To say that love is complicated seems like an almost ridiculous understatement. We can look at the definition and assess our relationships against that defined criteria, and yet there remains an intangible element that exists only as a feeling. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t, our “love” for one person is different than our “love” for another, the way “love” feels can change over time and that adds to the confusion. But as I write this I put the word love in between quotations and I realize that perhaps “love” by itself is fairly simple; what is complicated are all the other emotions, stories, expectations and needs that we attach to relationships and that we try to call love. All that complexity is the totality of the relationship, love is being deeply connected or attached that’s it. Not very complicated.
Last week as I was walking to the farmer’s market I was listening to a radio program I especially like. The theme for the episode was Bad Babies, a funny theme, and in one of the pieces a woman said, “love is whatever it is to each person.” That made me stop and play it back to listen again because it seemed so simple. We each of us know what love is to us (or maybe we do if we have spent some time thinking about it), and we go about loving people in the way that we understand love. But that may not be the way they understand love and so we end up feeling disconnected, rejected, uncared for, unloved. The question we have to ask ourselves about love as we move in and out of relationships is not about sparks, and passion, and desire (those are different issues), it is about whether or not we understand what love means to us personally, and what love means to the people we love (ask them, don’t try to figure this part out on your own unless you are very good at reading minds).
A few weeks ago my daughter was hurting. Something important to her had not gone the way she was hoping it would go and she was in pain. I wanted to physically reach out to her and hold her (which is difficult because she is substantially taller than me). I wanted to comfort as I did when she was little, wrapping her up in my loving embrace. She did not want that and made that clear. Frustrated I asked her, “I want to help you, what can I do?” She replied, “You can make me food.” When I am feeling sad I want to be held and I wanted to hold her. She wanted someone to deal with details that she doesn’t like to deal with on her own. “I don’t like the way you want comforting, “ I said, and I said it because it was true for me – it is a lot easier for me to show up with how I understand love, but what I need is not what everyone else needs. I made her food.
It is valuable taking the time to learn about what love means to you. You are able to be specific in asking for what you want, and that makes it easier to find people who are compatible with you. It helps decrease confusion about what you want versus what other people want. Like that nursery rhyme about Jack Spratt and his wife: they were both clear on what they needed and the relationship worked. If Mrs. Spratt didn’t know that she could eat no lean and her loving husband cooked only lean meals they would have had a lot of conflict, discomfort and unhappiness. When you know what love is to you, you can ask people for what need and you can understand what to expect from various relationships.
A lot of love is unsaid, it is also misunderstood. We say to people, “don’t tell me you love me, show me.” Then they show us what love is to them and we get frustrated because they don’t understand what we want. My daughter was able to tell me what kind of love she needed from me, and I am grateful that she was able to say it and that I was able to give that to her. That isn’t always true, there are some relationships where the love that someone needs is not something that we have to give, there are times in all relationships where it just doesn’t work. We deal with these things as they come to us, we do the best we can as often as we can, that’s all there is really. But love by itself can be simple when we are thoughtful, when we are honest, when we know what we feel and we let that be.