I was speaking with someone the other night. Well, quite a few nights ago now, and he told me he thinks his definition of falling in love is “being willing to take a bullet for someone.”
Personally, I always separated falling in love from love itself, as in Sweden when you say falling in love you use the word “kär” or “förälskad” and it’s neither the same as being in love, nor having a crush. I’d say it could go either way. It’s simply the person you have butterflies in your belly for (i.e. you’re on a rose colored high), be it that you love them, or not. So basically, falling in love, is not the same as loving someone to me. To me, loving someone is a lot more serious than falling in love.
At the time we were chatting, I just thought about how we all have our unique definitions. But then, for some reason, this came back to me later as I started thinking about love itself. What is love?
I, personally, have a penchant for wanting to help people. That means that if someone is sitting wounded on the roadside, I pick them up and care for them. Whether I have the time, the money and the resources, or not. This is often to my own detriment, but it also makes me feel good. Anyway, point being: to me it’s a gut reaction. Just like taking a bullet probably would be. And taking a bullet takes three-seconds. Being in a loving relationship is a lifetime commitment.
I’ve often said that true love is wiping someone’s ass. Because if someone is old and sick and tired, that’s what you do for them if you love them. Love isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s pretty gruesome at times. But as I said when I was living with my grandmother in a hospice: the only thing worse than being here, is not being here.
On the other hand, I don’t think love is about giving up your life for someone else. I didn’t — and still don’t — live in Sweden to please neither my grandparents, nor my dad or sister. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but my father has always been really firm on the “you should live your life” thing. My gran wasn’t like that and I think he told her off quite a few times. He made it very clear that she had had her life, living as she wanted to live. Now my sister and I had our own lives and needed to live as we wanted to. We’re all responsible for our own lives and filling them with love — beyond the family. You can’t just rely on family to be happy.
And it’s true. Your life is your own. It’s your gift from God/the Universe. Your gift. You can do whatever you want with it. And if you don’t cherish it, it’s like giving the middle finger to the powers above (God/the Universe that is). They gave you a gift. Use it in a way in which it serves you and therefore others. Happiness is contagious.
Destroying your life for someone else isn’t love. And it leads to a lot of resentment towards the person. Sacrificing things along the road is part of loving someone. You have to give up few things, but you can’t give up your entire life. And if someone asks you to do that for them, they don’t love you. They want to control you so that you do what they want you to do. Since when is that love? In short, they’re selfish bastards, even if they think they love you and probably do to the extent they’re capable of doing so.
I still remember this quote from a book I read in my teens. It was in Swedish but it was something along the lines of: “To love is to free the person frozen in cement and see them dance, even if they’re dancing away from you.” I agree.
In romantic relationships though, the whole point is to find someone who wants the same things out of life as you do. As the saying goes: you’re not looking for someone to look you in the eye, but for someone who is looking in the same direction you are. You want to create your dreams together. That means you need to have similar goals, as well as values.
As far as commitment goes, while you should never have to ruin your life for someone else, love is about having 39 degrees fever and still preparing a meal for your child. Love is about showing up when you really don’t feel like it. It’s about getting up in the morning to make someone breakfast in bed when you want to sleep in. Because you want to show them you love them. And I think that, in a weird way, makes you come alive more. It forces you to get out of your own way and actually do something worthwhile.
That’s supposed to be a two-way stream. You can’t bust your butt for someone who isn’t willing to do anything in return. You can love them. You can love anyone. Love itself is unconditional and I personally think you can love anyone whom you understand. Because once you understand why they are the way they are and see the heart hidden beneath the learned behavior, it’s hard not to love them. But you can’t be in a relationship with someone who isn’t willing to sweat it for you.
I believe anything in life worth doing requires commitment. Or, as Churchill would have said: “Blood, sweat and tears.” That might make it sound “difficult” but a good day’s work feels good if it’s done for a person you believe is worth it, who does things for you in return. Think about work in general — when you do work you love, or do work for a good cause, even if it’s difficult, it makes you feel good. Like a good workout. It takes effort getting out the door, but once you’re working out it feels effing amazing.
In fact, I believe a life without commitment (whether to work, people, or even ourselves — it takes commitment to serve your own body for example, through exercise and a healthy lifestyle) is partly what makes people depressed. Firstly, they have no sense of direction. They don’t know where they’re going or why they should get up in the morning. Secondly, it becomes all about them. They don’t have anything else to engage their mind in, apart form their own thoughts. And constantly thinking about yourself doesn’t feel good. Like how good do you feel when you try to analyze non-stop who you are, what people think about you, if you made the right decision ten years ago, if you’re good enough, if your latest Facebook pic is epic enough, etc.? Different people ponder different things, but it tends to be ego focused. Once you start living for something beyond yourself, you forget to obsess about these things.
It’s actually been proven that charity work makes people happier and increases longevity. A) people feel good about themselves doing good for others B) it leads to social connections. It leads to love.
Maybe one should also separate romantic love from other loves as there are many different kinds of love. So let’s rewind. I need to summarize my thoughts here…
First, there’s the love you can feel for anyone, because you see the human in them. See the heart in them. The kind of unconditional love you can share freely. And it makes you committed to doing right by them. Acting in a way you believe serves them. It doesn’t mean you like them. It means you understand why they are the way they are and that by acting nicely, at the very least, you have a chance of influencing them for the better. It’s the kind of love you can feel for all of humanity (and the planet at large).
Then there’s the love you feel for people (usually the ones you grew up with) who cared for you at one stage or another, even if they were completely different from you. They were committed to you. Like my grandmother. If she’d had her way, I’d live in Sweden with a stable nine to five job, 2.5 children and a husband. I’d have been dead inside, but she’d been happy. She cared for me. She was there for me whenever I needed her. She loved me as best as she could. She sacrificed things for me. But she did not understand me. And I loved her. So much. She was one of the best things in my childhood. She taught me a lot about commitment. About being there for someone. But she didn’t have a clue as to what it meant to let people be who they are. And she loved guilt tripping people about who she thought they should be.
We cared for each other. We were committed to one another. And by caring and being committed we created something beautiful, even though we had little in common.
You may not love them more, but the people who cared for us at some point who also understood us, we felt/feel closer to. Because beyond the commitment to care for one another, we also understood/understand one another.
Similarly, you love friends on different levels. Some friends are super close, because you gel on so many levels and you’re truly committed to looking after one another. Other friends are somewhat close, because while you do gel on most levels, you aren’t that committed to looking after one another. Yet others, you only have one or two things in common with, but you do have a sense of commitment. A sense of caring; of looking after one another.
Like if you ask me who I love the most, the answer is without a doubt my best friend. But it doesn’t necessarily mean I love her the most. It’s just I’m the closest to her. She understands me. She is committed to my wellbeing, even when it’s uncomfortable (such as telling me I’m acting like an ass, or need to do something I’m not doing — love involves doing the right thing even when it feels uncomfortable). She shares hopes and dreams with me — we’re looking in the same direction. Always have.
What’s more, even though myself and my best friend are attached by the hip, we can live in different countries. We have our own lives. We are OK not speaking for a month. And while I have no fucking clue what I’d do in a world without her, I still know I have my own life. I have my own friends. I have my own goals. I do things that make me happy. And that’s vital in any relationship. You can’t expect someone else to bring you happiness.
With romantic relationships, I believe you need to have physical (bodily) attraction, sexual attraction (liking similar things in the bedroom), mental/intellectual attraction, emotional attraction and spiritual attraction. You may not hit a ten in all the different areas, but you need to be pretty high up the scale in most of them. On top of that, on top of “gelling” with one another, you need to have similar goals and values (wanting to build your dreams together), as well as a willingness to commit to one another. To sweat for one another. To make small sacrifices for one another. Because you believe it’s worth it. Because your relationship is worth the work and the sacrifices.
Gelling with someone, being attracted to someone…to me, that’s falling in love. The more attracted you are to them, the more you understand one another and have things in common, the more you fall in love. And while you can love anyone unconditionally because you understand humanity at large and are committed to doing right by people, loving someone within a relationship, to me, is another form of commitment. It’s the act of giving of yourself on a day-to-day basis.
I think commitment is beautiful. And I think my grandparents are greatly responsible for teaching me that. They gave me a sense of security in an unstable childhood. They taught me a lot about the selfless act of loving. Of showing up when you don’t want to, without for that matter giving so much you ruin your own life.
I think loving someone on a day-to-day basis requires a lot more work and is a lot harder than catching that one bullet. But I also think it’s a lot more rewarding. For starters, you now have a purpose. It gives you direction. It makes you feel you’re doing something worthwhile. By caring for someone else, you feel good about yourself. Secondly, you’re around to reap the rewards. Like, say, morning sex after that breakfast you prepared. But then, as my sister says: I got the caring gene. I’d prepare breakfast for just about anyone in return for a smile. I love looking after people. My sister, on the other hand, once tried to kick me out of her flat when I’d just returned to Sweden sick with the flu, because she was scared of catching a bug and couldn’t be fucked to make me breakfast. I refused to leave. She apologized and made me breakfast. That’s family 101. Personally, I’ve had homeless people living on my couch. My sister calls me in a panic if anyone in the family is in hospital, because I’m much better at caring for them. I know what to say. The joke in the family? She’s the doctor, I’m the filmmaker.