Stop anyone in the street and ask them what love ought to be, and problems quickly surface. It’s not just that love is difficult and subjective to fully pin down, but that it also resists any objective attempt at a universal explanation. Yet love itself is a universal phenomenon, unblinkered and unfettered by language, race or nationality and easily transcends age, social status and personality. The more we try to narrow down what love should be, the more love gracefully defies its linguistic captors and shows us what it cannot be.
But as grand as the whole affair is, love surely has to be something most of us do not fully grasp. The high divorce rates and unhappy marriages in some populous parts of the world do not agree with the smug answers given by many individuals who think they’ve fully understood the inner tinkering of the heart. Perhaps for some, love is a list of wants waiting for someone to fulfill. Or perhaps it is a duty, a sort of obligation to a nation and a nagging mother. And for others, falling in love might be nothing more than a religious epiphany of sorts.
Whatever the reasons, it would appear that love is easy to find, but hard to sustain. Love is an enduring commitment forged out of mutual necessity. It is neither hasty nor slipshod, and will not subscribe to capriciousness. One must be able to attend to the heart and needs of the one we love, and together, be willing prisoners of each other – because love cannot subsist on the superficial. It is nurtured by faithfulness and attention, and empowered by truthfulness and sincerity. When we can give up the many things that would otherwise make us happy, be willing to persevere through the toughest and lowest of moments, we acknowledge that love is hard work, and a process that takes two hearts but one mind to maintain. Because love pays wonderful dividends.
And perhaps too often, we fail to realise that love is in itself, an education of the heart and mind. It is the final thesis we receive after years of compulsory education in schools. Love isn’t about liking someone frivolously, but falling head over heels for a person who can impart to us the virtues we do not have. They are a foil to our fragile personality: if we are agitated, they are calm; and if we are feeling down, they are the soothing voice of encouragement. Such a person can move us many paces faster in becoming a fully realised human. They lend to us a sense of wonderment and intellectual exploration we never thought possible. With them, life becomes joyous to navigate, as well as being clearer and more meaningful. From them, we receive the impetus to think and question without judgement. In their presence, we fully experience the exhilaration of being completely vulnerable to someone as authentic, as curious and as committed to mutual growth as we are. Because love must make us a better person today than we were yesterday.
But without earnest and heartfelt communication, love would be nothing but a drifting flotsam lost in the boundless ocean. At first blush, it would appear that talking, listening and thinking are relatively easy to pull off. But these are formidable feats that require extraordinary finesse to successfully anchor love to the heart. Rare are those who can truly resonate with us, be able to listen with an open mind, whose sentences and words are an indulgent feast for the heart, and yet also possessed of an agile mind that is perceptive, lively and ever receptive. Sadly, as a casualty of modernisation, deep conversations, soulful exchanges and honest gestures have been cast aside in favour of a plastic digitalisation of love – social apps and snap messages have become easy substitutes for an emotion that demands tenderness and resolution. It is only through the arena of heart-to-heart conversations that we can ever truly know a person, and in doing so, also discover ourselves. Because love can make us real.
Love is a single concept but is also at once many things. While its proper execution is well within the toolkit every individual possesses, not everyone can attend to its emotional subtleties. But they should keep trying. Because loving and being loved by someone who sees us for exactly who we are is a wonderful discovery of an intimate self we never knew existed. Love is an education of the soul.
So, have you thought about (HYTA) what love should be?