Last week we said goodbye to my grandfather as he went to the next world. Some family members showed up and some didn’t. As we were talking about how sweet it was to be together, I said that I believe love is an action that starts with how you show up.
Love is a feeling… My aunt responded that she thought love was a feeling. I choose to think of it differently, because the love-as-a-feeling thing absolves us of having to do anything, and it leaves us in the fantasy that if we wait long enough for love to just show up, it will. If we talk about love as a feeling it becomes passive and something we wait to come find us. I think love is more dynamic than that.
Love requires activities that create the conditions that make it possible for it to exist. It is something we create, not something we just fall into. It requires engagement. It requires showing up and making a conscious choice for how to respond to others. We can choose to respond in an angry way, a resentful way, a graceful way, or in a loving way. We choose love by our actions. We must create the conditions for love to flourish.
The fairy tale is that love can overcome anything, and that we should strive to have unconditional love. Yet love always has conditions and it should, or it risks becoming an obligation or putting us at risk for abuse. For instance, if you are abusive towards me, I can release you in love, but I am not going to put effort into creating a loving space where you will continue to batter me. My conditions are that you treat me well. And batterers love to use the, “It’s because I love you” excuse for their very unloving behavior. If love is an action, you need to perform better and treat me with kindness and respect.
Sometimes we stay in relationships that are unhealthy for us because of love, so we tell ourselves, yet when we really look at why we stay, we stay for other reasons. Security. Fear of the unknown. Fear of not being able to go it alone. Maybe I’ll never find someone else. We get other social currency out of being in the relationship. And so on. It’s not actually love if love is an action and you’ve ceased to perform it. If love were a feeling it would be a good start, but it’s not enough to build a healthy relationship. Love requires so much more of us.
I don’t mean to diminish the emotional intensity that can be a part of a loving relationship. Strong emotions can build in a deeply loving relationship. I do want to cast the light on the ways our culture’s definition of “love” can masquerade as a rationale for something that’s more about self-esteem issues, possessiveness, security/insecurity, or ego.
Love as a feeling moves people to a place of taking no responsibility for it. It hits you or it doesn’t. “Oh I’m not feeling the love today, so, too bad!” We are responsible for the love in our life. If we create the space for it, if we are actively engaged in creating love, we have more of it. If we are not feeling in the mood for love, we can do something to shift ourselves into a more loving space. That is actually good for us, to feel a sense of our own agency in love.
Earlier this month, the New York Times published a piece about an experiment to see if you could get people to fall in love with each other. The approach in the study is that by asking intimate questions, we can drop into vulnerability and a deeper intimacy with someone, which creates the conditions for loving someone. I think the questions are fascinating. I encourage you to ask them of people you love, or people you want to love more. What a way to understand who someone is and what is important to them! A few of my favorites are:
- When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?or an action?
- If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
- What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
- What roles do love and affection play in your life?
- If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet?
Our approach to love is similar to our approach to sex. We act like we don’t have to learn to do it, like it just comes naturally, and like it requires no skill. It just happens organically. Feelings are involved, however, love, like sex, requires skills in order for it to flourish, to be meaningful and to meet our needs.
Isn’t it strange that as a culture, we don’t take more seriously what is required of us for love and sex, two of the most important things in our human lives? We spend almost zero time in our entire 12-year grade school curriculum teaching the fundamental skills required for love and sexuality. We have to learn how to love. Oftentimes, we haven’t had great role models for how to show love, how to be love, and how to do love.
Let’s talk about how to create love. It starts by showing up.
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