Friday, September 15, 2017

50 for 50, day nine: Love is the easiest thing in the world

This is the ninth of 50 posts celebrating my 50th birthday. You can see the rest here.

I was talking with a friend recently and ended the conversation by telling her, "I love you." She hesitated for a minute, then replied that she loved me, too. We hung up. It was a mildly awkward moment but one that I soon forgot, until I got an email from her, telling me how my declaration made her feel. A little bit uncomfortable, was this some kind of come on? Then warm and comforted. Loved. And of course she loved me, too. She wondered why friends didn't say that kind of thing to each other more often.

I do. I tell my friends, family, and even many acquaintances that I love them. I wasn't always like this, it was a conscious choice and one I don't regret at all.

I grew up in a family where saying "I love you" was weighted and infrequent. (Mom, I'm sorry that this paragraph will be hard to read. I love you.) It was sometimes a weapon, with implications of I love you, how can you do this to me. Sometimes it was an expression of power. Occasionally it was offered as a bit of comfort and, every once in a while, as a declaration of affection, but that was rare. It was never said without the expectation of being returned and gratefully so. It was often said in a ponderous tone. It was never simple.

As I grew older and developed other relationships, I went through a phase in my teens where I needed to tell people I loved them, but it wasn't easy. It felt terribly vulnerable and was always uncomfortable. Sometimes it was badly misunderstood, which led to even more discomfort. My first few romantic relationships drove my understanding of love, so I had some trouble differentiating between "loving someone" and "being in love" with them. Now I understand those as very different things.

It was once I was involved with Kevin that I began to understand love as something essential and easy. He regularly told his kids that he loved them and heard it in return. By seeing the way he loved I began to be better at loving, both in a romantic context and beyond it. I began to tell my parents that I loved them. For quite some time I remember their surprise and then the worried response. Was this somehow transactional? Was something wrong? Did I have terrible news? As they got used to my casual declaration of love, they began to relax. Soon it was a more regular part of our dialogue, ending easy conversations with "I love you."

I found myself starting to do the same with my friends. Do I not love them? Should it not be an acknowledged and comfortable part of our relationship? And it grew from there.

I don't want to suggest that I am one of those people who tells everyone that I love them, thus cheapening the idea of love. I'm not. Instead I have become one of those people who has discovered just how easy it is to love. I start from the assumption of offering respect and love, then see what happens from there. Love is the only thing I know of that grows the more you give it away. The more I love and the more broadly, the easier it is to do. I can love my friend, my partner, my parents, my neighbor, my colleague and more, with still more love inside of me. It's not a sappy, flower-scented, blind-to-flaws kind of things. It is a love that encompasses and celebrates our very human-ness. Our flawed nature. Our ability to try again and try a little better next time.

It is the easiest thing in the world.

Sure, love requires some vulnerability, but I can choose how I respond to that. I can close myself up and dole out love like a miser, or I can offer more knowing that I am more likely to receive it when I give it away.

I'm not saying that you need to do this. I'm telling you that I have found, as I near 50, that I would rather love than not. Sure, there are some whom I would be hard pressed to love. But if I allow myself to feel compassion I can, at least, start down that path. And I'd rather not hate or fear anyone if I can avoid it.

Here are some things I have learned as I practice loving the world:

  • Love does not beget, obligate, or require love in return. It is not transactional.
  • Love without attachment helps me be more compassionate, patient, and set better boundaries.
  • Love is the responsibility of the lover. I own my own feelings and responses. Just because I love someone that doesn't mean we have a relationship or anything beyond my willingness to celebrate their being.
  • There are big differences between love and in love.
  • I am much more likely to expect and receive kindness, compassion, and help if I assume that starting from love is the answer. I get what I receive most of the time.
  • I can love the chipmunks in my back yard knowing all they care about is the peanuts I provide. Why can't I offer that same kind of gift to the world? Sure, it may backfire (and certainly has), but I'd rather start with the open hand and the snack.
  • Happily ever after is a great deal of work and is an extension of love. I love my neighbor but don't expect anything back from him. I love my friend and want a lengthy friendship (a kind of happily ever after) so we work at it. I love my lover and want happily ever after there, too, so we must love each other with great forgiveness and resilience. 

How does love work for you? When did you last say "I love you" and what was it like? I'd love to know.

Oh. I love you.
Thanks for reading this.

This is what 50 looks like. Loving the world fiercely.
(c)2017 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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