I am an expert on love. I may not know what it is like to be in a long term relationship over many years. I may not have found my soulmate yet or achieved a respectable milestone from a romantic love perspective. I may be single and 37 and, some friends would say, hopeless. Nonetheless, I am an expert on love.
Some of the research out there suggests that you achieve mastery over a particular skill once you have done it for more than 10,000 hours. I am confident that I have loved for more than 10,000 hours. That easily puts me at a level of mastery.
I know what it’s like to love other human beings so much that I would willingly die for them. The problem with this is that it comes with a price. Letting yourself love people like that requires courage. It requires that you are courageous enough to face the inevitability that, one day; things will come to an end. My heart has been broken many times. The end of friendships. The end of relationships. The death of a loved one. The pain at such times is unbearable. It is torture. Agony. At the same time, it is worth it.
The meaning of life is something that has been discussed and argued about since the beginning of communication. Why are we here? What is the point of living? What is the meaning of life? But in this article, as Valentine’s Day approaches once more I’d like to discuss something equally as fascinating and equally as important: the meaning of love.
Any inquest into such a term comes with it the inevitability of ambiguity and competing definitions. When we try and define love, we rely on the dictionary or an encyclopedia. Yet we know, like many other ideas, such definitions fail to capture even remotely the real experience. What type of love are we talking about? Romantic love? Family love? Friendship love? At the same time, when we talk about the meaning of love just like when we talk about the meaning of life, we must avoid confusion that we are looking for this scientific meaning… defining it. Instead, we seek to understand why we love? What is the point? What does it all mean for us as humans?
Viktor Frankl wrote a terrific book called ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’. In it, as Frankl recalls the worst kind of atrocities he witnessed in a concentration camp during world war two, he posits the importance of an approach known as logotherapy which is based upon the premise that we can overcome the challenges we face by finding meaning in our experiences.
A terrific mentor of mine, the famous screenwriting teacher Robert McKee, explains how life, in and of itself, is meaningless but we give meaning to it in how we think about it. The search for universal meaning will be proven fruitless simply because our brains uniquely make sense of our experiences. The meaning of life to one person is as different to the meaning of life to another person as each person’s philosophical or religious beliefs are. The search for truth can work to some extent when we are discussing tangible objects and physical laws (even this can be argued with since the invention of quantum physics).
It is because of this that I believe the meaning of love is precisely the meaning we choose to give it. We decide what the point is to loving others. We decide why we love. We decide what it all means. And, such a meaning, informs our choices around love and what we decide to do in this area of our lives.
If you believe that love is a biological necessity of evolution or a trick of the brain or a mental illness then you will have one way of behaving. You may believe that love is a spiritual experience which draws two people together who were fated to meet. You may believe love is a con and won’t ever happen to you. You may believe love is something to learn to experience after many years together with a compatible partner. They all lead to different scenarios for your future experience of love. Many romantic movies are based upon the premise that people can and do change their philosophy of love.
I believe more and more in love as an action. Love is an art form. What do I mean? I mean that I have spent tens of thousands of hours loving many different people in many different ways. My parents, my goddaughters, my nieces, my family, my friends. My ex-girlfriends. Even the girls I met on planes or trains or hotels or cafes. Those I found myself in awe of and yet we had barely spoken. In such cases, it might be fair to say that I was not actually in love with the girl but my own internal invention of her. But my mind invented scenarios and situations where we would end up together and I would love her.
What is important to remember about this is that love did not happen to me, nor does it happen to anyone. We do it. We might not do it on purpose, but we do it. And we do it by thinking of the person in our lives and seeing them in a particular way. We do it by adoring them. We do it by spending time with them and spending more time thinking of how amazing they are. We do it by feeling grateful to have them in our lives. We do it by surprising them or buying them presents or listening to them or simply being there for them. We do it with a ring or just a call, a spontaneous trip or a dinner, a kiss or a hug.
When a child is born, the mother experiences a chemical known as oxytocin which is known to bond her with her child. But this is not love. This is bonding. When a mother feels a child inside her or when she looks in their eyes for the first time she loves them. It is something she does. It is a process. Yet it is also a skill. Long term happy relationships work when the partners actively love each other enough. They make whatever sacrifices are necessary because they love more than anything else they could be doing that could get in the way.
Love is a process. It is something we do. More than that, it is an art form. We can love each other in creative ways. We can become better at loving each other. We can actively love more people if we choose to allow ourselves. But first, we must overcome the fears that fly in the face of love. Fears of rejection. Fears of embarrassment. Fears of others being different to us. Fears of others hurting us. Such fears lead to anger and hate. They lead to polarisation. They lead to the divisiveness that exists on the planet.
Dogs and cats are so easy to love because they seem to be living vessels of pure love. A dog, for example, loves us every single day. It is honest in its behaviour. The lack of words and simplicity of needs offers us something we crave. The idea that we can be loved unconditionally with no agenda. But we have a similar capacity to love as well. It requires courage though. The courage to face the fears which can cloud our judgement. We can only do it by recognising another person for the humanity they possess.
It is easy to pay attention to the media narrative on people who are different to us. Refugees, political parties, particular religions. It is easy to let ourselves justify hate or racism by selecting examples of the bad apples. It is easy to assume all men are bastards looking for only one thing or all women are bitches who want to change you. It is easy to generalise about ourselves and our lives and about love in general. But such generalities only lead to us closing ourselves down from love. Of course, we must protect ourselves. But we can do so by loving while remaining vigilant.
Love creatively. Love wildly. Love with abandonment. Love your friends even those who hurt you, betray you or leave you. Love every second you get with those you care about. Love every moment where you are close to someone in your heart. Love them fully and completely and immensely. You can do so silently or loudly but do so. Because the meaning of love is that it is the greatest thing we can possibly do in this life, in this world. And when our loved ones leave us for whatever reason, love them through your grief, hurt and pain, knowing that you are better off for having loved.
In my life, I have known betrayal, fear, worry, heartache and heartbreak. I have had friends who let me down and turned their back on me. I have had lovers who cheated on me. But no matter what, I will always love them. Because I am an expert on love and I will continue to master it. I hope you do too.