I was asked recently to write about loving fearlessly, and I was surprised to find that this took me some time to get started. During a casual conversation about relationships, I spoke about my feelings regarding love. I wasn’t speaking as a therapist or couples counselor, but just as someone who has always believed in soul mates and true love, even despite my own heartaches. As I reflect on other’s experiences, it became clear to me that what I take for granted in trusting “love” or enjoy about “being in love”, not everyone is able to do as readily as I. Granted, I work with couples who struggle regularly, but that somehow doesn’t faze my belief in love. I still write this with uncertainty and the risk of exposing my idealism, as trying to find words to do justice to one of the few areas of my life that I do without hesitation is proving to be difficult.
And that may be exactly the point. I know there are tons of articles and research about love being a “choice”, marriage as an ever-changing process of growth and effort. There are proven tools and interventions that can be used to improve relationships and heal wounds. I agree, but that’s not how I live it. Science is great, but in my world it has no business analyzing love. Love is like breathing. Do you think about breathing? No, you just do it. And when you stop breathing, you are in pain, suffocating and gasping for another breath. You don’t think, you just do.
As the resident hippie of my family, it has been pointed out that I don’t watch the news and keep up on world events or discuss politics enough. This can be confused with naivety of the world or lack of an educated opinion when it comes to “friendly” social debates. The reality is that even in these moments, I am practicing love. I choose to surround myself with people and experiences that support love. It just feels good. If I am going to watch the news, I find stories of hope and peace rather than feed into or acknowledge the low vibrations of stories that divide human kind. I cheer for the courageous who stand up for love in the face of bullies, whether it be in the dark halls of a high school or under the bright lights of a GOP debate, for it takes far more strength to live in love than react out of fear.
For those who need science to back up the idea of love as a state of being, take a moment to think a negative thought. Think about your worst fear, and hold it in your mind’s eye. How does that feel? Now imagine a loved one, or an event where you felt particularly loved or loving. Picture a symbol of peace or a representation of love and try to internalize the emotion that comes with this image. How does that feel? Very different. There is a chemical reaction in your body chemistry (and in turn your feelings) that responds to your thoughts. Now expand this moment-to-moment process to a world view, or schema. What if you chose to see the world through a lens of love? If you assumed the best in others rather than the worst? If you hoped for more happy endings than choosing to expect a “practical” (aka negative) outcome?
Now let’s circle back to intimate relationships. When it comes to dating, partnership and marriage, we can do the same. We can choose to assume it will end badly and we will be hurt. We can assume that any ending of a relationship is a sign of failure. We can allow fear to block us from the joys of connecting fully with another. I have had my share of heartache, and witnessed pain as a result of love gone badly. It would have been easy and very understandable if I chose to close my heart to love. But it just never occurred to me that this was an option. And I think in some ways, it just isn’t an option available to me. Instead, we can take the stance that love is not about someone else. It’s not about them having the power to hurt us or break our hearts. It’s about us choosing to give our gift of love to them, wholly and without expectation. That our act of loving another is purely like breathing - without it we couldn’t exist. When we release the expectation that to love deeply and “correctly” we must be reciprocated equally is only when we truly love. This does not erase the bumps and bruises we may get in the process, but it makes getting back up again in the event of a heartbreak an inevitable fact rather than a fear-based decision we can opt out of.
I’ll fully admit that loving unconditionally is harder some days than others. These are the days I need to call on family and friends to help trigger those warm and fuzzy feelings if they won’t come on their own. I actively choose to create opportunities in my day to support loving feelings. For example, remove all negative posts, friends, articles, etc from your social media news feed and only follow those that are uplifting and highlight the good in the world. Get active with volunteering and surrounding yourself with those who enjoy helping others. Spend time with a child who literally thinks everything in the world is wondrous, even if it’s a box of mac and cheese.
Loving fearlessly has never been a choice for me. It’s a way of living fully, presently and beautifully. It’s a way of being. I will always love, because life wouldn’t be living without it.