I’ve been thinking quite a bit about love lately, for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s that time of year when our culture begins to talk about love in a way that I think is mostly unhelpful for people, in a way that often points us away from love more than it points us toward it.
And the more I learn about what it feels like to stay in love, the more surprised I am, and the more I realize why for so long I have been missing it. It doesn’t feel exactly like I thought it would feel. I’m finding it in the strangest places, in the most unexpected ways. It is easier than I ever thought it could be and also harder and softer and stronger and takes more of my heart than anyone ever told me it would.
It is the hardest battle I have ever fought.
It is better than I ever dreamed possible.
Our Craving for Love
A friend of mine once got a message on her Instagram account from a stranger who apparently felt the need to share an unsolicited opinion with her. His opinion started off like a compliment—“you are so open, beautiful, inspiring,” that sort of thing—and then quickly turned into an insult. Or at least what he meant to be an insult, which in my opinion didn’t land. It went like this:
You are also desperate for love, he said.
Quit acting like a girl.
My friend immediately texted me and a few other friends, so we could commiserate with her and so she could avoid doing what she wanted to do, which was to fire something awful back to him. When I read that message, there were so many things I wanted to say. Just so many things. But the biggest, most important one, that rose to the surface went like this:
We are all desperate for love. Every single one of us.
It’s true, isn’t it? This is not “being a girl.” This is being a human.
Some of us are more honest with our desperation. Others of us have gotten good at hiding it and stuffing it. Some of us have learned the art of knowing and acknowledging our need for love and finding realistic ways to meet it, without manipulating or cajoling. We’ve learned how to be the love of our own lives, to ask clearly and directly for what we are wanting.
Others of us are constantly performing and manipulating or taking love by force (which is not actually love) because we haven’t yet learned the art of sitting with our own need, with our own desire, the art of going without something we crave. But regardless of where we are in our journey, there is one thing that levels the playing field.
We all crave love. We just do. We are all desperate for it.
Every single one of us.
Which is why I loved what my friend said after that. I just loved this so much that I wrote it down and will keep it close to me for a long time. I felt like it really embodied Love itself and reminded me we do not have to sit around and wait for love to happen to us. We create Love. We become Love. We are love and we are happening.
She said, “You know, I hope he finds the love he is looking for.”
YES AND AMEN.
I hope that too. I really do.
The love you are looking for.
I was at the beach a few years ago working on my book, which is all about love. And one night at dinner I sat next to a man who was tall and handsome and seemed interesting at first, and who offered to buy me a glass of wine so I accepted. We talked for twenty minutes or so about sports and business and politics and what I was doing at the beach. The usual.
I told him I was writing a book. He asked what the book was about and I told him it was about finding love, and then losing it, and then finding it again.
Then, he said something I was not expecting.
He said, “Can I be honest with you about your book?”
I told him he could. And he proceeded to tell me he thought it was a terrible idea to write a book about love. How I should direct my efforts somewhere else. The look of shock on my face did not seem to deter him. He just kept going, saying that this was meant to be a compliment. That I was smart and interesting and had a lot to say and I should write a book about something more important than love.
More important than love. So interesting.
I wanted to ask him why he was buying a pretty girl a drink on a Saturday night if he wasn’t interested in love, but then I realized that his answer—if he was being honest—would probably have something to do with sex. So instead I just gathered my things and left the restaurant. But as I left I thought about how sad it was that this guy couldn’t admit to himself what he really wanted.
He couldn’t admit his own craving for love. And until we admit our craving for something, it’s pretty unlikely we will ever get it.
Until we admit what we are looking for, we cannot find it.
So I think about this guy I met at the beach, and the man who sent the message to my friend on Instagram, and about a years-ago version of myself who could not admit how badly she wanted what she didn’t think she could have and I wish for all of us that we can learn it’s okay to want something we don’t know exactly how to cultivate in this moment. In fact, that is all part of the process.
This is all part of how love has its way with us.
The mystery of “finding” love
I think one of the reasons I’ve had such a hard time finding love until now is that I’ve been looking for it “out there” like most of us are. Boyfriends. Girlfriends. Rings on our fingers. A certain level of commitment from a specific person. Nothing could be a better representation of a culture that wants external representation of love than a holiday that says:
Love me? Better buy me a gift to prove it.
And I’m not totally cynical about Valentine’s Day. I think that external manifestations of love can be meaningful when they reflect our internal reality. But I also know how empty external gestures can be when we don’t have the first clue about what it means to actually be love, to be in love, to find the love we so desperately want.
We think if only we had a boyfriend or a husband or a different boyfriend or a different husband—then we’d feel more loved.
If only he would get us flowers…
If only he’d pay more attention…
But my friend Sarah always says that love is what happens when we show up in our lives with our whole hearts, and this has totally transformed the way I think about love in my life. This means love has very little to do with anyone else and SO MUCH to do with me and how I decide to show up in my own life. In other words, if I am lacking love in my life, I have one person to blame: me.
If I want more love in my life, there is one person who can turn up the volume on love: me. And we do it by speaking our truth, even when we’re worried about being rejected, by holding space for ourselves to feel whatever it is we feel, by learning to reach out for another person without letting go of ourselves, and again, by admitting our own need and craving for love—making space for it to grow in our lives.
Love is less something we find and more something we practice, less something we uncover and more a pre-existing reality we become more and more aware of over time, less something we build and more something we soften to.
We do not have to fight for love or compete for love.
We open to it and find it already exists in us and all around us and we have more if it than we ever dreamed possible.
What we find when we start to practice this—showing up in our lives with our whole hearts, softening to love, opening to it—is it is foreign and uncomfortable and vulnerable and feels an awful lot like you are on fire. ON FIRE.
Then, suddenly we realize why we’ve been avoiding love all this time. It HURTS.
It just does.
There is no getting around it.
We don’t like this way of thinking because we want to think like our culture thinks about love which goes like, “No man is worth your tears and the only one who is will never make you cry.” We want to believe that, someday, love will stop hurting when we get the right circumstances. The problem is, the more we expect love not to hurt, the more disappointed we become.
And the more we miss all the beauty and power love has to offer.
One of my very favorite writers, Rainer Maria Rilke, says it like this:
“For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation… and do not expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside of it.”
Did you catch that?
The most difficult of all tasks.
The ultimate. The last test and proof. The WORK. Love is not easy. It is not all rainbows and sunshine. It hurts. It hurts like hell sometimes.
And yet, when we really do the work of learning to love, of learning to show up in our lives with our whole hearts, it doesn’t stop hurting (“do not expect any understanding”) but it does offer this sort of sweet, protective blessing over us. It’s an inheritance, Rilke says, that stretches so far in front of us, and so far behind us, it covers even the things that have happened back in our past, before we knew what love was, and the things that have not taken place yet in our future.
There is just no possible way we can step ourselves outside of it.
That is how big and beautiful and expansive and protective love is.
How amazing is that?
Two kinds of pain.
Love is painful, but just because something is painful does not make it love. There are really two kinds of pain in the world. None of us get to escape the pain of being alive, but we do get to choose which kind of pain we’d like to endure: the pain of changing or the pain of staying the same.
Love always gives us a choice.
The pain of love, the pain of change, is not easy but it’s a healthy, good, forward-moving kind of pain. It’s the kind of pain you get during a good workout. It’s just a good struggle.
The other kind of pain is a stuck kind of pain. This is an injury pain. A stale pain. Stiff pain. “Something is not right here” kind of pain. This is the kind of pain that feels against your very nature. It screams at you:
Slow down, back off, walk away, take a break, make space.
This pain, though not outside the reach of love, is not the pain of love.
Love will transforms us when we soften to it, but it never forces. Does not manipulate. If you walk away, it will let you go.
Love and letting go.
I’m convinced I’ve gotten love wrong for most of my life because I’m so bad at letting go. For most of my life I’ve thought that to make love work, I had to muscle it into place, and needed to white-knuckle it.
What was love going to do without me?
More and more, though, I’m realizing that love has never needed my help happening. It has been going on long before I got here, and will keep going on long after I’ve gone, and my my wrestling to make love happen has been less about love and more about control and manipulation. These two things are polar opposites, by the way. Mutually exclusive—love and control.
You can either be in control, or be in love but not both.
I’m not saying love never holds on, or that it never fights. Of course it does. But after fighting to show people how much we care for them, fighting to keep them close, fighting to keep them from doing things that are destructive to them, one day we wake up and realize, nobody feels more love than they did before. Love is no bigger. It’s the same size it’s always been.
One day we wake up and realize the bravest thing we can do is to let go.
The better I get at letting go, the more love I feel in my life. It hurts. It hurts like hell. But that’s what love is. That’s what it does. And as much as love hurts, it hurts mostly, I am finding, because I am not trying to muscle it into place.
I’m just staying with it. I’m letting it happen to me.
I am letting go.
I believe a regular practice of writing directly impacts my ability connect with myself. Not convinced?
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