To be honest, there wasn't any reason for me to. No one ever stole my heart, promised me the moon and then left me standing alone in the cold. I didn't grow up abused and neglected. Sure, someone told me to shut up once when I was nine, but I rose victorious. For the most part, I always knew I was loved. Occasionally I doubted it when my relatives retold my toddler tantrums as if there might be a slight ax to grind over my trouble making. But I had friends, people told me I rocked, my family's great and, well, I was one lucky girl.
That's why I don't remember when I first gave up on love.
No. I take it back. I do remember. I gave up on love when I gave up on myself.
See, I always thought love was something you earned. If you were pretty enough, you got the guy. If you were smart enough, you got the accolades. If you were good enough, you got the parents' blessing. And I could do that when younger, when people didn't expect me to act a certain way or a be a certain person. I won love all around. Then I started messing up. Big time. I started feeling things I never felt before and being things I'd never been before and changing like crazy. All at once my relationships hit an iceberg and got banged up pretty badly -- enough to sink the ship.
I blamed myself. Of course, in any relationship gone wrong, there's plenty of blame to share. There was much to blame myself for. And the culprits of my unpardonable sins -- the sins that ruined so many relationships -- lay in things I didn't know how to handle. How does one stop from changing? How does one stop from seeing the truth? How does one swallow these intense feelings of hurt or borderline hatred? I couldn't switch off my feelings. They switched me on and off until they blew my circuit.
Yes, I take full responsibility for my feelings. Decisions, even little, inconsequential ones, accompany all feelings. I don't deny that. But once I realized where my unchecked feelings and bad decisions led, I had no idea how to get out. I felt like I'd dug a hole before ladders and rope were invented. I was stuck. Permanently.
And that sort of helplessness convinced me that love was hopeless. No way could I invent the ladder down here in this darkness. I was too far gone. I couldn't like the people I ought to love, and I liked too much people I shouldn't like that much. I lost the magical touch to gaining affection. My past choices stained my record forever. Someone might as well have branded me with SHUN THE NONBELIEVER. At least it would have stopped people from loving me until they realized I wasn't all I was cracked up to be.
Let's face it: people are horrible at loving. I raise my hand first: I am the greatest bad lover, even though I desperately desire love myself. But people in general are bad at loving. I'm not even talking in the context of marriage and divorce, falling in love and fall out. I'm talking about friendships, relationships with family, churches. The littlest thing explodes any chance at friends forever. That awkwardness pervading a fractured relationship ensures eventual and total separation.
That's why I didn't believe in love. I didn't know if the feelings and actions before a broken relationship count as love, since love is forever. I just knew that love was hard for me, and hard for people especially in relationship to me, and I couldn't earn love, and I couldn't always give love and most relationships ended up bombing. Love looked to me like an iPhone -- the first one looks great and causes great elation until it starts acting up. Then the next version comes out and obviously requires our purchasing of the new and shunning of the old. Just transfer all the stories and secrets and dreams to the next relationship version and hey, presto -- it's love.
No. No more. No more games and lies. I wanted a permanent spot to feel safe, one that wouldn't be permanent in location (love ought to grow, after all) but permanent in endurance. Forever love. Anti-earthquake shake system or something equally stable.
That's where I was. Here's where I am: I believe in love now.
(Whispered thoughts: She's got a boyfriend now, doesn't she? Such confidence in love usually comes when girl meets boy and life temporarily appears headed straight for happily ever after.) No, not at all. Honestly, I think such a relationship would prompt more fear of love than confidence, but we'll wait and see if that theory holds water when (if?) I actually try it out. The only relationship that gives me confidence is God's. I know that a relationship with God isn't half as exciting or interesting or stable as one with a boyfriend, but hey, that's my boring life.
Anyway. Why do I believe in love? Well, yes, because God loved me unconditionally -- that was the first step. Yes, because several people who know every facet of my psyche love me almost as unconditionally. And not to sound strange or selfish, but it might just be because I know I can love others now.
I think I mentioned sometime before that I hate emotions. It's because I'm a control freak, and emotions don't know the meaning of control -- not the kind of control that I wanted, the control to squash them immediately underfoot before they produced insomnia and hyperbolic theoretical situations. Since I lumped love in as something more of the emotions than of control, I distrusted it just as much as I hated emotions.
I know we all know that love is a choice. But I'm not sure we're all on the same page on what we mean by "choice." I'm not sure what I meant by it before -- something like love has visible manifestations primarily clustered around the five love languages. Even more than that, I thought love came easily to me -- to everyone -- because it was a choice.
Love isn't easy. I'm not sure it's entirely natural, either, though our capacity for love basically defines who we are. We learn love like we learn a language. Love means blood, sweat and tears. Lots of tears. It means energy and thought and mistakes. A lot of mistakes. Sometimes love brings about the strongest emotions. Sometimes it barely employs feelings. Love requires active choices -- not only reactions to situations (like not barking at a sibling or gossiping about a friend) but creations of situations to react to...like learning someone's love language and purposefully practicing it. Love takes practice. It's funny, isn't it, that we have to practice our most basic need? But we do. And often.
Because love is not natural, it ought to change how we view the relationships most likely to be taken for granted. Family, in particular, or even close friends. So often I neglect to actively show love because, well, "He knows I love him -- I'm his sister, for Pete's sake!" or "Of course I love her -- we see each other every week."
Before I left for school this semester, I wrote every family member a letter to let them know I loved them. As I signed each letter with I love you, I wondered if I really did. Let me rephrase: of course I did love them. I'm a sister and a daughter: that family bond is awfully fierce, even when we grate on each other's heartstrings. But did they know I loved them? Did I show that love? Did they have memories and mementos of specific ways I loved them? Did they think of me as someone they could trust for acceptance or love, or was I just That Sister whose I love you pointed to stark hypocrisy? Those questions haunt me as I grow up and out of the house, away from the one chance left to love my family well.
Ironically, this view of love might seem discouraging to someone so prone to giving up under expectations and pressure. But this view of love -- as a choice, as a hard choice -- offers hope. Hope that people can learn to love me. Hope that I can learn to love people. Hope that love can change things that need change. Hope that even when relationships crumble, love can build bridges. Hope that love, pursued hard and long, lasts forever.