On Unpopular Love

Oprah ruined love.  Hallmark delivered several death blows, but Oprah (and through her, Dr. Phil) killed it.

Love yourself.  It’s a pop psychology mantra that we hear everywhere.  But who can really qualify what that means?  It’s a concept that’s been broken down into 15-second sound bites for commercials.  “Next on Tyra/Oprah/Dr. Phil…  Love yourself in time for dinner.”

But our whole concept of love is completely fucked up.  We think it is what we see on TV or read about in trashy romance novels.  A proud broken man, a woman with a secret.  They fall in love but their differences tear them apart.  All until the man realizes that he doesn’t have to be broken any more and the woman shares her secret and then they stay married and have loads of babies and wedded bliss.

We think we can do the hard stuff once and be done with it.  You can’t.  The hard stuff has to be done over and over and over again.  It’s like going to the gym.  Or staying away from the FroYo.

We think love is roses and chocolate and bubble baths and sunset walks on the beach and Paris and diamond rings.  And all of these ideas came from people who wanted to sell us shit.  People that wanted our money in exchange for the accessories that they told us were associated with love.  We gave up the real thing for the “as seen on TV” version.

So now we’re supposed to love ourselves.  With the diamond rings for our right hands since the left hand is reserved for Prince Charming?  Let’s face it, some of us take the TV version of “love yourself” a little too far.  It’s called narcissism, and I promise you, it doesn’t make for good partnerships.  All this love yourself nonsense starts to look like it belongs nestled up to our notions of “deserve.”  We know how I feel about that, and if you don’t, I’ll summarize: deserve is the wrong damn question.

Love yourself is not about looking yourself in the mirror deeply and saying “I love myself” over and over again.  It isn’t about justifying a Mercedes Benz.  It isn’t about justifying a new piece of jewelry, or a new house, or a long vacation.  It isn’t approving of everything about yourself unconditionally.  Loving yourself along the lines of Hallmark and Oprah hasn’t gotten us very far.

Let me tell you what I know about love.

Love sees clearly.  Even more important, love is willing to look.  Love doesn’t gloss over faults or pretend that they don’t exist.  Love is willing to acknowledge the parts that are ugly and selfish and mean-spirited and arrogant and lazy and fragile.  Love sees all of those things and doesn’t flinch and doesn’t condemn.

Love gets out of the way of the consequences.  Love doesn’t deprive the beloved of the benefit of their failures.  Love lets the beloved fail because any meaningful success is nourished by the shit that didn’t work.

Love doesn’t have the answers; love sits with you while you ask the questions.

Love doesn’t save you; it stands next to you as you save yourself.

Love is pragmatic.  It acknowledges reality and adjusts accordingly.  It is more interested in what works than it is in being right or preserving its ego or defending its opinions.

Love takes the long view.  It looks at the aggregate, not the last five minutes.

Love is supple.  Flexible.  Adaptable.  Resilient.  It can be okay in a variety of situations.  It might grumble a little, but it will find a way to make it work.  It’s strong that way.

Love is loyalty.  It is trusting someone even when you don’t understand what’s happening or why.  It is speaking kindly of someone to the external world when you really want to smack them in the face.  It’s keeping the personal between you and the beloved.  It believes in someone when the evidence points in other direction.  It acknowledges their imperfections even as it acknowledges that your place is next to this flawed individual.  Hell, it might find those flaws endearing in the right light.

Love shows up.

Love finds reasons to laugh, even on the most miserable of days.  Gallows humor counts, and if you’re going to go down, you might as well go down laughing.

So what does it mean to love yourself?  Own everything, your good and bad qualities equally.  Acknowledge that perfect isn’t possible, but that trying is well within your capacity.  Have a sense of humor, risk failure, show up relentlessly, tell yourself the truth, do what you can from where you are, and forgive yourself for being a bloody idiot.  Because we’re all bloody idiots in one way or another.

If you can do that for someone else, you can do it for yourself.  And if you can do it for yourself, you can do it for someone else.

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On Unpopular Love

2 thoughts on “On Unpopular Love

  1. Spot on.

    We actually think love means “really, really like” rather than “look after carefully.” Real love is making sure you exercise regularly because you understand, although your lazier self doesn’t, that being able to use both sides of your body in old age is really going to add to your quality of life.

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  2. We seem to forget that love has teeth, that love says no and means it. Love is a responsibility, not a freebie. There is an element of stewardship in love, where you “look after carefully…” Friends, lovers, sometimes strangers, yourself. It’s complicated and it’s hard, and it has nothing to do with the size of the diamond you wear.

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