It's a crazy thing, this thing called love.
A therapist told me the other day that she told a client "I love you," and it was the first time he had experienced love that required nothing in return. That sounds plausible but I wondered to myself, "What is this thing called love when someone is charging you?"
A client told me that her boyfriend invites her on a date and then -- if he remembers to show up -- takes her to skunky bars where he flirts with other women and then drinks until he passes out. Their relationship is a litany of her waiting for crumbs, and no longer asking for anything because he flares up and shouts at her...or disappears for days. When I ask what she's staying for, she says, "because I love him." And I wonder to myself, "What is this thing called love when it's either neglect/abuse on one side and neediness/no boundaries on the other?"
A friend told me that the most important thing in his life is his children, and that he would give up anything, do anything, say anything to show them he loves them, even endanger his finances to send them to expensive schools and emotional health to stay in an unsatisfying marriage. And I wonder, "What is this thing called love that sacrifices one person's needs and personhood?"
It's easy to define love by what it isn't, but more difficult to say what it is. There's truth in that cliche that love is an active verb: the letting go of complaint when your mate forgets to empty the dishwasher, the child covering her baby sister as the bombs fall, the listening to a lonely neighbor when you're on deadline, the giving of something that hurts to give.
If suffering and grieving are often felt as a solitary experience, then love is the binding, communal glue that holds us humans together. Some of it we fall helpless to; how hard is it to fall in love with your own baby, after all. But then there are those moments of love that pull something deep and mysterious from within us, and we rise to its call. And we elevate ourselves and all humankind by that choice.
I think that's called love.
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