Love is a funny thing. If you ask 50 people what they think “love” means you will get 50 different answers. It is our confusion, or better yet, lack of a coherent and consistent understanding of its meaning, which often leads to undesirable outcomes in our interpersonal relations.
Love has become a suitcase term, much like the words “God” or “sport.” Fishing and basketball are considered sports, but they have nothing in common other than both being a kind of sport.
The term “love” has generally been used as a noun. Dictionary definitions include: compassionate affection; warm personal attachment; sexual passion; and sexual intercourse. None of these are synonymous with the verb love.
Author Bell Hooks talks about love as a verb; an action and an intention; a consistent demonstration of investment in the emotional and spiritual growth and well-being of another person. She argues that because society often confuses love with feelings of care and affection, it becomes difficult for people to love others and to be open to intimacy and taking risks. Associating love with feelings discourages personal accountability because feelings come and go. Feelings are fleeting and unstable, and along with emotions, however powerful and beautiful, are by nature irrational.
You often hear husbands who mercilessly beat their wives claim after the fact that they truly do love the object of their projections. They are able to sincerely say this because they have associated love to be synonymous with feelings. In a stand-up bit, Chris Rock said “If you haven’t contemplated killing someone, you ain’t never been in love.”
This is somewhat funny and relatable because it sadly rings some truth in a society that reinforces the simplistic synonymy of love and feelings. We often want to “hurt” the person we claim to love when we feel wronged by them. In O. J. Simpson’s case, a passionate attachment to an ex-lover combined with his psychopathic jealousy and rage led to the idea that slaughtering Nicole Simpson and her boyfriend to death was a good use of his time.
When hurt, hatred is a much easier and more satisfying emotion to turn to when one has assimilated his relations with others as feelings guised as love. When love is seen as a culmination of things that only occur with time, it is much harder to hurt someone who has given us the power to hurt them, but have trusted us not to.
My own personal decision making has been clouded in the past by the disregard of love as a sustained concern for the “other,” and overindulgence in how the other makes me feel. I have been guilty of spewing vitriolic outbursts to those who I have claimed to love, the same women who have possessed many of the qualities I seek in the mother of my future children.
Hooks’ book rang close to home for the very reason that one cannot claim to love who is hurtful and neglectful. We are only as good as our actions demonstrate.
I have a theory that even when I am old and gray, content and happy and enjoying the days with my kid’s kids, the thoughts of when I have erringly hurt those dear to me, those who I wanted to love but could not and who are no longer a part of my life, will still be a source of pain in my gut, if only for a moment. Over time, I have become at peace with this justified reality. It is a reminder that love can only be fulfilled by the will power, strength, courage and dedication of an individual. It is not contingent on external forces. I know this now.