Exploring What Love Is

When I was younger, I would check the newspaper to clip a cartoon that would offer an explanation of what “Love is . . .”  My parents told me they loved me and they showed me in their way. For them, love was an actionable expression.  It was hard work to provide for our needs with occasional splurges of frivolity.  My mom still gives me jewelry because she loves sparkly things and I do too.  I love metamorphic rocks, and they frequently look like diamonds, and other swanky bits of crystallized rock often cut and shining under glass in jewelry stores.  I also like sandstone with quartz inclusions.  It doesn’t have to be expensive to be pretty.  My favorite rocks come from outdoor adventures and my latest acquisitions are from Will Rogers State Beach.


I’ve always listened for “I love you.” I try to tell my kids I love them several times a day, and I demand hugs because hugs are healing. They don’t need to tell me they love me.  I see it in their actions.  They need to hear that I love them because I don’t want them to ever doubt that truth.

In the last few months I started to delete most voicemails and text messages.  Some things don’t need to be revived because being hurt once can be enough and my mind likes to recreate certain injuries.  Pain turns literature into tangible emotions. I deleted things so I wouldn’t be able to torture myself with them. I only keep a handful of texts and voicemails on my phone.  That means I’m intentional with listening to the voicemails and reading the text messages and the ones that make me feel special or giddy or happy get to stay.  A couple of months ago I focused on listening to voicemails and saving photo attachments from emails and text messages. Listening to voicemails taught me that I need to tell people they are loved. It’s so easy to call someone when you have a need.  It’s so easy to say I’m checking in on someone, but it should be just as easy to tell someone I love them.  I noticed when I don’t do exactly what my Dad wants me to, I’ll tell him I love him, but he will say his goodbyes with stoic finality.  His idea of love falls heavily on obedience. For him love means he can call me for help and he knows he can rely on me. My Mom calls to check on me and there’s love in the call, but she won’t say she loves me.  Not usually. Calling to check on me is her way of expressing love for me. Bringing me groceries out of the blue because she was thinking of me when she was shopping for her own home tells me she is always thinking of me and loving me.

I’m not looking for someone to tell me they love me.  I’m not trying to recreate a feeling and I’m not trying to replace what I felt in marriage.  In regards to the opposite sex, my smiles are given freely but I haven’t wanted to do much more than smile for the most part.  I’ve decided I’m not interested in killing time with Mr. Right Now.  I’ve given enough years to silly infatuations and really, I like falling in love, but it’s not always worth the emotional exhaustion. Besides, right now I’m really enjoying my own company.  I like being picky about where I want to eat when I actually feel like eating. I like deciding to do whatever my mood dictates without worrying about fitting into someone else’s plans.  When the kids are home, they are never interested in much outside of Minecraft and YouTube.  Kid3 loves a good skate park with my younger brother and step dad. I let the kids dictate my plans when they’re home and I find contentment in being home with their sounds and random snuggles. Doing what they value is part of my display of love and affection.

Expressing my love for someone comes out as gratitude.  I try to thank people for their words of encouragement or their consideration.  My love comes out as a careful observation and my willingness to show someone that I see them and they don’t have to prove who they are because I see them so clearly.  They mean so much to me that I can see them outside of the mess in my own mind – in my own life.  I used to have a thing for Martha Stewart.  That lady knew her way around a home and I wanted to learn from her.  I had over 8 years of magazines on a shelf when I met my husband.  A few men before him was a man that noticed how important it was to me to subscribe to a magazine for a few years and keep every single magazine.  He watched me as I would touch each one along its spine, in search of the right one because I knew the articles I loved and could find one in minutes based on the spine.  He used to laugh at how my brain worked when it came to words.  They pop out at me and I have a hard time not reading whatever is in front of me. He saw me when I wasn’t looking at me because I was being me.  To me, that was love, and it’s my favorite way to show my love. When we moved, I was pregnant with kid1 and the ex had lots to move on his own while I was on bedrest. Those magazines were heavy and ended up in the trash. Real life took over and I stopped worrying about magazines.

I’ve read that I should be compiling a list of what I will and will not accept in a partner once I start dating but that homework doesn’t seem interesting right now.  Right now I’m thinking someone I can talk to would be great.  I want to be challenged and I want my perceptions to shift because I find myself talking to someone I can respect. I haven’t thought further than that. I mean, I want what every girl wants.  I want attention and I want to know that my smile has made someone else’s day better. I want to be looked at with desire and I like intimidating someone because they don’t know that I want them just as badly. Realistically, I’m a single mom and not in a hurry to introduce new people to my sons.  I like the idea of someone that isn’t jealous of my time with my kids because for the foreseeable future, they will be my priority and while they are with me, they will come before my needs and desires.  For now, that’s all I can think of.  I think there’s an instinctive voice that tells you when it’s right.  First impressions mean a lot and I usually know when I’m attracted to someone in the first two minutes of meeting him.  Usually those relationships are intense and fizzle quickly.  I’ve seen that a few times in recent months and I run in the opposite direction. That being said, all of my long term relationships were with guys that grew on me after weeks of them flirting and changing my mind because I was very quick to reject them.

Pain and trauma are subjective.  I get that, but I believe love is as well.  We each experience it differently and we express it in unique ways.  It’s in the way we shift our needs around others.  It’s in the choices we make that don’t make logical sense, but feel right.  I love my dog, but I was willing to give him away.  I love my children but it doesn’t destroy me when they go to their Dad.  I love a good meal.  I could easily look at a person I genuinely care for and tell them I love them because I can justify loving the person before me enough that I would care if I never see them again, and yet I loved almond filled croissants and I haven’t shed a tear because I’m now sensitive to wheat.  I love food, but I easily feel more attachment to someone I’ve talked to and connected with. There’s beauty in human connection and the loss of a relationship will always be worth the mourning period. That truth looks a lot like love to me. It’s easy to use love as a manipulation, but really, we see what we choose to look at.

More recently I see love as more of a choice than an emotion. Emotions come and go.  Emotions are fickle and shifting and depend on hormones and chemical reactions and brain signals.  Love that is real comes down to a choice to still love, no matter what the benefit or cost may be.  It’s the feeling you have the first time your angry child tells you they hate you. Waiting for a husband that rejected me forced me to make a daily decision to love through the rending of my heart, our family and my dreams.  The moment he told me he was done, I started sorting and packing our things separately.  I was immediately okay with letting him go, because he didn’t want me.  Later the choice to wait and fight for a dead marriage became more than a desire to preserve what we had, but a need to prove to him and me that I could be the wife he wanted.  I could forgive him.  I still forgive him, but I decided to value my desire to walk away more than my need to be everything I thought I should be. I always told him I didn’t need him but I wanted him, and this year proved it. Now I no longer want him.

There is a fear in accepting I was wrong to wait for so long through emotional abuse and humiliation.  There is shame in deciding that the people that told me he wasn’t the right fit could see much more clearly than I could. I won’t say I wish I had never met him.  We had many terrific years.  I can walk away knowing that there was a great reason for the marriage we shared and it reaches beyond our children.  I can also say that we had given each other all we could and the growth we experienced was becoming a destructive weight on both of us.  We shared most of our 20’s and 30’s and in that time we grew up and it’s okay that we grew apart.  I’m not sure what I feel for him, but I know five minutes with him Wednesday affected my evening and distracted my Thursday.  Today is Friday and I expect great things to fall in my lap.  I expect to experience love today, even if it is in a cup of coffee with the sun on my face.

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