Lessons in love
Valentine’s Day teaches Nicole Law that love is more than a hot flush or missed breath.
Over the past few years, I’ve read my fair share of books, had countless conversations with friends, and felt that ache for love’s ‘arrival’. Valentine’s Day has come round again. And no, it’s not about chocolates, flowers and romantic dinners for two. So, what is it about? I wondered, what do we – what do I – really know about love?
To most, love is reduced to that romantic excitement we all long for. And that is how I understood it in my youth. Fragmented glimpses of love came from what I gleaned from the media, rather than what I observed in the lives of people around me. I understood love as a feeling of lightheadedness, an instant connection that flashed between two people in chance encounters, over coffee cups or on a dance floor.
Love seemed effortless. It was more a noun than a verb, a prize won, a label worn on one’s sleeve.
Relationships took the form of makeshift tents where one one could shelter from the storm, rather than a house built slowly from the ground.
There was a flimsiness to my ideas of love. Perhaps I, like so many others, saw love as the object, the target achieved, more than as a lifelong journey.
Then comes the reckoning of ideals against the reality of lived experience. You begin to realise just how romanticised your notion of love was, a far cry from its demanding reality. You thought love was merely its enjoyment, what you receive from it, and you discover how much it is self-giving, the pouring out of yourself.
Relationships built on self-interest start to crumble when love is seen as the end point – and then precisely comes to an end – rather than the gateway to a deep and lasting bond. You can’t keep expecting someone to turn up at your door with flowers or to serenade you with a love song. You see beyond the false pretense of appearances. You see your own lack of authenticity and feel ashamed. You start to shed the image you have created.
The ideal woman. The woman who adds to and subtracts from herself. The woman who holds her tongue and looks down at her lap. The woman who shapeshifts into whatever you want her to be. The woman for every season. The woman of infinite dedication, for whom those feminine qualities of self-giving and self-sacrifice come almost effortlessly. Well, a nice idea, but the harsh reality check shows you she just isn’t you.
You soon realise that moulding yourself into what other people want you to be will lead you down the pathway to self-destruction. The road to disillusionment is paved with good intentions.
When you no longer recognise the woman in the mirror, you start to straighten up and to listen to the woman who is dying to be heard.
You start to relax, to enjoy the process instead of being fixed on the outcome. You start to show up – flaws and all. You start to speak up – giddy laughter returning. You start to unfold again and lean into the act of loving itself. You start to see love where you are right now.
It’s in that concerned text from a friend, that bag of sweets on your office table, the hot Milo by your bedside. You start to give love freely. You call up that friend who’s been having a tough time, you send a book to another friend faraway, you clear an afternoon to walk with someone just to hear about how things are going. You know that what you give, you may not get back in equal measure, but you give anyway.
Cupid might not be firing arrows in your direction but you have learned a lot more about love since you first started to seek it. You’ve learnt that it’s more in giving than in receiving (though you also have to learn how to receive it). You’ve learnt that it’s more the day before and the day after Valentine’s Day than the day itself.
So what do you know about love? Something of the what, a bit of the why, and now you’re learning the most important thing of all – the how.
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