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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

Let’s Talk About Love

Feb 01, 2024 06:00AM ● By Fred Stevens
What is love? After two failed marriages and countless short-term relationships, my love life stumbled from one hot mess to another. Frustrated, I spent more than a few lonely nights agonizing over what went wrong. A simple solution had to be found.
Love confused me time and again—and it’s no wonder. When I consider how I learned what love is, I see that guidance came complete with innumerable competing and often contradictory baggage. My parents, family members and caregivers first modeled it for me. Then, I received directions from Holy Scripture, childhood and teenage peers, sex-ed classes, and the institution of marriage. Throw in the arts, romance, music, movie and fashion industries and pornography, and we’ve got a brief but complex mishmash of love’s instructors.

Just the word “love” itself has many meanings. Love is hooking up. Love is helping the homeless. It is the brand of a car. God is love, and love is blind. With so many possible meanings, could there be an answer to the question? After having endured a lot of experience, study and therapy, I’m pleased to report—yes!

What is love? Uncovering the answer hasn’t been easy. I am a codependent. That was a gift to me from my parents, who, despite all appearances of being loving and in love, were clueless about it themselves. Following in their footsteps, I grew up fearful of rejection while depending on others to make me feel good about myself. This practice set me up to lose at love every time. 

After a lot of hurt, I’ve come to accept that I was hooked by and continue to struggle with what I call the fantasy of being in love, which is not the real thing. As Dr. Rangan Chatterjee suggests in his book Happy Mind Happy Life: The New Science of Mental Well-Being, “When you depend on people acting a certain way, you make yourself their prisoner.” I’m just thankful that it’s not a life sentence. I now know that true love starts with me being healthfully in love with me.

What makes love real? Studies connecting loving relationships to good health lead me to think that love exercises the heart in life-giving ways that no physical workout can. Without the workout a healthy and loving relationship gives it, the heart will wither and attack itself. They call losing at love “heartbreak” for a reason! 

I’ve come to believe that love is the interaction of two epigenetic feelings: empathy and vulnerability. They are what make love personal, universal and real. This is the essence of all love: feeling what each other feels. It’s about sensing what it’s like to be who they are and communicating about it. It’s an energy exchange found in all forms of living. 

For me, empathy takes place in the most tender moments at the beginning of a relationship and continues from there. But when it comes to experiencing love, there’s that quirky little fear factor called vulnerability. If I risk sharing with you what I’m feeling and what I sense you’re feeling, I might get hurt for it. For empathy to occur, I have to negotiate with a personal awareness of feeling vulnerable. If I can’t manage my vulnerable feelings, I can’t be successful at being empathic. 

What is love? Empathy and vulnerability: you can’t have one without the other. The two work together to create what love is all about. ❧
Fred Stevens is a speaker, love coach and author of the soon-to-be-released book, Winning at Love: The Manual. His eBook series, Bless Yourself for a Blessed Life, is available on Amazon. 
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