I think about love lot. I mean, it makes the world go ‘round, right? They say it even makes a person “glow.”
I think about how my life has changed as a result of my desire to manifest love in my life. I think about the things I have tried along the way and what worked…and what didn’t. I think about my friends who want to love and be loved but who say there is just no one out there for them. I think about those who are just going through the motions in life, not even knowing that love is missing, much less that it can be theirs. I think about how beautiful love is now that I know it and how grateful I am for having it. Because it was not always mine to know and have.
I grew up in what they called a broken home. My father was gone before I was 2 years old and my mother was hot on the trail for a new husband well before I was 3. She deserved happiness and I wanted her to find it, but between her work and dating life, there was not much of her left for me.
I had three older siblings, and they looked after me as best they could, but they had their own needs, and not the best judgement when it came to caring for a little girl. Throw a less than healthy dose of sibling rivalry into the mix, and I learned at an early age, that I was pretty much on my own in life. If I wanted something, I had to make it happen, because no one else would be likely to notice I needed it, much less offer it to me.
This was especially true of needs of the emotional variety. My mom was not a warm and fuzzy woman. She was brilliant, vivacious, energetic and accomplished in many ways, but the tools of a rich emotional life were never in her wheelhouse. Even as a very young girl, that was obvious to me.
I remember a practice that I established when I was as young as three and continued until I was almost 6. When she was ready to leave on a date and I had not been held or received any of her attention all day, I would take her by the hand and say to her, “You can’t leave yet. You have to give me my loving time.” Then I would make her sit down and I would crawl up into her lap until I felt satisfied. So, it seems that securing love was high on my list of priorities as a very young child.
However, somewhere along the way, I got tired of chasing after her, and I lost interest in reaching out to my mother. I rarely even saw my father, so I got nothing from him either. By the time I was 8, I had pretty much closed the door on being vulnerable to love. Subconsciously, I suppose I figured it just wasn’t going to happen for me.
Fast forward through many years of emotional neglect, physical, sexual and emotional abuse at the hands of people who claimed to love me, and I was quite war torn and ravaged. By the time I was 30 I was so traumatized that I would not have recognized love if it was staring me in the face. But, being human, I still craved it.
I got married when I was 34 to a man who said he loved me, yet who was quite happy to live with me for 2 years without any discussion of our future together, much less marriage. He did not ask me to marry him until I gave him an ultimatum, and quite a while afterward, at that. Looking back, I can see that that ultimatum was issued by a desperate little girl wanting someone to commit to being present with her, putting her first and loving her.
Of course, making that happen is easier said than done. I did not know that when I got married, but that’s ok. It takes what it takes for us to get where we need to go in life. Hindsight is 20/20, and it was the best that I could do at the time.
Since no one had ever put me first in their life, I did not know what that would even look like. I had very little experience at being on the receiving end of love. I had been around a few healthy couples in my life, but their connection seemed an ineffable mystery to me…like some secret recipe that I would never have the privilege to hold, much less make. Meanwhile, I grew resentful that my husband did not have the emotional resources that would result in the closeness I so desired.
This was my vicious cycle:
- I wanted love and connection but could not articulate that, much less express what that would look like.
- I lived with a man who said he loved me, but was not able to be present in the ways that were important to me.
- I was angry that I did not have the love and connection I desired.
- From my anger, I behaved in ways that were less than loving.
Then, I would find myself back at the beginning of the cycle, trying again to meet that need for love and connection. After a lot of reading and soul searching, I was finally able to communicate what I wanted in the relationship, but it was not to be. We separated after 10 years of marriage and eventually divorced.
I spent over 3 years learning how to identify my emotions, articulate my needs, tune into my body and truly love and care for myself. I also traded the “need to be right” for a sincere curiosity about another person’s experience. Not having had a role model teaching me these vitally important parts of life, I had not had the opportunity to learn them as a child. My emotional development. was probably that of the precocious 8 year old that I once was. Once I learned these skills, I felt a peace that I had never been privileged to hold. I was sure that I had found one of the biggest secrets of the universe!
After over 3 years of devoting myself to this project, I woke up one day and realized that I finally felt safe to love. Because I finally had the tools to know and care for myself, I could trust myself to make better choices. I had become grounded in the love I held for God, myself and my fellow humans, and, rather than believing that the Universe was conspiring against me, I truly believed that the Universe wanted me to find happiness. I learned to think, behave and speak in ways that reenforced, rather than undermined, my devotion to my own health and happiness as well as the importance of the health and happiness of others. I chose my company thoughtfully, building friendships with those who held similar values. I lived and worked in harmony with the power of love, acknowledging it inside of me and around me, instead of believing that I was an outsider to it.
When I began dating again, it was not from the desperate stance I had felt when I was younger. I did not need anyone to complete me. I knew how to be present with myself, put myself first, and give myself my own “loving time.” I felt free to really be myself when I was with someone. It was ok with me if they thought I was weird for asking the scary questions that no one else would ask, or for talking about needs and emotions in such vulnerable detail. If they did not share my values, passions or curiosities, that did not scare me into conforming to theirs. That was just an indication that they were not my man.
I understood that there would be no quality connection if I was out of integrity with my own values, and I certainly would inspire no one by making myself smaller or not speaking my mind (lovingly, of course). Instead of hiding behind the need to be right, a defensive attitude or curling up into a ball of depression, I learned to simultaneously fortify myself and let my guard down through practicing what I call the art of Courageous Vulnerability.
In short, once I had healed my trauma, I learned how to identify my emotions, articulate my needs, listen to and care for my body, express my values, uphold my boundaries and communicate with curiosity and compassion. This allowed me the priceless gift of feeling safe in this life, which, in turn, prepared me for love.
Now, I am married to a man who not only doesn’t think I am weird for discussing these things in depth, but he actually appreciates that I do! This is not to say that there are not times when one of us says or does something that the other finds annoying… just that we address these things, right then, with patience and kind words, in the context of our treasured love. We understand that being present with each other, putting each other first, and making our “loving time” not only a priority, but a vulnerable adventure, is as much of a commitment as it is a joy.
So, this Valentine’s Day, and every day, if you are looking to grow your love, in a new relationship or old, consider the shape of a heart. There has been a lot of speculation about it’s meaning, but I have my own way of looking at it.
Like a circle, it has no beginning and no end. At the same time, it is comprised of two identical sides, which join to form two points, or arrows. One of the arrows points to the inside of the heart. The other arrow points outside of the heart. Without these arrows going in these directions, it is no longer a heart and thus, loses its meaning.
Through learning to love yourself, you can teach someone else how to love you. You will also get great practice at how to love someone else. When you have learned how to give and receive love, the two of you will share one of the most powerful secrets of the universe… and, like the stars in the night sky, twinkling through time and space with the mysteries of their creation, sharing that secret with each other will benefit you and those around you, in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Oh, yes… and it will probably even make you glow.