What is love? Whenever I encounter this question, my mind reminds me of Haddaway’s song instead of an appropriate answer. I smile to stop myself from responding with, “Baby, don’t hurt me.” Yes, I am afraid of love hurting me. This fear may be my biggest motivator for my staying single for long periods.
American poet, Maya Angelou, said, “Have enough courage to trust love one more time and always one more time.” While this may be good advice when you’re no longer clouded by pain, but, trusting only to be met with pain is tough.
Everything in life hurts eventually, but we don’t stop living because of that. We learn and move on. Hope hurts when it ends in disappointment. Comfort hurts when it hinders our growth. Despite all this, we find the courage to hope and live again. Why can’t we do the same with love?
Love has hurt me more times than I can count. Perhaps it’s unfair to blame it instead of the people who harmed me. I was raised in a dysfunctional home. That’s the source of my pain and fears about love. I did not see it as a dysfunction for many years because my needs were met. Affection, though, was reserved for special occasions.
I was a smart kid. Getting high marks at school earned me adoration. My sole mission then was to be exceptional at everything I did, so that affection never ran out. Well, it waned until it vanished. Nothing I did was enough. Being raised by wounded people felt like I was in constant competition with their pain. Sometimes, it felt like my existence added to their wounds. I then became obedient and accepted the little love I got, even when it hurt.
Aware or not, childhood trauma shapes the way we view ourselves and our relationships. When I attempted dating, I claimed to be terrible with love so that the other person would expect the least from me. In the same breath, I said that I wanted a relationship that felt like home. In my mind, home was beautiful and peaceful, but the opposite was true in reality.
Without realizing it, I was in relationships that resembled the chaos I experienced as a child. Past partners would be cold and I would do my best to be “brilliant” even if it meant masking all that I am to be palatable. I bent myself to fit whatever that lover needed then. Like the girl I once was, I did anything for a glimpse of love.
I liked relationships that did not need vulnerability. I was devoted without opening myself up to scrutiny and the loss of love. This worked for some time, but I always felt that something was amiss. I was going through the motions of loving without doing the work. To attain that missing piece, I had to be brave enough to be vulnerable, which was hard.
So what is love?
In my quest to find the perfect definition of love, I came across so many that I realized that it is one of the things that remains undefinable. I have always loved love as an idea because romance movies influenced me. They painted it as this whimsical and perfect thing, which was far from what I am. I thought love could never look in my direction, as I believed that I was so messed up that if it came my way, I would taint it with my imperfections. Hard as I tried to run from love, it caught up.
I had been single for a year when I met my beloved last year. 2022 had been a tough year, and I went through it alone. Solitude is comfortable yet, my desire to be loved grew strong. I craved companionship; someone to go through life’s mundane with, to laugh and have tea with on a quiet Wednesday. My beloved has been just that.
Our connection has been healthy and effortless since the initial conversation. I love with fear, so I’m always ready to leave a relationship, even for no clear reason. He has been patient and kind, despite knowing my traumas. Trusting love is hard. Deep down, I knew I was deserving of the love that did not hurt, but believing it has been a different story.
I have attempted to leave him a couple of times, not because he’s horrible to me, but out of fear that my imperfections would make him leave first. After each failed attempt, I found my way back to him and apologized for being a mess. Being with him has triggered me, not in a way that hurts, but in a manner that shows me all the things I refused to confront about myself. His steady love has slowly unmasked me and removed all the barriers I built around my heart.
I did not fall in love with him. Like a flower being tended to, I grew in it. His actions have been so loud that I have not questioned his love. I have not felt starved of it even when we’re apart. Him loving me does not mean that he’s unblemished, but that while he works on his healing, he is open to love. Our connection has become a sanctuary for healing. We have been nothing but ourselves throughout; bruised yet trying, without burning ourselves and each other.
I can safely say that love is friendship. It is the excitement to tell each other about our day no matter how boring; I’m proud of you, even when you have done nothing great. It is, I’m in your corner when you’re used to lonesomeness. For the first time, being myself is enough.
Love makes the harshness of life bearable when you let it in. I am still learning to receive and give it with less fear. I will not love with one foot outside the door, ready to run in case of pain. Running is easy and it could shield me from future pain, but staying, for as long as it is fulfilling, gives me a chance to experience the love that waters me.