We are entirely too free with the way we over-use and abuse the word love. We love Tim Hortons, or a celebrity or musician, or movie or book, or stuff or Pink Panthers. Maybe that is why when it comes right down to it, I am not the only one struggling to answer the questions What is love and How do we know when we love someone?"
These are questions that I personally struggle to understand let alone explain. Love can take many forms. The love we have is different for our family, relatives, friends, life partners and even pets. But when we say we love, we generally mean it. So what is it? When I think about the people that I love and the feelings that entails, the first thing that comes to mind is that I can't get through a day without thinking of them. No, wait...maybe not that. I love my parents and siblings but I don't necessarily think of them everyday. Perhaps that is simply because they haven't been a physical part of my life for more than 30 years - due to death not ill favour. But this series of events in my life have shaped my life and my perceptions - perhaps in no way more significant than regarding this exact topic. I have no doubt that my parents were deeply in love. I have a box stuffed with love letters that they exchanged when they were apart. I know stories of the struggles they overcame to be together. But I knew none of this growing up. She was long gone before I heard the stories and found the evidence for myself. As a child, I assumed there was love because they married. I saw tears in my Mom's eyes when she spoke of him. Tears of love? Tears because she missed him? Dad died when I was 2 years old. I never knew my mom as a woman in love - just as a mom. She taught me how to be a good mom, a woman with fortitude and tenacity, a woman with a vision and a plan. There have been many times in my life when I thought that in many ways I was living my mothers life. Career choice, children, extended family relations and single parenthood. I had my own reasons for choosing to remain a single parent, but I don't know if she made the conscious decision as well.
The thing I didn't experience growing up is seeing my mother in a loving relationship with a partner. Giving a hug and a kiss to your children is much different than the same gestures bestowed upon your mate. As a matter of fact the one single thing that I missed most about not having someone special in my life was the kisses. The peck on the cheek as you are leaving or coming back, the kiss goodnight, the smooch just because. Yeah, I know Italians love kissing so much they double peck with every Caio, but it's just not the same when it's obligatory. My aunt used to get offended when my son would pull back as she embraced to avoid that peckish assault. Lol! Whether they are the kissy-type or not, a partner that's right for me will have to learn to be free with his lips. Yes I do think it can be learned. I have to believe that because like my own up-bringing, my children never experienced that either. Their father and I in hindsight were not exactly the model showpiece for affectionate behaviour. Consequently, the kids and I were like the 3 Muskateers - facing the world on our own with no one to turn to except each other in times of strife. I taught them to be fiercely independent and I can only hope that they will not pay the ultimate price by not knowing how to have someone to stand by their side. I used to think of them as my back up plan...I would forage ahead and nipping at my heels was my back up and support staff. Somewhere along the line I stopped charging and they overtook me. It is a good thing.
So let's say that love is and can be a learned experience. Let's say that that is why we struggle to define it, because each one of us has different life experiences to draw from. How many times have we heard about the severely abused child continuing to profess love for the deranged parent. The cycle that we call abuse is the only form of human contact that the child has known. We all crave the physical presence of another, it is an unspoken affirmation of our self-worth. We are worthy of someone else's time and attention. Is this the beginnings of feelings of love? How we are treated is generally how we treat others. The abused become the abusers but that too can be unlearned behaviour. We can re-train ourselves. It may take time and a few gently reminders, but eventually he will remember to put the toothpaste cap back on so it isn't oozing all over the counter. And it's okay that you have to share with a partner the things that you like and don't like. Whether it is compatibility in bed or the sharing of household chores, they can't know what pleases us unless we tell them or they are psychic. Not many are psychic! It's funny we are willing to spend years training our children to have manners, use the toilet, dress themselves, but we don't seem to have that same patience with our mates. And the divorce rate rises.
I "googled" the true meaning of love and got something rather interesting. It said that to truly love someone you must love them unconditionally meaning that you love that person exactly as they are, exactly as they were and exactly as they will be in the future. Which according to the author means that you cannot truly love your kids because they do indeed change throughout their lives...hmmm. Interesting but I would respectfully disagree. But superficially let's say that this is a good definition - in order to truly love someone you must be able to stick with them through the trials and tribulations that life throws at us. Would I love you less if you gained weight? or lost a leg or breast? if you got sick and needed full-time care? Hopefully not. Would I love you less if you went from being faithful to me you went out and found other partners...possibly? Would I love you less if you became an abusive partner...hopefully! At some point love for self has to supersede love for another...love and self respect. But considering the aspect of change, I have to believe that people can change and change for the better. Maybe the 40 year old bachelor will learn to enjoy watching an occasional program that is not broadcast on TSN. Maybe the abused child will learn to love with out a caustic word or heavy hand. It all depends on if we want to change, if we want to share our life with another. Sometimes we have to see within ourselves the things we want to change to feel better about ourselves. Sometimes the right person comes along that makes us want to give up complete control of the remote.
The Strength of Love
The warm fuzzies are beginning to hit hard with the love we feel for parents, siblings and children. I heard it said once that children were God's way of ensuring we always had friends. I don't imagine that everyone can consider their children to be their friends but I sure do and I hope they feel the same :) Unlike pets, you can't pick your children (unless you adopt or use medical intervention) but regardless, a large part of who your children become as independent people depends on your actions as a parent. I've worked with countless children and young adults in my various careers, enough to say with certainty that there are very few really bad kids. That inbred evil - most become "bad" because of the circumstances that they are exposed to. Some as parents we control, some we cannot. Children learn what they live...Always!
But there is nothing quite like the all-encompassing love we feel for a mate and life-partner. When we feel this kind of love, there is nothing that we won't do and sacrifice for that person. This is the only love that I think really has the capacity to change us. Things we may not have liked in the past we suddenly participate in for the sake of being with another person. Watching sports for example :) The only thing I can say with any certainty is that true love for another person cannot be just physical attraction. It may get the first glance and lust but it doesn't hold that look with the body, mind and soul.
Instant love or love at first glance can and does happen. That immediate and strong attraction to another person I believe is the connection of soul-mates. We have this picture in our heads of our ideal mate - for girls it is often the proverbial tall, dark and handsome. Yes, we make jest. But long ago, I sat down and made a list of all the qualities I wanted in a partner. I was specific and the list ended up including 20 points. I did it because I didn't trust myself to end up with the "wrong person" again. The funny thing is I have used the list to weed out people who I can look at objectively and say, you are great but not for me. But dates that have come close to some of the desirable qualities don't necessarily fit the visual image I have. The point is that true love has to go beyond physical attributes. None of us know what the future holds and the mortal body is subject to many alterations throughout our lives. I can only promise to push your wheelchair when you can no longer walk...and hopefully I'll be able to see the cliff before I push you off it. Lol!
"Love must include friendship, respect and communication"
The rest all comes as a result of those things. Just think how different the world would be if we treated our marriages like our friendships. Who doesn't have a friend from grade school or even high school who they still speak fondly of if not see on a regular basis. We keep our friends forever, we forgive them all their flaws and the feelings we have for them in our older years doesn't seem to diminish with time and space. I've considered the relationships of many couples I know in a quest to understand what I want and what makes their relationship successful. I wondered what are the qualities that their mates had that I would want, what did they display that I didn't think I would be willing to tolerate? The only thing I thought I could see as a commonality for success was that most of the long standing marriages began as friendly relationships in high school or post-secondary. They grew up together. They were a couple for an average of 5 years before children came into the picture and none of them seemed to have negatively meddling in-laws. Note to self: don't meddle :) That doesn't mean though that these relationships were perfect, just that there was a commitment to work things out. Like we do with our same sex childhood friends. Forgive and forget.
Respect for a partner is to me the next critical element in a successful relationship. I will do my best not to hurt or lie to someone I respect. I would not devalue our relationship by putting it on the back-burner to satisfy my carnal lust with someone else - not even in a semi-serious flirtatious manner. I will stay true to the life and love that is shared between two - only two! Some people have no problem straying for physical satisfaction with someone else because they feel they can separate love from sexual pleasure. I would suggest that respect as a part of love precludes this.
Communication is the third and final part of the love equation. I understand that at times we just don't want to talk about it, but even then, there will be no hurt feelings if we can share that fact. Nothing screws up a relationship of any type better and quicker than a simple misunderstanding and mis-communication. If you don't tell me you love me my active mind may assume all sorts of things that aren't necessarily true. Of course it doesn't always have to revolve around the expression of feelings, a occasional statement of appreciation goes miles beyond the roses bought because of Valentines Day.
I think I still own a copy of the 1990's best-selling book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. I never read the whole thing through because at the time I didn't completely agree with the notion of such distinct stereotypes at a time when achieving and maintaining equality among the sexes was the higher goal. Now, not so much at least not when it comes to relationships. Not for me anyways. I think we are fundamentally different with different brain patterns and responses to situations. Don't get me wrong, I am not a supporter of the barefoot and pregnant notion just because of gender (although photographs of pregnant men still seem wrong). I believe that men and woman can do any job they want and should get the same pay for the same work. Some men can be stronger, but not all. Some women cook better, but not all. It took a long time to achieve equality between the sexes in society but I emotional and relationship equality is different and we aren't there - yet.
I say yet, because I believe that a lot of the relationship needs that women have are manifested in part by societies views and portrayed stereotypes. Women are still seen as weaker, more emotional, the caretaker of others and the running of the home. The man is virile, mastering the outside world in business and sexually with no emotion beyond anger ever seen. This may change but it will have to start with refusing to accept the way the sexes are portrayed in the print, visual and virtual media. The other thing that will need to change is our tolerance level for the portrayal. I for one am not sure I really need a change. I like being a girl and I don't want to give up anything that that entails - being a girl. Well, maybe little changes like getting rid of the Miss Mrs identifiers. :) Pay equity. My blouse shouldn't cost more to dry clean then his shirt. Mechanics shouldn't rip me off because I am considered unknowledgeable. No matter what I wear or how I act, you don't have the right to assume I want you to take advantage of me. But I digress...
We really are not from different planets although sometimes because of the way we view things around us, you might think we are. Getting beyond the obvious physical differences, there is just so much more. In a relationship, (as in life in general) women tend to have a lower self-esteem and be less secure. Men call it needy. Regardless, we want to hear the words I love you. We need to hear those assurances. We need to feel the hugs. Foreplay and cuddles after are the cornerstones that define a relationship as opposed to an opportunity. Okay, maybe it's just me. Men need to see the fruits of his labour. He wants to know that he is capable of giving pleasure. He won't necessarily say it, but he really does want to be the one who can take us to "heaven". Women are emotional. Men are physical.
Women tend to have a different tolerance level for cleanliness and the beauty around them. Men barely notice when their surroundings have changed - unless the new chair doesn't have his butt print in it. lol! Women think and ponder and question the option of responses in her mind before she speaks. Men blurt out whatever they are thinking - men don't have a deep seated desire to hear their own voices. Opinions are generally shared unless they are asked for - I swear they think we know what is going through their mind. We could go on ad infinitum.
The interesting thing about all this is that the songs that make us drool, the programs and books that have us women fantasizing are often created or written by men. The men who keep their true feeling bottled up like a poisonous gas are the very ones who write and sing the song professing love of a woman. But if the man on the street uttered the very same words he would be stereotyped by much of society in a way that is not at all flattering. Now those are gender biases that I would like to see banished. But all is not lost for a man can be trained. You'll still find an errant sock lying right next to the laundry basket, and yes he will probably still fart and giggle...but, if he knows that hearing those words "I love you" means that much to us. I believe that he will try to please us. If he knows that a little cuddle goes a long way to make us happy, I believe he will open his arms to receive us. In the end I want to think about my partner as being the man behind the words of the song I love so much. Just a personal observation, but the gentle reminders (nagging) would probably stop if instead of responding with a grunt you relayed your intentions. "I'll take of it after the game/next week/hire someone else". :)
|STAGES OF LOVE|
-give each other space so that when we come together it is like the first time
-talk, listen and share each and every day
-pretend that each day we are on another date and not attached forever like the toothpaste lid
-be patient, understanding, accepting, tolerant, loving and honest
-speak to each other with a smile on our face or wait for another time
-to never let a day go by without saying and hearing the words I Love You
-to cherish and respect each other
Having a mantra like this reminds me of the list I had of what I wanted in a mate. When that special someone comes along we will make vows like this that we can review often and not just utter in a church once.
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