[Image: A pink background with Dear Daniel kissing Hello Kitty, surrounded by strawberries. A heart with the word “Love” in it floats above them. A small poodle looks on, quizzically.]
I have been very honest about the fact that I have struggled with understanding romantic love. I think everyone does to a certain extent, but my journey with it has been particularly difficult. A lot of that probably has to do with the fact that I have a brain disease that can mimic the symptoms of love to the point where I can’t tell the difference. But beyond that, romantic love is complicated, complex and entirely too powerful to be contained in Disney movies.
I think society in general has this way of using love as filler word for all kinds of attachments that aren’t love, but still deserve to be recognized as strong emotions. I have gone through so much of my life thinking that it’s love or nothing and really, that’s just bullshit. Humans are capable of experiencing all kinds of emotions and attachments and while it might not be love, it’s still something and deserves to be recognized as such.
In the past, I’ve told people that I loved them because I was young and inexperienced, because I was hypomanic and because I was experiencing new feelings and emotions that I couldn’t name. But none of those were love. I now realize that none of them were love because I actually fell in love and, wow, it was nothing like any of that.
Love, I came to learn, is not about you or what it can do for you. Love is about the other person. Love is wanting what’s best for them no matter how it turns out for you. Love is letting someone go, no matter how much it hurts, because that’s what they need and that will lead to their ultimate happiness.
But while I realize that this was the first time I had really been in love, I don’t think that this discounts the other emotions and feelings that I have experienced in my romantic life. I definitely felt something and it was definitely strong, even though it wasn’t love. I think the problem is that there is a limited vocabulary for love in the English language and so we all try to shove everything into the love box, no matter how much it doesn’t fit.
We put so much emphasis on the word love that we misuse it in an attempt to validate our feelings. But we don’t need to. We don’t need to think of romantic attachment in terms of ultimate affection or GTFO. Not every relationship that we have in our lives is going to wind up being true love. But that doesn’t mean that our time with that partner was wasted or what we felt for them didn’t matter.
Even when I wasn’t in love before, I learned very valuable lessons from each of my exes. Sometimes that lesson was not to trust people and that people can be real assholes. But I learned something. I learned a lot from falling in love as well. All of my collective experiences make up the powerful story of my romantic history and is preparing me for my romantic future.