[First published on Thought Catalog on 8.13.2013]
“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” So goes the haunting line in Nat King Cole’s oft-covered “Nature Boy” – a line with an evasive depth that doesn’t grab you by your shoulders until it does. Because, what is the right way to love? I have reflected upon this notion at length, only to discover that there isn’t one way to love.
Certainly not. We’re all broken people, broken in different ways. If not by the hearth, then by the playground. Further along the way, youthful infatuation and adolescent love await. Failing that, the foibles of adult dating opens us up to a thorny embrace. Love can be maliciously patient with its sword. It is bound to fool you every time.
But in its utmost state, in its purest form, it provides the fertile ground for independent growth alongside a partner, collaborative and convergent growth as a couple, and a sense of spiritual levity in being close to the other. It is a collaborative balancing act of giving what the other asks for, or the space to say no, not now, but absolutely when I can. Commitment can indeed be freedom when the confidence to fall overwhelmingly becomes the safest option, for when you tire of falling, a pair of loving, cradling arms await. Arms belonging to the person with the lips to ask you to do the dishes, but arms, nonetheless.
I’ve come to conclude that one simply cannot reach this pure form of love in a closed state; we must be ready to receive it before it can be ours, and often this means learning your cyclical love habits. It does not occur for those with unresolved pasts or lingering insecurities. It cannot happen for those who too rigidly build their sense of selves around how they are in solitude, conflating “self” with the observable properties when alone. Water, after all, exists in three states, and no one refutes that it is water when gaseous, or solid.
Worse, many of us are encumbered by the way we love, not only by our pasts and insecurities, but also by our best intentions; that which we follow only to arrive to a personal hell of our making. This is only made possible by the fact that we all love differently, and we all want to be loved differently. I am a staunch believer that the only reason why a relationship (grounded in the foundation of compatibility and respect) may fail is because of the people involved. You only have yourselves to point to for accountability. And too many good couples who are fully capable to work their issues out throw in the towel for lack of the willingness to work – and it only takes one unwilling party to crumble.
To love responsibly – that’s the ‘right’ way to love. Take into consideration that each relationship is a snowflake with its very own imprint on your lives, and possibly, those around you. Take into consideration that everything that is worth anything takes hard work to accomplish. Work hard, and be the agent of change in your life, and your relationship. Because we are all capable of reaching the land of pure, real love…some of us just have farther to travel to discover what the strange, enchanted Nature Boy learned.