There exists a vague, dark, constant fear at the horizon of life. On all sides of us, drilled into us by media and stories and the sweet-but-perhaps-misguided advice of extended family members, we are told that we are supposed to “partner up” and that, if we don’t, life will be nice, but meaningless. We are convinced that there is a kind of “soulmate,” someone with whom we share a love that renders all others secondary, one with whom we build a nest and fulfill our purpose — that life is entirely constructed around this unique love. But the truth is that life is filled with almost endless kinds of love, love that gives meaning and color to life and makes us better human beings. And each of them — not just love that gets caricatured in romantic comedies — deserves to be praised.
When your parents tend to you while you’re sick, giving you soup and putting on your favorite movie and placing a pillow gently behind your head to prop you up; when they answer your calls with a warm voice even after you’ve made the too-frequent mistake of treating them like you don’t care about them; when they give you a place to sleep or a little money to get you back on your feet because, even though they want to teach you independence in life, they still want to see you doing alright — that is love.
When your friend collects the pieces of you strewn all across the room after someone who claimed to “love” you left you for someone else; when they lose days with you, laughing and singing and eating junk food and doing everything that was good about childhood that we have somehow forgotten to do in early adulthood; when they keep secrets across decades where others wouldn’t have been able to hold it in for a single afternoon — that is love.
When you wander a city and discover that, with every square of sidewalk, you feel more and more like you have finally come home after so much aimless searching; when you sit in a restaurant by yourself and allow the city to be your company, to fill you with noise and delicious smells and the thrill of the unexpected, to make it so that you are never really alone; when you enjoy a vacation somewhere warm and new but ache, ache to get back to the city that knows you so completely and treats you so well — that is love.
When you find a passion in life that drives you, that makes you feel — even if you don’t earn a single penny — like you are becoming incalculably rich in practicing it; when you lose hours, days, working on your projects and fine-tuning every last detail, not abandoning even a spur-of-the-moment undertaking until it is something that you would be proud to show to anyone who asked; when you look at a finished product for the first time and actually allow yourself to think, “This is good. I did my best and it came out really well,” with no cruel self-criticism — that is love.
When your family understands that an older loved one is going to need help going forward, that living alone and being independent are no longer options, and you take them in with a smile; when you hold a hand that, though terribly small and wrapped in tissue-paper skin, still knows how to squeeze back; when you bathe and hug and put to bed this person who may not be able to verbalize a clear “thank you” but whom you know is warm and comfortable and completely taken care of in a time when they need it most — that is love.
When you have a pet who has become more a member of your family and less an accessory to your daily activities — as some pets can be — who shows you as much love and understanding as another human might; when they move around you and come to comfort you with an innate comprehension of your complex emotional spectrum, putting their body against yours and reminding you that, no matter the circumstance, you are not alone; when their passing takes as much out of you as another human’s death would, and you understand that the world has lost a little bit of light, that a creature who existed only to love and to bring happiness is now gone and lives only in your memory — that is love.
When you find a place that, though not terribly big or well-located, is the perfect size for you and your humble needs; when you repair and paint and decorate your new home with an affection and a tenderness that seems almost silly to bestow on inanimate objects; when you eschew going out with friends to spend nights in your perfect little place, cooking dinner for one and feeling so warm and so safe in these rooms that seem to have almost been made using your specific fingerprint — that is love.
Life is filled with love, love that stretches and nearly bursts every seam it presses against, love that spoils us and surrounds us so completely as to let us forget it is there. It’s almost embarrassing to take a moment and consider all of the love that you are privy to, that you are an active participant in, that you get to take home with you at the end of the day — but we have to. Let’s never allow ourselves to believe in the ludicrous idea that there’s only one kind of love, and that you either have it or you don’t. Perhaps such a myth sells us movie tickets, but it will never make us happy.