What does it mean to really love someone? This question has plagued me my entire life — or at least until recently. To put it succinctly, I’ve been a hell of a hard person to love. I’ve made a mess of the word love and everything it entails. I know I’m not alone in saying I fell victim to my own destructive behaviors. After two earlier in life emotional traumas, I was scared. Frightened. Was I even capable of loving again?
I didn’t know how to risk my heart, my well-being, my dreams and life for something that could break my heart — again. It hurt enough the first time, though my mother’s leaving us was the last thing she ever wanted. But after that, there was a different kind of hurt and that shit hurt. Really bad.
This started a forgettable decade in my life. A decade marred with pain, hurt and the absence of love, with no intentions of ever wanting to risk love, hurt and above all else, loss. So I ran, I played games and hurt some wonderful people along the way. If things ever started getting serious, I’d detach myself and run like hell.
How was I supposed to wrestle with this idea of intimacy and trusting someone with my heart? No one taught me how to deal with the pain of the past — I didn’t know how to reopen my heart. Over time, I grew numb to my behavior and the reckless destruction I had been causing along the way.
The last thing I ever deserved at this point in my life was a beautiful, open heart that was willing to love me, but for some reason, I received just that. I look back with complete disgust at my inability to love in return.
I did, however, make a change, if there is a silver lining to this story, though it was after hitting rock bottom. It’s been a long road getting to where I am now, but I’ve come to understand some things along the way — things I wish I had known years ago. If you’re reading this and are someone I’ve hurt, I’m sorry — I guess this could be my way of trying to make it up to you… to the world.
So, to really love someone — What does that mean?
- I’ve learned that you can see inside someone’s soul, into their heart and all of the beauty of who they are, and actually love them with their flaws, vulnerabilities and shortcomings — as well as your own. Our flaws make us who we are, they are what make us lovable and able to love the people with whom we choose to share our lives. I think it’s important to see beyond the surface, to step out of our own shoes and into the shoes of others and to let their intentions be the true source of our understanding of them. Almost always, things aren’t as they appear on the surface and rarely is our perception of a problem, flaw or challenge merely skin deep — we need to see beyond just what is apparent, and be hopeful of the people we love. If you love someone, you know their heart and the beauty of their soul — that’s where one’s intentions are housed. The same is true for you and me and for all of us that choose to step out and love.
- I’ve learned that love is feeling someone. Truly feeling them. It’s when a tear is rolling down their face and you’d do anything in the world to take it away. It’s seeing that other person laughing hysterically, wishing to freeze-frame time, so that you can live with them in such a state of pure joy for eternity. It’s knowing the buttons that trigger and hurt them and choosing not to push those buttons, even if you feel like they deserve it at the time. Why? Because the last thing you want to do is cause them pain or heartache — when they feel it, so do you. It’s a part of you. It’s reaching beyond your comfort zone and into a place of empathy, understanding and acceptance for the challenges they might be facing head-on. It’s reminding them that they don’t have to fight them alone — you remind them of this, because they remind you of the same thing, when the tides turn and you need a shoulder to lean on.
- I’ve learned that love isn’t about yourself and looking to meet one’s own needs, but rather the willingness to put someone else’s needs, happiness and well-being above your own. It’s the desire and intention of one’s heart that wants for this other human being to be happy, loved and appreciated at all costs and turning over every stone in the process, until you get there. It’s the willingness and desire to make these sacrifices, not so much the sacrifices themselves. The sacrifices you choose to make for this other human being aren’t out of necessity or obligation, but rather out of willingness and desire. In other words, you want to make their life better, which is such a beautiful thing. There is a formula and it seems pretty simple: Their happiness is your happiness.
- I’ve learned that love is fucking scary. Really scary. I thought I knew what that meant, but it wasn’t until I was truly able to love someone that I really understood this — it’s taken me most of my life. There is so much at stake. Every day, we are putting so much of ourselves and our well-being into this person’s hands. We trust them not to crush us, knowing at any minute they could and it can be catastrophic. There is so much to risk and we could lose it all any time. With that being said, that is also what seems to make loving someone such a beautifully rewarding thing. It’s to step out onto a cliff, take the leap, and the courage to enjoy the exhilaration of the free-fall on the way down, because we have faith, and only if we have faith, that someone is there to catch us as we approach the ground.
- I’ve learned that love isn’t about baggage or blame — there is plenty of both of those to go around at any given point — most likely on both sides. Instead, I think it’s taking responsibility and ownership for how we, as individuals, choose to show up in our lives and in our relationships. When you truly love someone, at least based on my experience, you want to continually grow yourself, push yourself, and become the best version of yourself, every day. That’s what the other person deserves — it’s your responsibility to them.
- I’ve learned that you’ve got to fight for it, even when it feels you’re fighting alone. There is sure to be times when you’ll be the tired, stressed and anxious one that doesn’t feel like working for it anymore — it’s then that the other person is fighting for both of you, putting in the work and as a result, that keeps the pulse of the relationship alive. A relationship survives and thrives when both halves aren’t willing to give up on love at the same time. It seems as though every relationship goes through ups and downs, peaks and valleys — I think we just need to know that they are coming, be willing to fight through the difficult times together, cherish the beautiful times together, and hold space in our hearts for patience, when we’re waiting for that other person to snap out of it and to rejoin the fight.
- I’ve learned that, like anything else meaningful in life, relationships, especially a fulfilling one takes a lot of work. Work doesn’t have to be a bad thing and I don’t think it should be viewed as such. When you invest your heart and soul into something, you should want to put in the work to make it better — to connect deeper, to understand each other clearer, and to empathize more readily. When we invest our time in something with such tremendous rewards — effort is involved, but there also lies incredible opportunity. It’s all about perspective.
- I’ve learned that love is acceptance. It’s about understanding that not everything goes according to plan, seeing beyond that, and with time, being okay with that. It’s also accepting people for who they are — I’m damaged, you’re damaged, we’re all damaged. For love to emerge in an uncertain and chaotic world, we must all get past the fact that the damaged parts of those we love are just us prevalent in us as well — they just show up in different ways. I think most of us are a lot more understanding of our own imperfections than those of the ones we love. We often see our own shortcomings as trivial and barely worth mentioning, while we seem to dramatize those of others. I think all of us need to start looking in the mirror a whole lot more, in order to see our own flaws and imperfections — then we’ll be able to understand and accept the people staring back at us when we’re not standing in front of our own reflection.
- I’ve learned that love has to give the next moment a chance. Sometimes, life throws us curveballs and we find ourselves hurt, perhaps confused. Love doesn’t default to mistrust and lack of faith. Instead, I see it as understanding that in this moment and with every moment we face, we have the ability to choose love or fear. Unfortunately, fear is human nature’s default, and every moment we choose fear over love, we push ourselves further away from what we really want and deserve for our lives — love and connection. On the other hand, to be open to the next moment, to be open to love, and to be open to all the potential and possibility that is out there, that brings us closer to the people in our lives that deserve what we have to offer and allows for them to more easily soften into it. I think the only way to truly give the next moment a chance is to come from a place of gratitude and appreciation. At any point in your life, you have an exponential number of things going right for you and reasons to be grateful, than the one or two things your spouse or coworker did to annoy you. Whenever I find myself getting pessimistic and shutting off to the world, I dig deep and start sorting through the things I have to be grateful for… and there’s a shit ton.
- I’ve also learned that you can’t make someone love you, which is really sad — sometimes devastating. Perhaps the most poignant, heartbreaking and universal grief we face as human beings is the fact that we can try to love someone for one year, five years or even for an entire lifetime and at any point, there are so many things that can get in the way of that other person loving you in return. I think we just have to show up, respect, appreciate and love that other person without expectations. In other words, I think we just need to play our part and focus on the things that we can control. I think we need to be vulnerably generous with our hearts, souls and the parts of us that we hold most dear — which is terrifying. At the end of the day, you can’t make someone feel something they don’t. You can’t make someone treat you with respect, honesty, compassion and love, even if you freely offer those things to them. From what I’ve learned, having been on both sides of the equation, you have to be willing to freely offer those things, anyway. All you can do is love. It seems to me, and this is based on my complete inability to love for many years — the best way to get love is to first make someone feel loved. You do that by giving love.
- Based on everything I’ve said up until this point, I’ve learned that to love someone, and to accept one’s love in return is without a doubt the bravest, most noble endeavor you can take on in this world. To accept someone’s love, wholeheartedly, is nearly just as brave. With no guarantees, it takes courage to open one’s heart fully to the gift of love, because on the other side of that gift, there is inevitable hurt, pain and suffering. That’s part of what it means to be human. If you’ve ever been hurt by someone that you love, it’s quite certain that you’ve hurt them, as well, but to see beyond that and to truly invest in someone with no guaranteed outcome — that takes a lot of courage.
- Finally, I’ve learned that even though choosing to love someone is scary, uncertain and beyond vulnerable, it’s the best thing that can ever happen to us as human beings. When it doesn’t go as planned, there is plenty to be learned and the scars will heal with time. But, when it does go right, when you find someone that honors the parts of you that are both beautiful and messy, that’s when we are able to be our most beautiful selves. When we find someone that is willing to put up with our pain-in-the-ass compulsivity, disorganization and eccentricities, we find someone worth fighting for and are more than eager to put up with those same, often vilified qualities in them. When we are able to accept and love them for who they are, not in spite of who they are, we are able to love courageously, deeply and meaningfully. We are able to fight not only for ourselves, but for the person with whom we’ve chosen to go to battle for. We are able to put the fear and the doubt aside and saddle up for something that can’t be bought, made or found. The only way we get love is by creating it, which starts with giving and receiving — every day. It takes work, vulnerability, acceptance and many of the other uncomfortable things that make true love so scarce. I always like to say,
“It’s not going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be worth it.”
So, if you’re like the person I was four or five years ago, I hope you’ll wake up and realize the incredible opportunity you have — it might sound cliche, but you have the opportunity of a lifetime — that opportunity is to create, give and accept love. It’s a risk, but a risk worth taking.
When you find it, hopefully you’ll see that it’s a fight worth fighting, and when you find that person that is willing to fight for you as much as you are willing to fight for them. Hold onto them, love them and remind them of all the reasons and pieces of them that continually make your heart beat.
To boil everything down to one idea about what I’ve learned about love based on my own experiences, it would be this:
If there is anything worth risking in life, it is to risk loving with your whole heart, while at the same time, risking the willingness to allow someone else’s love into your heart.
We get one shot at life — that’s it — and to think that so many of us go through our whole lives never truly creating, accepting or giving the love we deserve and or are capable of — it’s a tragedy. I was almost one of those people. For me to come to truly connect with this idea took nearly breaking the heart of the person who’s heart I now hold most dear. I’m still patching up the wounds. Hopefully, if nothing else, this will be a reminder to her of someone who is gladly willing to take on the risk of loving her — all of her.
It’s the beautiful pieces and the seemingly less beautiful ones — all of it makes up the girl that I’ve fallen madly in love with. It’s all those things together, they make her who who she is. I think that’s how it works for all of us — even me.
— CHRIS HILL
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