love, in itself
trying to figure out what love is, or was, or should be
I want to talk about love. What love is, what love isn’t, if true love really exists, the difference between being in love and needing to be needed. There’s so much to unpack when you’re talking about the meaning of love and I can only do it through the lens of my lived experience, which is one where I have determined that love is undefinable.
See, I know what love is not. My experiences have taught me that much. Love is not losing yourself to bring another person happiness. Love is not giving up what defines you while letting your partner define your relationship. Love does not entail being reduced to a shadow.
I spent fourteen years as someone’s partner, seven as his wife. Somehow, in that time, I let go of myself to become an extension of him. I spent those years catering to him, ceding to his whims, serving his needs. My life was built around his schedule, his desires, his wants. I thought this was love, that one should give themselves entirely to their partner in order to make them happy. It never occured to me until after it was all over that love of that magnitude was worthless if not reciprocal. I cooked the meals he liked, went to the restaurants he loved. We watched the movies he wanted to see and played the video games he enjoyed. Our schedule revolved around him. I kept thinking that love was driving me, love was commandeering my needs to be meshed with his. In reality, I was giving up all of my needs and wants to make his life easier and happier.
I lost myself somewhere; I can see that now, in hindsight. Real love, true love, does not dictate that you do that. True love is give and take. I gave so much of myself and took nothing but token gifts that he would give me to assuage his own guilt at not having the time or the inclination to cater to my needs. Oh, he did for me. He took care of the house, he walked the dog and washed the cars and helped me put the groceries away. He tried to be there emotionally for me, but his personality was such that he remained closed off for the most part. I bared my soul to him; he tried to respond in kind, but never quite reached the high notes I was listening for. He took care of me in ways I appreciate, but I too often felt alone, abandoned. Still, I kept giving, I kept catering, I kept mistaking need for love. I did things for him because I needed to be needed. He would often tell me “I need you” and I think he was also mistaking that for love.
Love is such a misunderstood concept. To this day I don’t know how to define it in words. I don’t know how to explain it because I don’t know if I’ve ever lived it. Were all my relationships just based on being needed, on giving until it hurt because I got so little back? Perhaps I know what it is like to love, but I’m unsure if I was every truly loved in return. Maybe I expect too much of love. I was looking for it to buoy me, to prop me up, to serve a purpose. In doing that, I threw myself into loving, into doing. And I lost who I was. I became a label; I thought if I was A Good Wife, everything would fall into place. If I did the things he liked and didn’t do the things he didn’t like, he would be happy, and making him happy was my ultimate goal, my starting and end points. When he was unhappy, I took it personally. It never occured to me that he was responsible for his own unhappiness. I had to be doing something wrong. It was on me.
I was so wrapped up in seeing to his emotional well being that I neglected my own for years. That is not love. I don’t know what it is, but “give up yourself entirely” is not in any definition of love I’ve ever read. It pains me to sit here over a year after he left to realize that maybe he never loved me at all, he just needed someone to fill a space in his life, until he didn’t. And it also pains me to think that even if I was in love with him, I didn’t know how to properly bestow that love on him. I let my true self wither away while I strained to make him feel wanted and needed and loved.
I never expected an all consuming love like you see in romantic movies, the kind where someone says they’d throw themselves in front of a moving bus for you, that they would die without you. Maybe for awhile I thought I would die without him, that my life would be unliveable without him in it, but not only am I seeing that’s not true, but that I have somehow grown and blossomed after he left. I am finding my true self again and letting her flourish.
It leaves me wondering if what we had was really love or just fourteen years of fumbling around trying to find ways to fit each other into our lives. We had a good relationship, for the most part. I don’t want to discount that. We did fun things together, we enjoyed each other’s company. From the outside, we looked perfect for a long time. We looked happy and at ease with each other. We looked like a couple in love. But it all turned out to be a facade. We didn’t know what love was. We still don’t. And maybe I never will.