How I learned to define “love”

How do you describe love?

Most — if not all — of the time, we only characterize love in relative terms. “You’ll know when you experience it”, we say.

What is it about “love” as a feeling, or state of being with someone, that we cannot quite put into words? Why are there countless movies, shows, books, and songs that try to show what love looks like through someone else’s eyes, but can never quite define it?

Because “love” feels different for everyone; the type of love we feel for each person is unique to our own stories, in context of the time, place, and version of ourselves.

For the longest time with “romantic love”, I could never quite pinpoint that feeling. The first time it became a presence in my life, I denied it time and time again. I wasn’t happy with my situation, and the rational part of myself refused to acknowledge and validate this “love”.

The next time this “romantic love” feeling came creeping in, I recognized its presence only by the faintest familiarity; after all, hadn’t I tried so hard to quash its existence before?

But this kind of “love” became unbearable.

My experience of “romantic love” slowly became intertwined and in competition with the familial love and needs of others who cared about me most — my immediate family members.

I felt like I was being pulled in, clung onto, and reached for by multiple sets of hands simultaneously. I felt like I not only had to address each person’s needs, but also had to tip-toe around their feelings and sensitivities. It felt like walking on eggshells, at times. It was exhausting.

In midst of all of this, I realized… what I identified as “love” was associated with types of people who needed to hold onto me tightly, too closely, and without boundaries. This was the only kind of “love” I had ever known. Subconsciously, I believed I was only valued and worthy of being loved when I was being pulled in, clung onto, and reached for.

I am “naturally” (read: based on my childhood experiences of love) attracted to, and attract, these types of people like opposite forces of a magnet. In this “love”, an inexplicable, strong pull sucks me into these dynamics, sometimes unknowingly.

It took introspection, self-awareness, and experiences to identify this pattern I kept falling into. These experiences of “love” I found myself in were not actually good for me. Loving and being with these people left me feeling drained, wanting to escape from their grasp.

This “love” is toxic. I don’t believe this is the only way I am capable of loving and being loved by someone.

One day, I hope I can say I’ve experienced love in an authentic way undefined by codependent behaviors. I know it’s out there, within reach…but, well, maybe not so tightly.

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