Love is weird.
I don’t mean in the typical pop song way. I mean more widely. What’s love, anyways? We use the word to describe what we feel towards family, or close friends, or partners, but I can tell you those are all very different feelings. Except… also not? Like I said, weird.
On one hand, the affection and protectiveness I feel for my little brother is not anything like the admiration I feel for my best friend, and how excited I feel learning more about her, even after all this time being friends. However, thinking of both of them brings a similar smile to my face, and I’ve found I feel the same about their flaws. That is, I couldn’t care less about them. Sure, I can see in what ways they’re not perfect, but it just doesn’t annoy me in the slightest. At times, I’ve even found myself feeling closer to someone after learning about those things. It’s like, I can acknowledge that it’s not a great thing about them, but I still love them more for it somehow.
Beyond that, I’ve found love, particularly romantic love, to be such an iffy term. I hear people talking about what REAL love is and what it isn’t, but… who gets to choose what the word ‘love’ means, really? It’s somewhat like describing the colour blue to another person. It’s an old philosophical idea to illustrate how impossible it is to know for sure what it’s like to be someone else.It goes something like this: picture the colour blue. Any shade, doesn’t matter. All right, now the colour looks a certain way, right? How would you describe the colour to someone else, without using any colour as a reference? Maybe you can talk about how it makes you feel, or go about it in other vague terms. But that’s just not accurate. The problem is that there’s no exact way to describe colour without using colour. This means that if someone sees colour a different way from you, you won’t ever be able to tell, since the very base you’re using as reference is different. How do you know that what you consider to be red looks like what you call blue to someone else, and their blue is like your red?
I know, I know. That’s not exactly how light works. But let’s assume someone’s brain might mix up colours in a way that switches them around like that. How could either of you realise you interpret colours in completely different ways? Well, you can’t. So while you can both look at an object and assign a name to the colour it appears to be, you can never know that the object actually looks the exact same shade to both of you.
That’s how I feel about love. We can all talk about what ‘real’ love can mean to each one of us, but what’s more subjective than emotion?
I remember getting crushes on people when I was younger. I pretty much let them take over my life, and in a way they overwhelmed my personality. Occasionally I’ll feel infatuation for someone nowadays, but years of experience has allowed me to isolate the feeling a little bit, and keep it under control. So a similar burst of emotion affects me totally differently than it did before. If I go only on how I deal with it now, it’s not that big of a deal, and it’s ridiculous to call it ‘love’. But that’s not fair to my past self. To her, the exact same feeling would have been more intense and powerful and it would have been perfectly reasonable for her to refer to it as ‘love’. She wasn’t equipped emotionally to process it the way I do now, and she didn’t have experience to draw on for guidance either.
Now look at that difference in definition between the same person at different points of her life, and imagine how much larger that difference would be between two actual different people, one 13 and one 30. Maybe one is a guy and the other a girl, and the latter has only been exposed to abusive relationships. I don’t even know how that second person would feel about anything in particular, but I know it would be way different from how the 13 year old would about the exact same thing.
That’s how love works. We have totally different people with absolutely different life experiences and baggage and minds using the exact same word, which could mean completely different things for each. Not only that, but we use that same word, ‘love’, to talk about the people who have raised us from childhood, or for a teacher who cared for us, or a close friend, or someone we like or are in a sexual or romantic relationship with. It is such a vague word that can be used in SO MANY different contexts by such massively different people.
So, what is love?
Well, whatever you want it to be. Maybe it’s getting Sally from Mrs Hayworth’s class to go out for ice cream with you after social studies, or it might be hugging a friend whose father died. Love could be smiling as your little brother spends five dollars, a FORTUNE to him, to buy you a little toy he knew you’d like, and it could also be falling asleep next to the man you’ve been with for twenty years. Love is what we make it.
Maybe we can describe love as the gathering of moments that light up the lonely island of our own self with the light of someone else, showing us we aren’t floating alone in the dark like we thought, but that there are many people like us out there. We can say love is that which gives us the bravery to smile in a world that is forever trying to crush our spirit, to make us lose our joy.
Love is caring for others, and feeling cared for. It means being vulnerable, and it means being hurt, and it means being able to trust others. Love is, perhaps, the only thing that truly separates us from other animals.
Whatever it is, and however you define it, I’m glad for it. I’m grateful to love and be loved by my parents, and my little brother, and my closest friends. I’m happy I have loved romantic interests wildly and foolishly, and it makes me happy to have felt the affection of others for me. No matter their context, no matter how they defined love, I know they have cared for me. How much more can you ask of life?