If you have been able to ignore all of the cards, chocolates, flowers and gift suggestions everywhere you go then you may still not realise that it’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow.
Respecting that it’s everyone’s choice to celebrate certain days, holy or otherwise, I wonder why we have to nominate a particular day to recognise or celebrate something and then commercialise it, particularly when it comes to love and appreciation. By the way, if you’ve overlooked it and want to recognise it, you still have time to do something lovely for someone!
But let’s talk about love. What is love actually?
Love is one of those things that can’t be measured as such and that science can’t really prove apart from its impact on the nervous system through the release of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin which create a feel-good, reward type of sensation. That’s our brain-based, neurological approach and understanding but it is not that cut and dried.
Some may describe love as an emotion, but I feel that true, unconditional love doesn’t have emotion attached. Emotion is created by the brain and love is a whole-body sensation felt by all of our cells and atomic particles and often something we can’t easily define or put into words. We feel it in ourselves and sense it in others so, to me, it’s both tangible and intangible and how each of us experiences it is different but in essence, more than feeling love, we are love and that’s what we should all be bringing in our life.
Some of the ways people feel love is through words, or physical touch, what someone does for us, gifts or quality time (according to The Five Love Languages’ by Gary Chapman) and if we are showing our love through our words (because that’s what we like) but our partner prefers acts of love then it doesn’t matter how may love poems we have tenderly crafted, the other person would prefer you to wash the dishes, mow the lawn or do the shopping! A disconnect. I suggest there are other, more subtle ways too such as allowing people space to develop at their own rate and avoiding judgment and comparison.
A few years ago, Nick taught me to tell those I love that I love them and not just as a mumbled one-off but on a regular basis. I was beyond grateful for this guidance when I decided to follow his lead and close every phone call and conversation with my parents who lived in the UK with “I love you”.
Up until then I don’t think they had ever actually told me they loved me directly although I know they did and they both showed their love in different ways; Mum would shower us with gifts and Dad was the hugger and listener (I’ve inherited/chosen Dad’s version). You may have experienced something similar. Some months after starting this new approach I started to get “I love you too” back, first from one and then from the other and it came both as a surprise and a delight.
I can only guess how uncomfortable that was for my parents having grown up in the era they did particularly with strict and detached parents in my Mum’s case, and yet once they said it they seemed to become more comfortable. I now do the same with my sisters who are also overseas.
And over the years I have come to believe that with love there is no ‘sometimes’ or ‘this much’ it’s there or it’s not or perhaps we are just not able to feel it as love because something has happened in our past that makes that difficult or has corrupted our understanding of it. Sometimes it may not feel like love because we disagree with the person, dislike that thing they do or get embarrassed by certain behaviour but to me that’s what real love is. Loving someone and accepting them just as they are, where they are, every day, unconditionally even though that can be challenging at times.
These days, those I love know that I love them and when my parents passed away, even though I couldn’t be with them at the end, I knew they knew too. None of us is ever aware of when we will have our last conversation with the people we love or they with us. So even though it may not come naturally and feel awkward to begin with, tell them you love them; tell them today; tell them every day and express it in a way that feels natural for you and appropriate, safe and comfortable for them.
And why not start with you? Maybe you are the person that you’d like to do something lovely for …