“Love” is a Four-Letter Word

There are as many kinds of love as there are people in the world. There’s familial love, the kind parents have for their children, children have for parents, and siblings for one another. Often, it’s one of the strongest forms of love, but there’s plenty of room in it for disappointment, and often, it can get colored by an underlying sense of duty, “expectations”.

We expect our families to love us when no one else will, and we expect them to do it in the unconditional, accepting way that takes us as complete people, with all our graces as well as the imperfections, and keeps loving us even if we don’t want to change or move forward.

Families have it hard. If you think about that last paragraph, I’m sure you can also think of how your own family has fallen short and disappointed you. Perhaps as a child, even if you’re already well into adulthood, your parents didn’t provide the kind of support you needed, even as they tried, in their own way, to demonstrate their love. Or maybe, as a parent who has invested a lifetime in a child and now needs some return on that investment as your circumstances change, you find that your child is either unwilling or unable to give you that return.

So if the family is not the place you can count on for love, where do you look?

We can all choose who we marry or make our life partners. We might have the romantic idea of love rooted in passion and physical attraction, but if you base a relationship only on those things, you’ll also find that bodies change with time, and there’s no guarantee that the partner who found you beautiful today will still feel that way ten, twenty, fifty years from now.

Nevertheless, in any marriage, there is a strong current of the physical that runs through love. This is to say nothing of the people who try to make themselves feel whole by marrying, when they should first try to discover who they are and come to the relationship as a free and independent participant.

In marriage, you take vows and sign paperwork that’s supposed to remind you of the commitment you’ve made to another person. How you choose to honor or ignore that commitment, nurture it or break it, will have a deep impact on the love that results.

So, we’re related by blood to families, and bound by law to spouses. Love from them is, as I said, often the strongest and most enduring. But there’s also some underlying colorations that go into both kinds.

The Greeks were smart. In English, we just say “love” and then have to add other words for nuance. The Greeks had several words to describe various kinds of love (“philos, or brotherly love”, “eros, or romantic love”).

Sometimes, the best example we have of love in its purest, most unconditional and universal form, comes from the people who call us friends. They have no legal or familial duty to love us, yet they do, anyway. We often don’t have any control of how they come into our lives or how long they remain companions with us on life’s journey. And often, they open us so we’re better able to appreciate and receive the love we are getting from family or spouse.

They serve as different windows for us to look out of and see our world. We may have spent years simply seeing a situation the same way until our perspective gets shifted and we realize there’s 360 degrees to every story, not just the fixed impression we’ve been focusing on.

If you have all three kinds of love—family, life partner, friend,–those three pillars can be a very strong support system. But the first and most important kind of love must be the love of self. A three-legged stool is fine, except if the seat is rotten.

“Self-love” does not mean that you are proud of all your character traits, or that you praise every aspect of your being. It doesn’t mean that you see everything within yourself through rose-colored glasses.

Properly applied, self-love is the deep appreciation that you are a complete being, unique and precious and valuable as an individual, but also a part of the vastness of the universe. This is a paradox—how can you be a “whole in one” as well as “one in a whole”?

If I knew how to answer that question reliably for each person, I would be one powerful person. But we must each come to this knowledge on our own. We must teach ourselves, often through long and repeated lessons, that, while not every part of us is beautiful, every part is integral to who we are and, therefore, it has to be taken with every other part.

Using a somewhat physical example, I am a musician, a writer, small in stature, blind, married, and have very thin, straight hair. I may really be proud of my music-making or writing—after all, I’ve dedicated my life to pursuing those arts and practicing them. It’s easy to accept them as strengths.

But my blindness is something I’ll be living with every moment of every day for the rest of my life. I don’t always like it, and often, it’s a huge problem. But I can’t change it, or avoid it, and if I spent energy trying to do either one instead of just accepting it as part of who I am, that would be energy wasted that could be put to better use working toward achieving my dreams.

This isn’t to say that I just woke up one day with a great attitude about my blindness. Most of the time, I am independent, determined to do the best and most I can by and for myself. But there are days when I don’t feel that way, and I’ve got to take those days right along with the ones on which I know to the core of my being that I can do what I set out to do.

This is self-love in practice. It’s not static. The acceptance you find today may be gone tomorrow, not to return until next week or next month or even next year. That’s the beautiful and frustrating thing about being a dynamic, thinking being.

Self-love is the foundation for everything else. It’s what we draw on when we create the image of ourselves that we use to form our responses to the world.

And even when family, partners and friends disappoint us, the self is always there.

Explore posts in the same categories: Blindness, Family and Friends, music, psychology, spirituality, writing

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