‘But it was love’s absence that let me know how much love mattered.’ — Bell Hooks
Years ago I was astonished to learn that the ancient Greeks had eight different words for love. Even more astonishing to me was that the most valued form of love in today’s society – romantic love – wasn’t even a concept until the Middle Ages. Up until then ‘philia’ or ‘loyal friendship love between equals’ was considered the most valuable. Unfortunately, women were not considered capable of achieving this sort of love since their sole purpose was to marry and reproduce.
Considering this it’s a bit ironic a woman would end up writing what many would consider to be the definitive book about love. By love not just the romantic find your perfect partner love but all kinds of love. Of course, it’s romantic love that inspires the author to pursue the topic seriously. Once a long-term relationship ended she set off to explore the nature of love – if it’s possible and how to attain it.
It’s easy today to lose heart. Marriages, friendships, family ties fray and often break. It’s all too easy to become cynical that love even exists. Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ being a prime example of not believing love is possible.
At first when Hooks tried to discuss love and its role in social justice people became nervous. When she tried discussing love with friends they suggested she get a therapist so they could get a break. The fact that she was over 40 when this quest began had those around her assuming she was simply desperate to get a man. Speaking of men, she was also surprised to find that most of the books on the topic were written by men.
This led her to conclude that while men theorize about love women are often its practitioners. However, while most men believe they receive love women more often do not share this belief about themselves.
In fact, Hooks felt she was taken more seriously when she wrote instead about death – even though that writing was influenced by the many deaths of loved ones over the years and the subsequent loss of love.
The role of patriarchy and how it can keep society’s members from achieving love is also touched upon:
‘Profound changes in the way we think and act must take place if we are to create a loving culture. Men writing about love always testify that they have received love. They speak from this position; it gives what they say authority. Women, more often than not, speak from a position of lack,of not having received the love we long for. A woman who talks about love is still suspect.’
Still, how do you talk about love in a society where loneliness and anger are so pervasive and shaming is something that everyone has felt but few want to talk about? Love and abuse cannot co-exist. The shaming starts in our family of origin and Hooks goes into detail about her own family of origin and how it left her wanting to love but afraid to surrender to and trust another person.
Hooks then goes on to describe the biggest obstacle to love and that is lack of truth. It often starts on the first date and spirals from there. Lying, including withholding information is often a means of gaining power in a relationship. Of course, with unequal power you cannot have love. In our society men use lies to dominate. Women in turn resort to lying in order to manipulate.
‘When we hear another person’s thoughts, beliefs, and feelings, it is more difficult to project on to them our perceptions of who they are. It is harder to be manipulative.’
The truth is often difficult to hear but if we punish each other for telling it we block love. To be loving not only do we need to affirm the value of each other’s truth but to reward telling the truth in the first place.
Next to being truthful comes commitment. Without constancy the relationship will whither and eventually die. The place to start practicing this is to first love yourself. Unfortunately, we are often not taught how to do this so consequently we must learn this foundation before we can move on to finding love.
Hooks goes on to describe other aspects of love – divine love, romantic love, love and loss, etc. Her writing resonates – situations she describes had me nodding my head. Yes, I’ve felt this too. Yes, somethings similar happened to me as well. Yes, I’ve often wondered about that too.
So we may live in a society where we’re rarely taught how to love properly and where loneliness is pervasive. We’re also currently experiencing a pandemic where we are likely separated from our loved ones without any idea of when we will get to see them again and what our options are if they need our help. However, this doesn’t mean we can’t take this time to think about the love in our lives – its health if we have it, how to get it if we don’t and even more importantly how to recognize it all around us even in these isolated times.
Just because we’re alone doesn’t mean we can’t practice self-love by doing ourselves a favor and reading (or re-reading) this book. We can still show our constancy to those in our lives via video messaging where we can also practice honesty and offer support. Then when the happy day comes when we can hug the stuffing out of each other again we can move forward knowing that we did our homework for a better, more loving life.
Or we can binge watch Game of Thrones….