The Oxford Dictionary defines love as: “an intense feeling of deep affection.”
I don’t think that an intense feeling of deep affection is enough to quantify the feeling of “love”. Especially when we add the complication of what “true love” really is.
You see, I feel deep affection for things and people all the time, but sometimes those feelings fade. So were they ever really “love”? Or were they, perhaps, misidentifications of love because I was never taught what real love is?
And since I was never taught what real love is, how to recognize it, cultivate it, and pursue it, what can I do to decipher the difference between “love” and, say, “desire” or “lust” or “excitement”?
I’ve spent ten years philosophizing the concept of “love” for my own sake.
What it looks like, sounds like, tastes like, acts like, how long it lasts, if it ever fades, what it was if it did fade, and why it never should’ve faded if, in fact, it was “love”.
And, for me anyway, I feel that I’ve narrowed down a very specific philosophy on what true love is.
Not fairytale love, not placeholder love, not unrequited love, but what true, deep, honest, humbling love really is.
WHAT IS LOVE?
The definition I subscribe to - the one I created after countless hours of philosophizing what love feels like to me - is this: “a disciplined practice of welfare.”
Let me breakdown my logic for you so you can decide if this new definition of love works for you as well.
Discipline: an activity or experience that provides mental or physical training.
Practice: the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.
Welfare: the health, happiness, and fortunes of a person or group.
Combined, this new definition means that “love” is an applied training of health, happiness, and fortune.
Here’s why each word is important:
Discipline: you can experience theory as a mental exploration without applying it practically in your reality. This means that without the act of practice, you can philosophize something all day, but until you actually apply the mental experience to your waking life, you won’t experience the truth or fallacy of that theory.
Practice: it’s important that we apply the mental training we cultivate into our tangible reality. It isn’t enough to do mental reasoning and then not apply what we’ve learned to our physical existence. Love requires the practice of the discipline we’ve experienced or learned.
Welfare: to love yourself, much less another creature, should be healthy, happy, and fortunate. There is a lack of love when health, happiness, or fortune are failing an individual. There is a lack of love when a group does not demonstrate health, happiness, or fortune. You do not need sex, or adoration, or even deep affection to demonstrate love for yourself or others. You simply need to care about the health, happiness, and fortune of yourself or others.
WORKING WITH THIS NEW DEFINITION
With this philosophy in mind, visualize one thing that presently ails your life.
For me, not so long ago, that was my physical vessel. I was overweight, binge-eating, suffering from substance abuse behaviors, out of shape, and unhappy with my general appearance.
I tried for several years to apply the “body positivity” movement to my mentality.
Phrases like, “I’m beautiful at any size,” or “I love my body no matter what it looks like, or how media perceives beauty to be” were things I’d affirm on a daily basis, several times a day.
However, they didn’t click.
And the reason they didn’t click was because I knew, at my most intuitive core, that I wasn’t demonstrating love for my body through any disciplined practice of welfare and that those phrases were outright lies for me.
Some people truly suffer with bodily ailments that lead to all sorts of side-effects relating to weight gain or disability. But I wasn’t one of those people.
I had simply failed to love myself.
And in doing so, I had lost control of my physical vessel.
But not just that! I was also unable to see how I wasn’t truly loving the people in my life in a healthy way.
Because my health, happiness, and fortune practice was wildly out of alignment, I was not able to relate in my relationships in a loving way.
My partner, at the time, was suffering with fortune or happiness, while I was solely focused on health and fortune. We couldn’t connect, we couldn’t help one another. And I believe that’s because we didn’t understand how to love ourselves first and foremost.
Had I known to prioritize all three pillars of love - health, happiness, and fortune - I would’ve had a more stable foundation for showering myself and my loved ones with compassion and respect.
YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF BEFORE YOU CAN TRULY LOVE ANOTHER
I’ve learned that it’s important that I love myself fully before I focus my attention or give my capacity to another person.
Imagine: you have a depressed friend and you yourself are unhealthy in a myriad of ways.
A healthy person - that is, someone who has a disciplined practice of welfare for themselves - could listen to their friend’s sadness and hold space for it without adding to the things that depress them by piling on with more bad habits.
An unhealthy person, however, might respond with bad food, or alcohol, or emotional neglect, or any number of negative reactions that aren’t healthy and will only compound that depressed person’s experience instead of alleviating it.
From what I’ve witnessed in my own life, even my most compassionate friends, lovers, and family members, struggle to present healthy solutions for my welfare when I need it most and I suspect that’s because they aren’t practicing welfare for themselves.
One friend used to diminish my desire to become a freelancer. They knew that I would make significantly less money if I left my corporate job - which was necessary for me so I could focus on my mental health - and because they were laboring at a corporate job themselves, they weren’t able to grasp how unhealthy and unhappy I really was. In their mind, the money was well worth the stress.
Another friend told me to have a night out with friends when I was depressed because they didn’t see how their own habits were piling onto their already unhealthy lifestyle. Their go-to tactic for their own down days was to drink their blues away. In their mind, a “good night out” with friends was enough to make the next day worth facing.
A family member once told me to dismiss my understandable feelings towards chronic abuse and brush those issues under the rug because that’s what they were taught to do. I’m not sure if they ever learned how much that tactic negatively impacted their wellbeing, but from the outside looking in their health speaks volumes for the longterm effects of emotional suppression.
So, in my humble opinion, it’s imperative - especially if you’re seeking “true love” in this lifetime - to learn how to truly love yourself, or at least begin to walk the path of that journey, before putting an expectation on cultivating “great” relationships.
MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE PURSUING LOVE BEFORE I REALLY UNDERSTOOD WHAT LOVE IS...
I’m recently separated from a marriage that was doomed from the start.
My definition of what love is isn’t from thin air or lack of experience.
I come from divorced parents.
Divorce is littered throughout my family tree.
So I was raised to believe that marriage and union take excessive amounts of “work” and that love, in and of itself, takes work as well.
But is that the case for everyone, even those who have healthy practices of personal welfare?
Because not a single person I’ve met in my life who’s in a longterm relationship is healthy.
I’ve met countless couples. Countless marriages. Countless people.
Not one demonstrated a significant practice towards healthiness.
Instead, what I’ve seen is a lot of codependency.
And I think, to an extent, this is ok.
I and my previous partner both demonstrated codependent behavior in our relationship.
I have no regrets about the relationship and I think it’s best for people to be in union than out of union because at least when you’re in it you can start addressing all the areas where you need to start taking care of yourself.
But since I didn’t know what real love was, my marriage came to a close because when I finally recognized what real love is and started working for it, my partner wasn’t on board.
Real love is work, yes. But it’s inner work first and foremost. It’s accepting that you’ve not loved yourself in a good way and so you’re taking a lot out on your partner. And if you haven’t been in a relationship in a long time, you likely wouldn’t know that going into a new relationship. So I do think union can be an important medium for realizing your best self.
However, since neither me nor my partner had a grasp on what love is, we hurt each other a lot. We pushed and pulled too much. We went a distance that couldn’t be reversed.
And now that I realize what I want to experience, what true love really means to me, he’s been given the option to grow with me and he, unfortunately, isn’t in that space.
Now that I know what love is, I’m happy to wait for it and focus on myself in the meantime.
Because the better I am at loving me, the better I’ll be at properly loving someone else.