What Does it Mean to Love?

I remember when my heart was broken for the first time. I remember thinking, how could she not feel what I was feeling? How could life be so cruel and unfair? How could I be so naïve and misled by my heart? It took me over year to get past that first heartbreak, a year of replayed conversations and repeated heartbreak in my mind. A year after which I realized that my love did not diminish in any way, but my understanding of it changed.

I knew I loved her, but what did that even mean?

I cared about her and her well-being. Even if she did not care, I found that I could still care and give that part of love to her. I saw that this feeling did not need any reciprocation to exist unless I became bitter about it and consciously stopped my love. If I did, I saw it quickly transform into hate, because she made me feel unworthy of love, and how could she do that to me? She was not the problem then and neither was my love to her, it lay within me and how unworthy of love I felt deep inside.

I was consumed by all the ways I wanted her. I wanted her around in my life. I wanted physical intimacy. I wanted to be special and unique to her. I wanted my presence to be missed when I wasn’t around. I wanted to be part of her life and for her to be a part of mine. I wanted us to share a future.

All of those were desires I demanded from her, desires I wanted to be returned as part of my love, and when she didn’t, their absence became pain. My emotions and my future became unstable, unpredictable and overshadowed by fear. The absence threatened even my sense of self as I began to doubt what I wanted and question why I wasn’t wanted.

Where did these desires come from? Were they really a part of my love or were those physical and social needs for intimacy? Weren’t these then more like transactions rather than love? Couldn’t I still have love for her without a need for her to reciprocate these desires?

I found that I could. I found that this love in me was a certain quality of feelings towards her and that it didn’t require any of the rest to exist. I came to understand that this quality is internal to me and is not dependent on any other person.

There is then a separation between love and the other desires and needs that I have in a relationship. I had mistaken the unspoken agreements that we shared out of survival needs for a part of my love, a prerequisite for it. These transactions will come and they will go. They are formed and broken depending on my needs, and as I grow and change, they inevitably will as well. They are conditions for a relationship but the love aspect had always been unconditional.

So, what is love, exactly? What is this word that we throw around all the time and that can make us at peace or frustrated, ecstatic or angry? Why do we weep and cry in joy over love?

What does unconditional love for a person even mean? If I love one person unconditionally, doesn’t that mean that I love everything this person is now or could ever become, that every choice they can make and every action they can take would not dissuade my love for them? If I truly give unconditional love to one person then, am I not also capable of giving it to all other people if this love is not tied by conditions?

I saw that if my love was tied to certain people being around then it was inevitably also tied to fear. My love is now bound to something that will eventually leave me, with or against its will, and so I will always be afraid. What happens then when a person that I love is not physically around? I can still feel the same love for them, so isn’t the love then coming from inside me and not from any external source?

Maybe love is a connection that we all have and can feel all the time but we close ourselves to it as we grow up. We place walls and barriers where there are really none and then set up intricate mental criteria that have to be satisfied before we allow them to be opened, before we allow that connection and that love to be felt. We cage our love and allow it only to be free when certain people are around.

I can look at an animal for a while and cultivate love for it. I can look at a tree and how beautiful it is, how it gives me shelter and clean air and I feel a connection to it and love for it. Love is a sweetness, a lightness that I allow to flow into my emotions and thoughts for this being.

I think some would flinch at this concept. That we can love unconditionally, that we can simply be in a state of perpetual love, because it might seem to make love less unique and less special. I think, in fact, the opposite becomes immediately clear, with an open heart I grasp the uniqueness of all life, of all of our strengths, our hardships, our suffering and the weaknesses in us all and how existence expresses itself through all of it. I look at life lovingly and love bursts forth. Immediately, it becomes infinitely easier and more natural to react with kindness and compassion in the face of hatred or anger.

We all know the beauty of falling in love, of that moment of surrender when you let go of rational thought and reasons why or why not and simply let yourself be willing to entirely love the other person. Love in these moments then becomes not an act but a state. You do not love, you become love. If I can manifest that state within me at will then I need not ever fear losing love or falling out of love. Maybe all it takes then is that willingness, that surrender.