“Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.” Desiderata – Max Ehrmann
love /lʌv/ n. 1. A strong feeling of affection
“That’s the thing,” I said, “It’s not that I don’t love him, I do, but my heart just isn’t in it any more. It’s like right now I’m following a new path, one that doesn’t include him anymore. And that’s okay.”
Love is a complex emotion. I’ve loved friends. I’ve loved romantic partners. I’ve loved emotional abusers. I’ve loved people who’ve treated me well, and people who’ve treated me terribly. I love my family. I love my best friend. I love music. I love to write. How does one possibly begin to define such an enigmatic yet universal feeling?
In my reasonably limited experience with love, I’ve learnt that it is an emotion that can cloud all judgement. It can make you block out what’s bad and enhance what’s good. It can make you forget the hurt you might have felt, even though somewhere deep down that hurt is lying in waiting to burst forth. The emotional confusion that results from falling in love, heartbreak, and especially falling out of love, can overwhelm all elements of one’s life.
What has so fascinated me in my relationships, is how the intensity of my love for a person has driven me to keep a person in my life, regardless of whether the relationship was unhealthy or not. This, of course, begs the question: what is an unhealthy relationship? To me, this kind of relationship is missing something that is fundamental to its foundation. This may be, for example, trust or empathy.
It is not only these foundations that make a relationship healthy. It is what follows on from these, particularly through the actions of those in the relationship: in other words, through the way in which a person conveys their feelings, through their kindness or lack thereof, and through the way in which they make you feel when you are around them. This forms the basis of how you feel around the person; do you feel calm or anxious? Happy or sad? Energetic or depleted? Frustrated or tolerant?
I like to think of it as a house: once an initial foundation is made, whether strong or not, you begin to build your house with your chosen person. If the foundation is faulty, the house will either fail to stand to begin with, or if it does, it will teeter on the edge of destruction. You add brick after brick as you build the walls up. You trust the person enough to cement the bricks in, and in a healthy circumstance, you will have built strong walls, and a roof above it. Yes, like any building job there will be little human flaws, but your house is standing solidly. However, the person you’re with may begin to take down bricks while you’re building, they may deface part of the brickwork or at worst they may use a wrecking ball to destroy the structure completely. I’ve begun to always ask the question in all of my friendships and relationships: does this person build me up, or does this person break me down?
All of these little complexities contribute to the healthiness of a relationship, but, unfortunately, often only in part contribute to one’s love for a person. The person may use their wrecking ball to destroy all that you’ve built, but by some unknown force of nature you still love them. Conversely, your house may be near perfect in structure, and for some reason you begin to fall out of love with them. So it goes, the flux and reflux of love, this bizarre emotion that can make life both beautiful and unbearable.
Thus, in many ways, this brings forward the ideas of “following your heart” and what that truly means. Ah, the “head versus the heart”, the age-old argument between emotional perplexity and reason. This in many ways has reflected in many of my own experiences. I’ve found myself following my heart, letting my love for a person drive me, no matter how illogical it was, or how unhealthy the relationship or friendship was. It is like I have desperately tried to maintain what I might have had with them, no matter how painful it is. Then at times I would be purely logical, seeing flaws easily and cutting a person out of my life, even if it was the hardest thing to do. It was always an all or nothing, black or white – there was never a grey area in between.
While I have occasionally found myself being cynical about love, I somehow always revert back to being a complete hopeless romantic. I have always believed in love’s power of bringing people together, but only recently have I seen its power to push people apart. I’ve witnessed myself being driven by a different force, neither my head nor my heart, but rather a feeling of what might be right for me, a path on which I still feel love, still feel heartbreak, but I do not let it dictate my decisions. It is not a cynicism, but rather an acceptance of all potential outcomes: I have learnt to accept that love is not always a positive emotion.
Through my most recent breakup, I have come to realise that love can be pure, but the wrecking ball destroying my house can so easily sour it. It can still be there, taking some time to disappear, as my love did. Love will drive one to try to fix the house, to build it up again, and sometimes love can recover to its former self. But sometimes, it can’t, and I’ve realised that that’s okay.
So, did this person build me up or break me down?
They built me up, they broke me down, but even if they were to try to build me up again, I know that in this instance my love, which was still there, cannot be the same. I am still following my heart, but my heart is telling me to walk away from the house. It is acknowledging the existence of my love, but it is showing me that it isn’t building me up anymore. So I’m walking away, I am looking back every now and then, but less and less. It seems a waste, to leave behind a derelect house gone to extinction – but I have so many other houses to attend to, to build with all the other people I love in my life – and that’s okay.
So when it comes down to it, there is no answer for the meaning of love, or how to make it disappear: it doesn’t always disappear. Something that has always fascinated me is that I can go from being so serious about a person to not being serious about them at all, yet I can still love them. Love has made me completely irrational, love has brought me beatific happiness, love has caused me extreme pain, love has compelled me to be alone – and now, to love anew.
My insights have changed through experiencing so many different kinds of love for so many different people, and more than anything, I’ve learnt that it truly is a wonderful and overwhelming emotion, but can also be bitter. So maybe that’s just it: you should follow your heart, for with clarity and a bit of reason from your head, your heart can tell you more clearly than anything what you truly need.
“I have advice for people who are in unhealthy relationships: Follow your heart. It will get you to where you need to be. Sometimes it’s hard, sometimes it’s easy, the places that your heart takes you. But continue to follow it. Where the train leads you – you’ll get there.” — Erykah Badu