With Valentine’s Day creeping up on us, my friends recently devised an interesting challenge-we each agreed to write speeches about what love means to us. In thinking about what I wanted to say, I realized that there are plenty of people who are willing to try to explain love in definite terms. Love is patient, love is blind, love lifts us up, all you need is love … the list goes on-as anyone who reads my columns can probably guess, however, I’m not going to make overarching claims. Instead, I’m going to admit that I can only try to interpret what love means based on how I’ve experienced it.
In my childhood, I was lucky. Love was always family. Love was the relationship between Mom and Dad; love was visiting my cousins; love was the birth of my baby sister. Moreover, I was lucky enough to meet a girl when I was eight who quickly taught me that love could and should be friendship. Love was admitting boys might not have cooties. Love was hours on a swing set. Love was sharing.
Unsurprisingly, when I began “falling in love,” love became more complicated. The first time I fell, love became sacrifice. Love was letting him pull me down as he pulled himself up. Love was letting him blame me for his depression. Love was being there through his fight anyway. Love was helping him get better as I got worse.
When I fell in love the second time, love was healing. Love was being accepted in all my broken glory and being put together again with respect. Love was the boy who wanted so badly to be enough for me. Love was wishing I could be that girl for him. Love was learning I was worth love and yet temporarily incapable of it.
Fortunately, by the time I fell in love for the third time, love was finally balance. Love was caring for someone as much as he cared for me. Love was dependability. Love was stability. Love was mutuality. And, sadly, love was learning that sometimes these things just aren’t enough.
In the absence of having someone to focus on as the primary figure of love in my life since the end of my last relationship, I have had to come to recognize love in less distinct forms. Fortunately, this ambiguity has inspired reflection during which I’ve noticed one commonality-namely, that throughout my life, love has always been one thing-vulnerability. Honestly, the realization is a terrifying one, since, in my mind, accepting vulnerability is accepting that someone will see me in my entirety-my good and my bad. Nevertheless, I cannot ignore that it has been the most salient factor in moments I have learned the most about love. There was vulnerability in realizing I’d been hiding from my best friend for years because I didn’t believe I deserved love; in the moment I surrendered to my own need for co-dependence and told her everything; in realizing I could be imperfect with her. There was vulnerability in the moment I opened myself to someone I was afraid to trust; in admitting to him I hated myself; in letting him show me I could be more. There has been vulnerability in the decision to let people into my heart more willingly every day since.
I don’t pretend to know what love means for everyone. My friends set this challenge because they recognize that everyone is going to have a different answer and that the important thing is to know your own definition. For me, love has become the very idea of living vulnerably for the sake of others and having faith that this vulnerability will open the door to honesty, acceptance, and caring. Only through vulnerability have I come to learn what true sharing, sacrifice, healing, balance, and surrender look like; only through vulnerability have I come to experience what true connection and heartbreak feel like; only through vulnerability have I come to know truly both shame and empathy; and only through vulnerability have I come to accept the beauty not only in others, but also in myself. At the same time, I recognize that many people will probably see this as foolish, and maybe it is. I’ll be the first to admit that this faith has not always been rewarded and that vulnerability has been a major source of hurt in my life-however, this challenge helped me to realize that I think this hurt is worth it, because I see the vulnerability that precedes it as crucial to my relationships.
Thus, with Valentine’s Day approaching, it might be a good time to consider accepting my friends’ challenge and take a moment to consider what love means to you. Perhaps you’ll agree with me about vulnerability, and perhaps you won’t. It honestly doesn’t matter. The important thing is being able to define what love means to you. Only then can you be sure you’re working toward the relationships you envision, sacrificing only what you are willing to give, and not letting something meaningful pass you by.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.