What is Love, Anyway?

If you are looking to get lost in an alternate reality, Twitter is a crazy world in which to do it. And the vast majority of people are unhappy. Single people are unhappy, married people are unhappy, even the happily single or happily married often seen quite the opposite. And as humans, we seem to be built with this one driving force in mind: love. What is it? How do you find it? How do you know it’s real? If you lost it, how do you get it back? Do you even want to? Is the pain of losing it really worth the joy that having it briefly provided? If love is the dissertation, then Twitter is the most beautifully fucked-up research college around.

As someone who struggles a lot with accepting that I am not so terrible that I’m unworthy of being loved the way I want to be one day, I’ve found some interesting conclusions. Everyone is a therapist; everyone has an idea of what love looks like, and the truth is, we’re all wrong. And we’re all right. This is the great epiphany. The way I want to experience love is not likely to match up with anyone but a very small percentage of the world. Single women post things all the time like “if he cooks and cleans and is willing to go down on you, then keep him”. I’m sorry, but that’s like the bare minimum of what a partner should be (and let’s be honest, I’ve learned the difference between ‘willing’ and ‘it’s my favorite thing because it makes you feel good’). Maybe it’s enough for them? Maybe my judgment of their low standards is misplaced, because I cook just fine on my own and I’d much rather have someone around that makes me feel like I have the freedom to be myself without judgment or criticism. Other would-be love gurus think that my ideals are selfish: that if I love someone and there are things they don’t like about me, I should be willing to change those things to make them happy. You know what? If that’s what you value, then fine. I’m not going to stop you from believing in love the way you think it should be. Just like religion, please allow me the autonomy to believe in my version of love as well.

For a long time, I’ve mistakenly believed that loving someone means being their rock, propping them up when they needed it, absorbing their pain and replacing it with lightness. But the reverse of this school of thought is that means in order for you to love someone, they have to be willing to “let go” of their burdens and share them with you. Why? Why do they have to? What if their burdens are what keeps them moving forward? What if it’s what makes them feel as though they are conquering their demons? Our pain and regret can reside inside us without festering. It can just be there, silently pushing us through whatever life hands out, reminding us that we can make it through because we have a silent strength that other people can’t even fathom. Some people are simply their own rock. They don’t need you for that. They need you for other reasons, and it’s up to you to discover what those reasons are, if you want to be there for them in the way they will appreciate most.

In the end, it’s not up to me to decide what this words means for anyone but myself, and the people that I choose to share it with. Whether it’s in a romantic way, as a friend, or in the way I love my children and family, it’s up to me to decipher what the people in my life need the most and give it to them. I’m not going to get it right all the time; I’m still going to have moments where I think I’m doing the right thing and find out it’s not what they need right then. Rather than let that make me retreat into my shell and take it personally, I need to remember that they may not need to be loved the same way I do. If I can give them that even part of the time, and if I know I’m trying to let them be who they are and love them for it, then maybe I have a chance of convincing myself that I deserve to be loved the same way.

This is a huge change for me. For a long time I’ve simply thought I don’t need any kind of romantic love in my life: that my family, my kids, my amazing friends fill my heart up enough that I don’t have to worry about “falling” ever again. Once I’m free, I thought, I’ll just have a string of lovers…I’ll be a love ’em and leave ’em type. I’ll date younger men that can satisfy my needs without getting involved in the sticky mess of “love”. You know what, though? This is all bullshit. This is the insecure part of me talking, the part that whispers “you’re not good enough” constantly whenever I get ahead of myself, knocking me down a few pegs lest I think I’m SomeBody. I’m learning over time and reflection that the voice is wrong. I don’t want to be somebody’s good time. I want to be, as a friend recently put it in a raunchy but succinct way, somebody’s “life-altering fuck”. I want to be the one that makes them forget about whoever it was that broke them before. And I want there to be somebody for me that makes me feel calm and secure when my mind races and my body won’t sit still. And as I recently told a friend, when I find them, I want to be the one that lights their world on fire in the best kind of way.

I want this for all of us. I didn’t believe in love for a long time, but I feel like while it never quite left, maybe it just disappeared over the horizon for a while and now, like a sunrise, it’s going to make itself known again. If we’re patient and we pay attention.

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