ways.
Every anniversary that comes around, I get sappy and think/feel deeply about love. It’s something that every human inherently longs for. Its something that moves us internally and externally in ways that is difficult to give words to. It’s something that shapes the way we view and enjoy relationships more than most things. It’s something that if we go without in our first few years of life, our physical and psychological development is greatly altered. And yet, we continue to be amateur lovers in many ways (another Jon Foreman lyric 😊). I don’t want to be an amateur, which is why I’m writing this. I want to make sense of what I’ve learned over the years and share it, as I’m convinced that learning something then trying to communicate about it is a great way to “get” something deeply. So here’s my offering about love for those who care and who are tired of living in a world of amateur lovers. It starts with me. It starts with you.
Love demands vulnerability. It demands that we do not stay closed in our thinking and feeling, and challenge ourselves to be exposed, an exposure that exposes our own shit and not pointing out others shit. Vulnerability is me opening myself up to another person or group and allowing others to see me for who I am, the good and the ugly… not hiding or pretending, spending endless energy proving my goodness. That’s fraudulent behavior that keep me from being able to love and from receiving love. People will see goodness on their own, if indeed we aren’t pretenders. Love demands vulnerability. If you’re being vulnerable with someone, it’s likely you are experiencing the power of love.
Love demands listening. Listening to another person or group allows us to slow down long enough to see another’s perspective or reality. Listening allows us to learn new things outside of our myopic view of life and experiences. Listening allows us to know in ways that we didn’t know before. Listening allows to us see that others views and experiences really do matter and are worth valuing and possibly incorporating into our new view. Even when listening leads us to seeing that we disagree with another, if we’re listening vulnerably, then we can’t hate that person even though we disagree with them. If someone has taken the time to truly listen to you and hear you out, you’ve likely experienced love. Love demands listening.
Love demands sacrifice. This happens in small ways every day, and will also demand very big sacrifices at times. In relationships, if you’ve experienced love, then you’ve given of yourself in ways you didn’t want to. I’m not talking about abusive ways, that’s not love. I’m talking about a giving up of dreams at times, considering others before yourself at times, and delaying your own gratification at times. Love demands we stay with those who are suffering and are alone. Many of us have experienced abandonment in these times, and its one of the worst betrayals because it’s from someone we thought loved us, but was not able to make the journey of pain with us. Love demands we stand with the oppressed, fight for justice, even if the injustice hasn’t directly affected our own lives. It is in this space that we often experience broken hearts because of love. If you have sacrificed like this for someone or someone has sacrificed like this for you, you have likely experienced love. Love demands sacrifice.
Lastly (and obviously this is not an exhaustive list), love demands seeing the other as their own and equal. This might be one of the foundations of loving. When this does not happen, abuse takes place. Seeing oneself as the owner of another’s body, mind, will is at the root of evil. Not seeing another as their own is to take a stance of elitism that leads one to believe they can do what they want with you. When one does not think others are equal, the opposite of love takes place. Yet when people are seen as their own and as equals, great safety and trust is built, and at the heart of love (intimacy, connection) is safety and trust. How can one truly be vulnerable and listen when there’s no safety or trust? Yet in the presence of safety and trust, great freedom and joy and peace can be experienced. In the presence of safety and trust, we can experience the joy of all kinds of intimacies if you know what I mean 😉. As a therapist, I have seen many loving relationships trying to navigate togetherness, yet one partner is not able to see the other person has their own out of fear of that person hurting them with their freedom. This is why love is dangerous, because if we are going to open ourselves up vulnerably, listen to them, be willing to sacrifice for them, and see them as their own, I am giving the other person that I am loving the ability to greatly harm me as well. This is one of the dangers of love. Yet, as CS Lewis puts it, in my own words, if we protect ourselves from love, we will find that we have guarded our heart so much so, that it becomes buried very deep into the ground, and there it grows hard and impenetrable. If you see another person as their own and respect them as an equal, you have shown love. Love demands seeing others as their own and as equals.
Love is the greatest drug. I dream of the day when humans become addicted to living out love. It keeps you coming back for more. It’s euphoric and full of a beautiful kind of pleasure that allows something deep and intimate and erotic to take place within intimate, committed relationships. And within non-erotic loving relationships, it offers peace and safety that allows for the diversity of each one of us as well as the accountability to others who aren’t being loving (which is a whole different post in and of itself).
Here’s to becoming lovers who aren’t amateurs anymore and to pressing into a kind of love that breaks our hearts and moves us into the burdens and pains of others.