Love in Action...
Believe it or not, being the commitment-phobe that I am, I find myself obsessed with the concept of love and what it means. I’m constantly looking up definitions, reading books about love, and having discussions with friends and family members. I want to know what love is.
Most of the time when people think about love, it is referred to in a romantic sense, as a feeling of intense emotion and affection. Often we find ourselves debating whether a certain action constitutes as love and if love can coexist with abuse.
Love is confusing. Or do we make it confusing? Could there be a definition that sets a concrete idea on what love is and isn’t? In Bell Hooks’ book, All About Love: New Visions, she sets out to define what love is. In her eyes, true love cannot even be tainted with emotional or physical abuse.
“Love is an action,” not necessarily a feeling, she argues. “We do not have to love. We choose to love.”
I pondered this argument and thought about my childhood. I wanted to wrap my head around what parental love meant before I started questioning what constituted romantic love. Could I look back at my childhood and say that I truly felt loved by my parents?
In a previous article I wrote called, “Daddy Issues,” I discussed the tumultuous relationship I had with my father growing up, and realizing I did not have accept his emotionally abusive and controlling behavior towards me.
Regardless of my father’s abuse, he always told me he ‘loved’ me. However, with that love came a lot of confusion. I would get whipped with a belt if I disobeyed or he would humiliate me in front of people if I did something wrong. At one point, when I was seven years-old, my father was screaming at me and threatening me in front of a group people at a golf course. When my dad left me crying alone, another man came up to me in concern and empathically asked if my father hit me at home. Many of my father’s actions, according to Hooks, would be contradictory to what love really is.
I had a hard time accepting this notion, though. There are certain points in my childhood where I felt my father really did love me. But, I struggle focusing on those points because those moments were overshadowed by his emotional abuse.
Hooks believes care and affirmation, “opposite of abuse and humiliation” is the essential framework for what real love begins to look like. As I began meditating on that framework, the idea of love began to make sense. How could real love exist in any relationship that includes abuse?
While accepting that my father did not show me ‘true’ love is hard, having a definition of what constitutes as love, instead of just warm fuzzy feelings, is quite helpful. This definition can be applied to all types of relationships: friendships, familial, or romantic.
To continue repeating the idea that love cannot coexist with abuse, how many of us would begin to realize that perhaps relationships we are involved in are, in fact, not loving? While there might be glimmers of love, overall the relationship is painful, confusing, and overwhelming, at times. The phrase “love hurts” is indicative of what we’ve been taught love is. Why does love have to hurt? What is it about love that we as a society have started to believe coincides with pain?
Yes, it hurts to see someone we truly love in pain. However, we do not purposefully hurt someone we deliberately love. We don’t control or humiliate that person. When we begin to accept that love doesn’t have to hurt, we begin to see that many relationships we have been in or are in are perhaps not loving at all.
Seeing love as an action, as opposed to a feeling, begins to clear up the smoky cloud that disables us from being able to accept real love into our lives. When we can disassociate abuse with love, it becomes evident that many of us have probably not experienced love at the deepest level, and when someone was trying to show us true love, we rejected it out of fear and discomfort.
I speak from personal experience of rejecting love in my life; however, I was lucky enough to experience true love from my sister and mother that were based on actions. Having those loving relationship role-models gave me an idea and understanding that how my father chose to express his vision of love was not real love at all. Perhaps my father’s inability to love stemmed from his own childhood. Maybe he was not loved as a child and never had a role-model to define what love looked like.
Having this definition for myself helps me see more clearly that when I do enter any type of relationship with someone, we will have a foundation based on mutual care, affirmation, and emotional support.
This notion is hard to accept for ourselves, but we don’t accept it for other people. How often have we witnessed friends in relationships that we believe to be abusive, but your friend continuously tells you that there is love in that relationship? When that friend justifies that relationship by declaring certain behavior their partner or parental figure displays is out of love, whether its extreme jealousy, control, or physical abuse; we can’t wrap our heads around how that can be viewed as love at all.
When we as a society begin to collectively see love as an action, as opposed to just feelings, we can begin to accept for ourselves that any form of abuse is not tolerable in any of our relationships, especially if our abuser is claiming to love us at the same time.
Hooks writes, “No one can rightfully claim to be loving when behaving abusively.”
It’s not to say that that people who truly love us won’t hurt us, but love never hurts intentionally.
Perhaps Hooks’ definition of love is too simplistic; however, it is the most concrete definition that has been provided in modern-day culture that can allow us to start seeing what real love can and should look like.
No one said that love was easy, but whoever said, “love hurts” was wrong.
**************Join Alvarez's Facebook Group: Standing Up to Idiots