There's this really cool thing about language and how we use it.
See, we have this dictionary, right. And it's huge and has all the words and all the meanings.
But if you ask someone what a word means, everyone's answer is a little different.
We don't recall the dictionary page.
We recall our experience with the word.
This is because we have experiential definitions of words.
The dictionary just points us in a direction & keeps us in the same sphere.
The bigger the word, the more our experiences with the word varies.
The more our definitions of the word vary accordingly.
And "Love" is a BIG word that we experience in BIG ways.
It's a natural priority in all of our lives. And for each of us it shows up a little differently.
One person's "love" might look like Sunday dinners and hectic holidays in a full house.
It might look like contentment and familiarity. Stability.
Another person's "love" might look like abandonment.
So they get jealous. And value quality time. And fight for control.
It might look like shrinking and sacrificing themselves to keep others around.
It might look like a savior complex. Only heroes deserve love.
Another person still might experience love as chaos.
So they guilt trip. They make unreasonable demands and when things get calm they get nervous that it's boring now.
And love can't be boring.
We all have experiential definitions of love.
And you can always see someone's definition of love by how they live the word.
You can simply ask them who are the people they love the most and watch how they practice loving those people.
This alone will tell you everything you need to know.
I used to have a mixture of all of the above. A very disorganized view of love that perfectly matched my very disorganized attachment style.
I experienced love as a hardship, and I needed that to change.
So I had a big question to ask...
How are we defining love to the point where we're getting it so wrong so often?
Examining Our Definition of Love
I don't know about you, but for me, almost every mainstream depiction of love involves two major points:
- Desiring something (or a lot of things) from someone
- Self-sacrifice & self-abandonment as a gesture of love for another person
It took me what feels like 42 lifetimes and a million interpersonal relationships before learning that the reason this view of love doesn't work is because it was never love to begin with.
Before I reached that conclusion I went through this really jaded period that we're all familiar with on some level, where I figured the flaw wasn't in how I defined love & relationships, but in how much I valued them.
"This shit is for the birds."
So, I stopped relying on love.
I abstained from romantic relationships for the majority of 4 years. If it wasn't for critical friendships I probably would've become a completely bitter-hearted person.
But over time, I realized...
Maybe love isn't broken.
Maybe we're just looking at it through the wrong lens.
From there I started to reflect on the way I perceived love.
I looked not just the way I experienced it, but the way I wore it in my relationships with others, as well as myself.
I wanted to reflect on the moments that actually felt like loving moments between me & someone else, or even me and myself.
And I wanted to expand those.
At first, I focused on things that were easier to define, easier to point out, and easier to see and trust.
Things like respect, kindness, compassion, openness, tenderness, accountability, etc.
I started to think more about my love languages instead of just a general, ambiguous concept of love.
I looked for all of these things individually before realizing the sum of them is what love actually has been all along.
Except one more thing...
What hit me even deeper, was the realization that when I was receiving these things from people and felt elated about them, that didn't mean I loved them.
Being attached to how someone made me feel wasn't me loving them at all.
That was me feeling loved by them.
That was a sign of them loving me.
Which is important, but it doesn't account for if and how I love them.
I realized that for me to love someone means that I need to give them the things they need to feel loved.
I think we spend so much time focusing on what we want in an ideal partner or friend...
That we forget to check in and ask how we can become the ideal partner or friend.
We spend so much time trying to find "the one", we forget to embody the one.
We try to find loving, accepting friends, without being loving, accepting friends.
And so on.
Read this with both in mind.
What Does it Really Mean to Love Someone?
If I were to define love it would be in an effort to discern between love and attachment.
You can't understand one without the other. So we need to understand both.
To love someone is to want things for them.
You want for them to be happy, and healthy, and whole.
You want this for them so badly that it would likely hurt you or bring you discomfort to take those things away from them.
You want for them to smile, have fun, and live a full life.
You want for them to feel loved.
You want for them to feel heard and seen and understood and supported.
And when you hear and see and understand them, you want for them to go after the things you've learned they want for themselves.
You want those things for them, so you support them, encourage them, partner with them, and otherwise strive to get out of their way so they can live.
Because you understand that your love for them and attachment to them cannot be their entire world.
Love is wanting for them to have the space to live their life fully, even if you're attached to being a part of the reason their life feels full.
Love understands that sometimes, less is more.
Love is generosity, and empathy, in action.
To love her isn't to think, "she brings out the best in me"
That would be a statement of how she loves you. Which is important.
You deserve to receive love.
But her bringing out the best in you is not you loving her.
For you to love her is to strive to bring out the best in her, instead.
To love her in action and up close would mean to make this a conscious priority in your life.
To love someone isn't saying, "she makes me feel safe".
To love her is to strive to make her feel safe.
Because to love someone else isn't about us. It's about them.
This is important to understand because attachment is very different but sometimes we mistake it for love.
Attachment is wanting things from someone, including wanting them to confirm to our definition of loving relationship without considering the fact that they have their own.
Our attachment needs shape the way we receive love from other people.
We want attention from them.
We want them to make us feel seen, heard, and understood.
We want to receive compliments and encouragement from them.
We want them to give us understanding, acceptance, tenderness, forgiveness, and space to live our lives the way we want to.
We want them to conform to our perception of how things should go.
Attachment is more about how we're wired to see, hear, feel, receive, and appreciate love from other people.
But to love someone isn't about receiving anything.
To love someone is an act of deliverance.
And here's the most important part that people really fuck up.
We need both.
We need BOTH love and attachment to feel fully connected to people.
We need to listen to and understand our attachment needs.
How else will we feel loved if our attachment needs aren't being considered, understood, communicated, and valued?
How do we feel loved if they're not being met?
Our attachment needs help us understand how we feel loved.
To be clear - how we feel loved by others AND how to better love ourselves.
They help us define our boundaries and standards in the relationships that we want to love and be loved in.
And they help us understand how to meet our own needs when others can't.
Understanding our attachment needs and how to meet them helps us feel less anxious, less avoidant, and more secure.
Attachment is important
And, love is important.
We need to learn to acknowledge love, in a pure and unadulterated format.
Because remembering to love people keeps us from turning our attachment needs into attachment demands that hurt them and us in the end.
Love is what gives us boundaries. So we don't center our entire experience with them around our needs without considering that they have attachment needs too.
Many of which will look very different than our own.
When we remember to love them (want good things for them), then we can't allow them to hurt themselves for the sake of loving us.
We start to think more creatively about how we can both feel loved.
Instead of demand, they sacrifice feeling love to meet our needs.
Holding a clear perspective on what it means to love our people is what keeps us from weaponizing our own triggers, insecurities, jealousy, and even our own basic attachment needs against them.
Because you don't weaponize things against people you're committed to wanting good things for.
When you love them, you're committed to being the good thing.
When we love them, we're able to practice loving them through those moments without making it all about ourselves.
We remember to hold space for the people we love.
For a love to feel whole and full between two people, means attachment and love are both present and accounted for at the same time.
But here's the catch, and why a lot of people mess this up.
Love can't exist without attachment.
But attachment can and often does exist without love.
We get so swallowed up in our attachment to people that we forget to love them.
This is where toxic relationships come from.
Avoiding "Toxic" Attachment
At the time of writing this, it's trending to call relational dynamics - and the people we fall out with - "toxic".
These are apparently the people we love the "hardest".
Toxic relationships happen when the attachment is present, and strong, but the love is absent.
(Read it again until it sinks in)
I used to be confused about why toxic relationships happen.
I never bought the idea that people genuinely wanted to foster toxic dynamics with others. It was always accidental. So why the hell did it keep happening?
But it's really not that complicated.
Throw a bunch of attachment in a petri dish and you've got acidity.
A whole lot of "what about me" behavior. "I need". "I want". "Me me me".
You don't get two people considering one another's best interests while advocating for their attachment needs.
You just get two people in a power struggle, seeing who can get their attachment needs to be the priority, today.
Me me me.
Now, start adding drops of love.
Some empathy & compassion here.
"I forgive you for snapping at me. I know you've had an extremely hard week and I'd be irritable too."
Some support there.
"Do you need to vent about it?"
Some love languages.
"What kind of quality time would light you up this week? You want adventure or a quiet night in?"
"Of course I forgive you. I know that tone wasn't really for me. You've been under a lot of stress. I appreciate you catching yourself."
Some compassionate accountability.
"I know you struggle with hard conversations, but this relationship only works if we can start having them. Is there any way I can help you feel safe in being more open with me? How do you need me to respond when you tell me a hard truth?"
"I believe you."
Some encouragement and understanding.
"I understand. You need to get out of your bubble. Have a girl's night yes we're good lol".
Eventually, it balances out.
The point is this:
We can think, know, and feel love for someone all we want.
We can be completely convinced we are loving someone in full...
Without ever delivering to them a felt sense of being loved by us.
This is because you cannot convince someone to feel loved by you.
You can only love them into feeling loved by you.
So, how are you defining love?
How are you practicing it?
How can your definition of love heal, now?
P.S. If you want to know more about how you define and experience love and attachment, click the card below to start digging into your attachment styles.