Love Letter

Dear You,

I'm writing this because someone told you that you can't understand or experience love at your age. If no one did yet, they probably will soon enough. I'm writing to tell you that if you've heard that, I just don't think it's true.

You might have been told that what you express or experience as love isn't really love, but infatuation, fantasy, delusion, lust, loneliness or your "raging hormones⁠ ." You might have heard that it's either best you don't get serious about love at all right now, or you that cementing yourself as deeply as you can in one relationship⁠ -- like with an engagement or marriage -- is the only way you can have a healthy or real love relationship. Someone may have said that what you and the person you have feelings with are experiencing as big, big love is, instead, "puppy love" or a crush.

Maybe it was one of your parents, someone else in your family, a teacher or another adult. Maybe it was a sibling or friend who isn't even that much older than you, or one who is even your same age or younger. All the same, someone said it, and you felt the double-whammy of having what you know to be the truth of your feelings discounted and of being deeply patronized all at once.

Whoever said it to you? They might just be full of it. Okay, if not exactly full of it, not thinking it through or choosing their words carefully or thoughtfully. Maybe they have selectively forgotten their own life experiences or are projecting their own experiences unto you. They might have fears around the intensity of your feelings. They might be freaking out⁠ because you grew up so darn fast they've got vertigo. They may be bitter about their own experiences with love, and with love not having met their expectations. It might be what was said to them at your age, and they believed it.

There are many reasons why people say this stuff to young people, and I'll get to that, but what's most important to me is that you know your feelings do have weight and are real.

No matter what anyone says, love doesn't have an age requirement: we can feel and enact love at the age of 4, 14, 40 or 74. It doesn't have any one time, place or kind of relationship it can only manifest in: it can happen with lovers or friends, parents or siblings, even with whole communities, even with the whole world. We can and do love in friendships, family relationships, mentorships, sexual⁠ relationships, romantic⁠ relationships, in and outside of marriage, with people we've known forever, with people we've only just met, by ourselves, with another person, with whole groups of people. Love doesn't discriminate by gender⁠ , race, age, class, size, shape or any other criteria you can think of. We can love or be loved in a relationship that lasts decades or in one that lasts weeks. There is no one, clear, universal definition of love. There never has been, and it's safe to say there never will be.

What IS love? It depends on who you ask.

Artists, poets, writers, politicians, philosophers, teachers, and just about everyone who has ever given some thought to anything have been trying to figure out what love is and isn't for all of human history, and millions of people still can't agree. We have yet to come to any kind of universal agreement on what love is, nor to have any kind of sole, universal experience of love. Like just about anything else where people are involved, because people are so diverse, what we know love to be, how we experience it, and the way we define it is diverse. Not only do definitions of love vary from person to person, they're something that any given person usually evolves and adapts in their lifetime, and often more than once.

If you're asking me for a basic definition, I resonate with the way bell hooks talks about love. When asked to define it simply, she said that, "Love is a combination of six ingredients: care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust." It may be obvious (which may be why she didn't say it) but to her list I'd add connectivity: I'd say love is about connecting and being connected to ourselves, to who we love, to everything. There's an energy to being deeply connected that once you feel, you'll recognize ever after.

I also like something Thich Nhat Hanh said on the topic, which is that "Love is the capacity to take care, to protect, to nourish. If you are not capable of generating that kind of energy toward yourself - if you are not capable of taking care of yourself, of nourishing yourself, of protecting yourself - it is very difficult to take care of another love oneself is the foundation of the love of other people. Love is a practice. Love is truly a practice."

I think all of that is a good recipe for figuring out if what you're experiencing, in yourself, and with others, is or may be love. We can be certain that while sometimes some of those things might be a bit scary, all of them leave us feeling good. The kind of scary they can be is scary-we-have-to-grow, not scary-we-might-be-harmed or scary-I-hate-myself. Love expands who we are and how we relate to the world and others in it. Love nurtures and supports us when we're weak and strong; when we're great and when we kind of suck. Love inclines us and those feeling love for us to want to be and become our very best selves. Love doesn't leave us feeling we're starving: it makes us feel very well fed. While all that stuff can sound very heavy, love ultimately feels freeing, not like a cage or a weight. Love for or with others also requires that we first love ourselves.

One thing we can all usually agree on about love is that the vast majority of the time, love makes you and everyone in it seriously happy. When we love and are being loved, we don't usually feel miserable, desperate, terrified, detached or lonely: love feels good.

Love is active: it isn't this disembodied thing that's out there floating around we either get or we don't. It's something we and others feel because we actively and intentionally create and enact it. It's something we nurture, grow, practice and refine. It's something we make and do, not something we are given or take. If we lose it, it's not like losing our keys: rather, it's about one or more people no longer choosing to love; no longer actively loving.

Love Vs. In Love

If you're reading this at Scarleteen, it's probably because you're thinking about romantic love, where we often talk about being "in love." There's a difference between the possibility of love, the potential start of love and love that is really developing, fully flowering. While certainly, a plant is not the same as a seed, a seed is the possibility of a plant. It may not always grow into one, it may not come back every year, but a plant at every stage IS still a plant, right?

When people talk about being in love, they're usually talking about a strong feeling of connection to someone else, a passion, a desire⁠ for love; about feelings which may become love or are part of the kind of love we feel, rather than love itself. Being in love is something that can cultivate, feed or water love, but isn't love itself.

I think one way to differentiate between those feelings and the deeper stuff is when the love we feel has flavors of other loves we have felt. While the relationship we have with parents, siblings or a best friend differ than those we have in romantic and/or sexual relationships, when we're talking about capital-L love, the love itself isn't really different from other kinds of love we have known. No matter how old you are, even if you're in your first romantic love relationship, you have already learned about love and probably also already had experiences of love and being loved. Never having had a romantic or sexual relationship doesn't mean you have never had a love relationship or don't know from love. I'm sure when you told your Mom or Dad as a small child, "I love you!" they didn't reply with an, "Oh, hush: you can't know what love is!"

So, why do they say that?

People's ideas about love don't stay the same for the whole of their lives. What you think love is and how you experience it now won't always be how you do, even if you stay -- sometimes especially if you do -- in the same relationships for decades. People grow and change, and love fosters growth and change: that's one reason why love and our ideas about it grow and change. And the more we "do" love, the more we learn about it, just like the more we do and learn more about anything else in our lives.

So, sometimes people figure the way they define and experience love at any given time in their lives is the only truth of love: the only correct definition. That's kind of bizarre, since for most of us, by the time we have a definition we will have come to it in part by feeling we mistook what love was at some point, and then revised what it afterwards. We should all always know that any definition we have at one time may be one we later revise. Someone who is absolutely, positively sure they know exactly what love is at the age of 40 is likely at 70 to feel their 40-year-old self didn't know jack. All the same, that's a view that can make people think that someone younger than them just doesn't and can't get it.

The love you're feeling right now probably isn't going to feel or look exactly like the love you feel 20 years from now. At the same time, you'll find common threads in how you experience and define love that run through the whole of your life, like some of those basics I was talking about a few paragraphs ago. When you love and are loved, you're likely always going to feel a certain connectedness to someone else, to yourself, to everyone around you. When you love and are loved, you will likely always feel something about yourself has become better, larger, deeper and more enlightened. When you love and are loved, you feel profound concern for the person you love and want to do what you can to love them well. And when you love and are loved, because it will likely always be something with some measure of elusiveness to all of us, you may well always have some part of yourself that's never quite sure if it's "real" love or not.

I know I love differently and experience love differently pushing 40 than I did pushing 20. I also know that I have become better at it over the years: I have become better, throughout my life, at loving others and also better at being loved: remember, it's a practice, not an object. But.

I don't feel comfortable saying that the way I love now, or any love I feel now, is somehow more "real" than a love I felt or the way I defined love at 15. I was just as real of a person then as I am now, as were the people I loved. My life was just as real a life. My relationships then were real, the people I had them with were real. Life experience and aging does tend to change us and help us grow, and often will change how we love and experience love, but we're not more or less real based on what our life experience has or hasn't been, and our love is no more or less real because we are younger or older. It's all real.

In hindsight I can see I've mistaken love for something else sometimes, based on my current definition and my experiences to date. But when I look back at my teen years, I'd say that much of the time I felt like what was going on was love? I was right. I wasn't as good at it as I think I am now (and I'll likely be better at it 20 years from now), and many of the people who loved me have likely gotten better at it, too. But just like when I took my first steps I was walking, even though a few years later I got way better at it, love when I had lots tot learn about it, and was just starting to practice it was still love.

I'm certain you're going to find yourself looking back when you're older and thinking the same thing, particularly if you do not try and quantify love or think of knowledge and understanding of love as something that only matters in the final tally (and I hope you don't), rather than in all of the moments you experienced and acquired it at every stage of your life. Particularly if you do not figure that because you got hurt or heart-bruised, you didn't love or weren't loved. Because we got hurt or didn't have our expectations met -- like an expectation of marriage, for instance, or for the nature of a love relationship to never change -- doesn't mean love wasn't present or real.

Sometimes, people say that because they love you. Really.

People who love you want to help protect you from heartbreak. None of us want the people we love to get hurt.

Some folks who say you can't know love yet got hurt with love when they were young. They know how bad heartbreak or disappointment can feel then and they want to spare you. They know that the L-word gets tossed around a lot, and can mask a lot when some people say it. Having someone say, "I love you," is such a powerful thing that sometimes those words can override what we're actually being shown, or are doing ourselves, in action. They also may be saying what they are from a place of their own present hurt: when any of us are disappointed by love, or have lost love, it can be easy to think that it just doesn't exist or that none of our ideas that we knew love have been real.

The trouble is that in order to make room for love we have to risk the loss or lack of love; risk having our love go unreciprocated or unrequited or having things not turn out the way we might want. We risk hurting others or ourselves, in small or big ways, even when that's the last thing we intend to do. There's no escaping those risks: that's what it costs to get on the ride that is love.

No one who loves you wants to keep you from experiencing love: they just might forget -- or dislike -- sometimes that to be open to love, you've got to be open to the emotional risks we have to take for it, to the outcomes of loving that might not be what we wanted or envisioned.

Which is not to say that love requires you be a masochist.

There are ways to have our hearts open and still protect ourselves. Pacing how vulnerable we are with others, having limits and boundaries that we only open up when we feel we know it's safe to do so, making sure things aren't one-sided aren't an enemy of love: those things are important parts of loving and being loved. Like all great big things, love requires patience, after all.

We can take the risks of loving without going loopy and being reckless or unsafe. For instance, we aren't going to miss out on love by not moving in with someone in the first month we're dating. We aren't going to miss out on love by not getting into a given kind of relationship with someone we feel love for which one or both of us knows isn't best or just doesn't want right now. We aren't going to miss out on love if we don't have sex⁠ right when someone else we love wants it.

We can open up to people slowly and develop trust over time without missing a window to love or be loved. I don't mean to go all crazy plant lady on you with gardening analogies, but those parts of love that are about commitment and trust are a lot like growing things. When we begin loving someone, we're just that, beginning; new into that process and practice. We want the people we love to open up to us in a way that makes them feel safe and cared for, not overexposed or at great risk. We know that when we give people time to develop trust, and take the time to develop it ourselves, everything will grow in good time. When we plant seeds, if we push them to grow too fast, the plants could bolt and then not bear fruit. Same goes with love: a patient love-gardener (I know, that was seriously corny) isn't going to want to rush too much because they know and feel that won't grow the good stuff.

When "You don't understand love," is really "Your relationship doesn't seem loving."

There are healthy ways to pursue and enact love, and unhealthy or not-so-healthy ways. There's also the part where what someone calls love just isn't.

Sometimes what folks mean who say what's going on isn't really love is that the dynamics of your relationship or your behavior don't appear loving. They're just not choosing their words very carefully or expressing what they actually mean well. Sometimes, when someone says "That isn't real love," what they really mean is "I don't think the dynamics of your relationship are loving," or "The way he/she/you are behaving doesn't seem to be with love," or "You endlessly harassing someone who you claim to love but who has asked you to leave them alone is not loving them." In other words, when people say you don't understand love, sometimes they're saying that you are mistaking maltreatment or abuse⁠ for love. Since a whole lot of people who are being treated poorly or abused do, that's a concern to pay attention to.

Even when we or others are feeling love, love being something we feel doesn't always mean we'll have healthy relationships, or construct or enact relationships that are good for us. Feeling or wanting love doesn't always make someone act with love, and sometimes we can also love people who just aren't good for us to be around, at a certain time or ever, or who aren't good for us to be in a certain kind of relationship with. Feeling love, even showing love, doesn't make someone else love us back, either.

One thing we can say confidently is that in a relationship where there is abuse, there is not love. We just can't love someone and abuse them at the same time. We may love someone who is abusing us, but someone who is abusing us does not love us. None of those basic six ingredients hooks talked about -- care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust -- can coexist with abuse.

While identifying what's abusive isn't always simple, it is often easier than identifying what just isn't healthy. That can be all the more difficult in romantic love relationships because some of our cultural ideas about romance, what's romantic and loving and what's not, are messed up. Stalking someone, or being highly possessive, jealous or controlling, someone stalking us down, for instance, aren't about respect, trust or care. Remembering that we have to love ourselves first to love others, you can see why someone who is so insecure they need constant control of you or loses it every time you interact with someone else who might be attracted to you isn't going to be able to love you yet. Someone who grew up watching one parent belittle another and who is continuing that behavior because they never healed from it or did the work to learn to live differently can't love you yet. They still need to learn to love themselves first.

Some people have the idea -- and some abusive people will say this -- that the reason they mistreat people they claim to love is because they just love them SO FREAKING MUCH. But that's just not true. You can love as big as a planet and do it in a healthy, sound way, which is the way you will do it if you really do love someone that much. We just can't mistreat or abuse people we love. When you are really experiencing love, you don't have to sacrifice your safety, your goals and dreams, your sense of self or your own ethics: love, rather, supports these things.

For instance, you don't have to ditch an education or life goals to experience or express love. You don't have to hurt or betray a friend to love. You don't have to get married at 18, run away together at 16 or have sex at 14 to try and cement love or make it stay (hint: none of those things work, anyway). You don't have to stay in a relationship which is abusive or dysfunctional to express or experience love: if you do, you're going to miss out on love instead. So long as you're making choices, in terms of your actions, that are not only sane but sound, you can love as much as you want to and even if you fall on your face doing it, even if you wind up crying for a month solid at some point, be relatively safe and have wounds that will heal. If we bear the most basic ingredients of love in mind, we can see that if those things are really what are going on -- in our feelings towards another and our feelings about ourselves -- if someone didn't love us back at all, it'd be tough for us to love them. It's hard to have respect for someone who doesn't respect us or have self-respect: it's tough to trust someone who doesn't trust us.

I can't speak for other adults⁠ , but speaking for myself, while I think young people can experience love and know what it is, I am always concerned that inaccurate ideas about love will endanger you or keep you from seeing the real deal when it does happen. Being emotionally, physically or sexually hurt is obviously something we all want to avoid, and isn't a positive outcome. But perhaps even more dangerous and scary is the fact that the way some people decide what love is -- when it's a set of ideas that isn't about love at all, but about harm or vacancy -- can keep them from identifying and experiencing love. If our ideas about love are backwards or messed-up, we can stick to relationships that aren't loving, thinking they are and all the while missing out on others which could be, including the relationship we have with ourselves.

Of course, love being positive and healthy, being primarily about joy and connection, doesn't mean it's always easy. Because love is made of people, there are going to be disagreements, misunderstandings, conflicts of interest and challenges. Because people are always growing, any two or more people loving each other are going to feel growing pains: just because we love one another doesn't mean we grow at the same rate or time or in the same direction. But that's the stuff of transient discomforts, and stuff that in love, ultimately brings us to a closer place, a more enlightened place. It doesn't keep on hurting.

Choosing Your Words

There's another reason people may tell young people they don't understand love. That's because of the way some young people talk about love. If and when you use the word love to mean passion or solely sexual feelings, rather than saying that lust and passion are part of your love relationships or feelings you're expressing a misunderstanding of love. When you're positively miserable, lonely and hopeless most of the time you're saying you're feeling love, it's usually clear what you're probably feeling is actually a LACK of love, probably from the other person not reciprocating love, or out of a wish for love to grow from some other feelings and desires you might have.

I get WHY we might call things like that love, even if we sense that's not really what they are. After all, we live in a culture which has a lot of value judgments around lust, passion, around unrequited romantic interest, around crushes. All of those feelings can be big feelings too, and if we want to have them taken seriously, we might unconsciously shortcut and call them love in the hope they will net a more compassionate response from the people around us. Heck, we might call them love out of a wish that's what they become, or because they look like what others say love is like. It's tough to have other kinds of feelings and get those respected as much as feelings of love. So, it's pretty easy to just call any of those things love as a shortcut to having the import of our feelings understood. Just know that if that's ever what's going on with you, you can express that you're having those feelings, and while they might not be love, they're big and powerful feelings you want to have recognized and need some care around.

And if you're saying something is love that isn't yet because you think saying it will get you something you want? I don't think I need to tell you that's just not cool. Some people say they love someone else in order to make sex happen, in order to avoid being alone, to try and make someone stay who doesn't want to, in order to try and get parents to okay something they otherwise wouldn't. Love requires honesty: you can't manipulate and be acting with love or in the interest of love.

Know that sometimes, when we grow older, we unlearn things, too.

Our world is saturated with the idea that age brings wisdom; that the older we get, the more we know. While in many ways that's true, what it discounts is that even the youngest of us, even the smallest children, know things of value and import. Some of that knowledge is learned, but some of it is intuitive, more about gut feelings than empirical evidence or experience. Those ways of knowing are no less valuable than the other ways.

There's another change of consciousness with age that adults don't often tell young people about, which some may not even have any awareness of. That's the fact that not only do we learn many new things as we grow, we also can sometimes forget things. Sometimes the things we forget are terribly important.

There's a certain fearlessness, an openness, a nakedness (the emotional kind, not the sexy stuff) to love and living younger people often have that older folks can forget, unlearn, discount or run from as we get older. There's an intensity in feeling love and giving over to our feelings when we're younger that can make older adults feel scared, intimidated or even -- let's go ahead and say it -- jealous. It's not that love can't feel passionate and intense when you're older: it can. But some adults will just choose love relationships that have a different flavor than that because it fits their wants and needs better (some teens will, too). Alternately, some adults who have been in a given love relationship for a while will find that part of them mellows some over time. What grows out of that initial intensity has its own value, but sometimes we might still long for that if we haven't felt it in a while. Super-duper intense love is also often fairly all-consuming. In a lot of ways, younger people have lifestyles that are better suited to it. If you don't have to pay the bills, meet hard deadlines, feed and clothe any kids you've got, fix the roof, deal with the taxman, negotiate one relationship with all the others you have going, tend to an ailing parent, get all the dishes done, have that biopsy, and get your boss every last little thing they want in a day, all while you have way less energy than you did 20 years ago, you've got a lot more freedom to BE that intense.

It's hard to have very high-key, intense and passionate feelings of love and still take care of everything you need to when you're older. As a person who often has very passionate love relationships, I can tell you that landlords aren't particularly patient about rent that's late because you've been sailing on the love boat, believe me. So, that mellowing can be really welcomed, but it doesn't mean older adults wouldn't love to have more freedom for the supper-twitterpatted variety of love, too.

There's also a certain optimism about love many young people have, and some will seem to see love nearly everywhere. For sure, some of that is only so realistic. After all, some of the ideas we have when we're younger about love are not always sound: again, we're learning. When you hear adults being negative about your experiences with and ideas about love, some of that negativity can come from a sadness around the loss of some of those young ideas and ideals: it can be about knowing, now, some of the more challenging realities of love you might not know yet. For adults who care about you and recall those feelings, they may remember feeling scared by them, or feeling or getting lost in them, and they may just be worried about you in that respect. They may just want to try and spare you disappointment or the loss of that optimism. Thick, rose-colored glasses are a very pleasant thing to look at the world through, but they can also make it more likely to walk into walls and break your face.

However, there's a balance to be struck. Eventually, if we keep growing, stay open, and unionize our learned perspectives on love with our instinctive, intuitive feelings, we'll find it. We're all always in process, after all, with love just like anything else. It's not like someone "grows up," is then forever done growing, and comes to some kind of final conclusion about what love is stops everything. Not unless they've stopped living, feeling and thinking, anyway.

The point is, just like you have things to learn about love in getting older, those of us who already have put on the years can have things to relearn about love we knew or were open to when we were younger. The things we feel and know and the things you feel and know, our collective experiences and yours, are not only all valuable, but the richest love has all of them in it.

Here's what I'd want for you, if I could give you a gift when it comes to all of this.

I want you to be able to define and identify love based on who you are at any given time, and to have that unique definition and experience of love respected and accepted. I want you to feel able to open up your heart without having to worry about what someone else thinks about it, and if what you're feeling matches their own experiences and definitions. I want for you to be able to explore love, without having to feel wary about any missteps you or others take in your process because they'll be seen as some kind of proof or disproof that you really did or didn't love. I want your exploration in love to be about your own journey, not someone else's.

I don't want you to have to feel when you're having a doubt, question or concern about love or a love relationship that you can't voice it to the people around you out of fear they'll say, "See? I told you this wasn't really love." I want you to be able to express all of the complicated, challenging, intense and mind-bending things freely that love has you feeling -- especially since love being the big thing it is, we often need sounding boards for it -- rather than clamming up about it because you suspect you'll get shut down instead of heard.

I'm always worried there just isn't enough love in the world. Love is the way we get to real compassion with and for ourselves and others, it's what really connects us to everyone and everything, it's the best push for the most positive growth, it's what motivates all the best stuff in the world. Love buoys us up as individuals and as a collective of people, both the love we do at a given time as well as the love we have experienced and done through our lives, even if the people we loved, or the relationships in which we loved and were loved, are no longer with us. Love is how we make peace, in every sense of the word.

Parts of life can be really hard, and it doesn't get much easier as you get older. We tend to get better at managing and dealing with the hard stuff as we grow, but however rough your life is now as a young person, chances are good that there will be many times when it's going to be even rougher. What often makes life hardest is a lack of love: for ourselves, for others and from others. Poverty, bigotry, war and other violence, illness, death: none of the really tough stuff ever gets easy, but love, in all different kinds of ways and relationships, makes a huge difference. As well, so many of the biggest problems in our world are, at their root, because of a lack of love and compassion: when the Beatles said that love was all you need, that's what they meant.

I feel like if our experiences of love aren't respected, we can get really screwed. I've watched some young people stay in relationships that are lousy and really loveless for a long time thinking that as long as everyone stays put, they can prove to themselves or others it's love, and that proving love is more important than actually loving and being loved. I've seen young people do some really damaging things to themselves in reaction to adults discounting their experiences of love, which is particularly tragic since the adults saying those things sometimes do because they want to help teens stay OUT of harm's way. Any of us who did grow up or are growing up queer⁠ , or who loved in a way that simply did not fit a given social ideal or norm, have often been hit particularly hard to the gut by being told our love isn't what love is: it's one reason the suicide rates of GLBT⁠ young people have always been so high. The quality of our relationships and our sense of self suffer when the realness of our feelings of love are dismissed or discounted.

Sure, it's likely that if you open yourself up to love, you are going to experience heartbreak. If we open our hearts, it's going to hurt now and then. Sometimes that hurt is about the mere fact that all of us are imperfect, and we say or hear something that just came out all wrong and unintentionally hurts. Sometimes, we just can't have exactly what we want very badly: the timing is off, the distance too great, the alchemy not quite right. Now and then we may love someone who just isn't willing or able to love us back, or love us the way we want to be loved. You have a pivotal life experience (or someone else does), the world tilts on its axis, and changes you or a relationship in such a way that those little puzzle pieces of you and someone else that fit together so perfectly before suddenly or gradually no longer fit. People change. People move. People die. These are all inevitable givens in life which we cannot control or prevent, and where love can either be lost, change in a way that hurts or scares us or create some serious challenges.

There are no forevers that we know of, yet love tends to make many people feel like there are in the moment. I think that's a gorgeous, kickass, life-affirming thing. If you feel like, no matter how many of us tell you otherwise, the love you feel right now, or the relationship you are in, cannot fade, vanish or end, my hat's off to you. While the reality of that outcome is unlikely, that feeling is very real: just ask the artists and poets who have been expressing that for thousands of years. Part of what makes love so big is that we know there is risk involved, we know love or life might change us or others, we might have parts of ourselves seen we aren't so proud of, we might get attached to things being a certain way and at some point have to let go of that attachment, but we take those risks and others anyway. Like Lynda Barry says, "Love is an exploding cigar we willingly smoke."

I've often been asked by parents or other adults if I'm worried about all of you getting your hearts broken. The truth is that I'm less worried about people getting their hearts broken than I am about people never deeply experiencing love, never taking the kinds of sound risks for love that force us to grow and expand as people.

I had my heart broken plenty in my teens, in my twenties, in my thirties, even in the last year or two. I've put my heart out there for a few people who just were not interested in it. I had relationships that felt like forevers that lasted but a few months. I had a high school relationship not make it through that transition⁠ to college, as so often happens. I hurt someone and myself by not being able to love at a given time the way that I wanted to and had before. I've had love relationships I was very invested in shift and change, where one of us involved either stopped loving the other, or even with both of us still loving, where someone needed to leave the relationship as it was. I even had one of the first people I deeply loved romantically die violently when I was a teenager. I have soaked more than one pillow with tears when I wanted love and could not find or make it.

But all the same, here I am, still standing, still loving and even if I could go back in time I'd not choose to change history and not have loved or been loved as I did. The loss of love, the hard changes of love, the embarrass-the-bloody-hell-out-of-myselfs-and-for-what's of love? I don't want to undo or redo any of it. The essence of all of those experiences is always with me, part of who I am and have become, even if the relationships aren't (or have changed) or the people I loved or were loved by are long gone.

We'll all survive heartbreak, especially when there really IS and has been love. It's a lack of love, a lack of loving that I'm not so sure we'll get through. Zora Neale Hurston -- who is far more efficient with words on this topic than I -- said, "Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place." I think the deepest parts of who we all are are best seen and shared, not hidden.

My advice? Light up that exploding cigar, agree to aid and abet love, crawl out from your hiding place and love big. Grow your own heart and feel those growing pains. Risk a sane amount of heartbreak, disappointment or loss; risk challenges, elation, self-discovery, deep connection and joy. Make an ass of yourself. Have those moments where but a handful of seconds feels like forever-and-ever, and those evenings where you try to will the sun to never come up and bring the next day. Let them be what they are: relish and enjoy them. Risk growing, risk changing, risk looking back ten or twenty years from now and having a different opinion on what love really is or was.

And if someone else tells you what you're feeling is not or cannot possibly be love, but you feel it is? If someone says that, but it feels every kind of right and good and exactly like love to you, you don't need to prove them right or wrong. Your journeys and process with love are just that: yours. You'll figure this out for yourself in time, and have your own observations and perceptions. You just need to go ahead and love anyway.

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  • Heather Corinna

Good question! I wish I had an answer to give you as succinct and simple as your question.

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