Valentine’s Day happens tomorrow. This is the day when we celebrate the loves of our lives.
Flowers, chocolates, fancy cards, sexy lingerie and other gifts are given and received as tokens to express love. The most important gift, though, is recognizing people who love you and who you love in return.
What is love?
There are so many definitions of love and so many ways to express love. Love is unique to each of us.
Usually love gets defined in terms of intimate partner relationships — a deep commitment to another person that stands the test of time and grows stronger as the years pass. It usually begins with romance and gradually matures into a bond that sustains us–hopefully through many lifetimes.
Family members love each other intensely despite the inevitable emotional tug-of-wars between parents and children. Nobody knows you better than your family, especially your siblings who have shared many of your childhood secrets and great chunks of your life history. And no love is deeper than the love of a parent for a child even when the child does not live up to all expectations and, when the parents don’t meet all the child’s expectations. And what can be more special that the love of a grand parent for a grand child?
There is also the love expressed through friendship. We need the care and support of friends. Our friends laugh with us and make the good times feel so much better. Our friends also give us the straight ‘goods’ when we seek their advice and sometimes they give advice when we don’t think we need it! Our friends prop us up when things aren’t going well. Shared experiences cement the ‘love’ relationships among friends through laughter, tears, sickness, work and play.
Some people also experience love through their churches, clubs and other institutions. The relationships that evolve from sharing spiritual growth, from participation in special rituals, or from sharing quiet moments create feelings of love. I remember my mother telling me how much she loved her church — not the minister, not the people, not the building — but the church itself and what it meant to her.
Finally there is self-love which means learning to love yourself — despite mistakes you make in life and the short-comings you have. It means being kind and forgiving of yourself which in turn allows you to show kindness and forgiveness in loving relationships you have with others.
The Guts of a ‘Love’ Relationship
So what makes for a ‘love’ relationship? Each relationship is unique so it’s difficult to categorize.
I think of the closeness, affection, warmth, romance and intimacy in the couple relationship I have with my husband — all of the joy and wonder of two hearts joined together in 45 years of marriage.
I also think of past loves — the deep love I felt for my parents, my brother and my sister. Their deaths robbed me of many family experiences that people take for granted throughout their adult lives. It was from my family that I first experienced being loved unconditionally which allowed me to learn about love and how to have loving relationships with others.
From my friends I receive a different kind of love. The fun of sharing many activities and having mutual interests is usually a starting point for building longer term relationships based on trust, respect, and honesty –with lots of fun in the mix. I think of women friends with whom I have confided my deepest secrets over endless cups of tea. I think of men and women who encouraged me during my career and who I proudly count as my friends in retirement. I think of my ‘work-out’ friends at the gym, my summer ‘beach’ buddies, and my bridge friends. Many of my friends I have known for years and years. Some I have met more recently. Life changes and people come and go with the changes.
Love may also involve those who help you through the daily challenges in your life. For some it is the caregiver, or the housekeeper, or the lawn maintenance person. In my life, I think of the mechanic who keeps me safe in my Toyota, the man who cuts my hair perfectly, and my acupuncturist who keeps my arthritic pain in check. I also think of everyone who follows my blog and provides regular feedback on my writing.