A Theory of Love

Thoughts On True Love, Its Nature, and Meaning

The idea of love always puzzled me. For what seems an eternity—10 years, give or take — I have pondered the nature and meaning of this four-letter word. I was a hopeless romantic from the start. I’ve always believed—for better or worse—that I was destined for love, “true” love, whatever it may be. The irony, though, is that, for most of my life, I didn’t actually know what true love is.

I simply knew it existed somewhere, and I would get it somehow.

When I thought of love, one question always surged: when we like, really like, someone, how do we know it’s love, especially “real” love? How can such an abstract concept ever be qualified? Before stumbling on the answer, I had dated many women, been in several relationships, and fallen in love a few times (at least I thought I did.) Yet somehow I felt as though I was missing something. I couldn’t tell what real love was and what wasn’t.

I thought that was quite the conundrum.

But that was until I met one woman. In each man’s life there always is that woman. The before-and-after moment. Every woman I had been with prior to her had brought me closer to an understanding of love, but she was the climactic point: when we fell in love, I met love and finally understood what it meant.

It was a one-of-a-kind experience. It was beautiful, perilous, deep, and touching in ways I had never before experienced. It seemed too good to be true, as many love stories feel. And through it all, I came to understand love, not simply intellectually, but emotionally and physically.

True love, I found, is seeing another person for who they are, without question, without judgment. Love is the absence of a need to understand. It is acceptance of another person’s flaws—not because we accept to live with them as in some sort of compromise, but rather because we see them more as cute idiosyncrasies than as flaws. Love is perceived perfection. And given its nature, true love is rare; most people do not truly love.

Questions Led Me Here

My teens and early adult life were punctuated with a number of relationships, none of which lived up to my expectations of love. Most were good, some were great, but none extraordinary in the way I imagined. I always dated nice women, women I respected and who respected me, but most of the time, I didn’t feel in love. In my late teens, true love wasn’t so much a concern; but as I entered my twenties, it became a preoccupation. I wasn’t one to seek casual relationships, so it seemed appropriate that I should fall in love with the woman I dated.

In one relationship, in particular, I thought I had fallen in love. In retrospect, though, I wasn’t. The relationship had started casually out of physical attraction; it then grew into something more. We were two Canadians living in a foreign country; we liked each other a lot, but it was neither healthy nor sufficient. The petty fights and the disagreements started early on, and when we came home to Canada, the long-distance got the best of the relationship. It was my only relationship that ended bitterly.

What got in the way of love? We had great physical chemistry and enough in common. It made sense, or so it seemed. But I did not see her, nor did she see me. In fact, during that relationship, I came to deeply know myself in opposition to her. She wanted a normal, secure life; I wanted to take great risks and reap great rewards. She was a carefree student; I fashioned myself into a serious scholar. She liked reality TV; I enjoyed political thought. We both judged each other for our preferences, and unlike what we thought, what we had wasn’t true love.

That relationship broke my heart—not because I couldn’t get over it, but because I had truly thought I was in love. I had said the words “I love you,” and thought I meant them. Yet later I realized I had been wrong. So, when it all went south, and I realized things had been off the entire time, I faced the reality that I didn’t know what love was. I understood I had used these words mistakenly, which, for a writer, is a source of great shame.

Ain’t Love Grand

I went on to date more women, and as I did so, I grew more eager to find “true love.” But during that time, I never found that grand, true love I thought existed. I’d sometimes “fall in love” with a woman, but in many cases, we didn’t date. Sometimes it was for a lack of reciprocity; sometimes the situation was just impossible and ended up being a fling. (I seem to have mastered the art of finding myself in impossible love scenarios or engaging in hopeless romantic flings that come with an expiration date. The “visiting scholar” romantic trope, if you know what I mean…) So I came to see love as something elusive, something short and temporary—a rock that hits you on the head and makes you experience the world differently… But only for so long.

I knew true love can’t be this way.

After a few more unfulfilling relationships and heartbreaks, I met the woman who taught me what love means. We met a year before we started talking seriously. The very first time we spoke, through an electronic device, the chemistry was instant. But it was in a professional context, and she wasn’t available. Neither of us ever forgot that conversation, and we exchanged text messages a few times over the course of the following year.

A year later, we reconnected, and the magic then happened.

The odds were against us, to be sure. The circumstances weren’t in our favor by any stretch of the imagination. It would ultimately end several months later, but for the time it lasted, it was magic and wonderful. Even though it didn’t make sense, it was love in its purest form. From the moment we began talking, to the moment we first met in person, to the moment it ended, we learned to love each other more and more. In fact, I shouldn’t use the verb “learn” because there was nothing to learn; everything felt natural. I don’t know if I believe in soulmates, but she did make me feel like she was just that. And the circumstances of our encounter, as well as the year of unconscious longing for one another, made it feel as if it was meant to be somehow.

Love’s Odd Ways

It didn’t matter to me what her past was. Nor did it matter how complicated her current life situation was while we were together. She felt the same way about me; I know because I could feel it. We loved the same things, hated the same things, and God did we bond over the things we hate? It was as though our souls were made of the same stuff; as though our souls sang along to the same song and had been even before we met. Despite our obvious differences, and these differences were many, we felt we were the same.

With this woman, I never once felt I needed to explain myself, and neither did she. She understood the nuances and intricacies of my being, the inherent contradictions that haunt me every day. She was older, much older, came from a different country, and yet I felt closer to her than anyone my age and who shared my citizenship. She saw in me the man I wanted to be; I saw in her the woman she aspired to become. Our relationship was funny, inspiring, ambitious, brave, and many more things. It felt like a match made in heaven.

We were vulnerable with each other in a way I had never been with another woman. She and I shared some of our innermost thoughts and feelings, past wounds, fears, and insecurities, and we did so without ever feeling unsafe. We respected each other and honored the journey, making the relationship fertile ground to grow. Perhaps more importantly, our banter was relentless and we loved each other’s nerdy sense of humor. The words and phrases we both used had a way of making us laugh hysterically. Probably no one else could understand that banter.

At one point in the relationship, she confided in feeling strange about something. She was puzzled by the fact I seemed to love every facet of her for which she had always been rejected. I was the exact opposite of everything she had ever experienced, and she thought it was bizarre. But I felt the same. With my own history of feeling misunderstood and left aside, I felt she was the person I had been waiting for.

Of Friends and Family

Around the same time, I worked on strengthening my relationship with my parents and my sister. I grew much closer with my sister in particular. I got to know her from a different side, and it made me realize I hadn’t always been a loving brother. I hadn’t always seen her for who she was with no judgment. My sister and I are radically different, and our family dynamics made it hard for me to understand her choices.

The more my sister shared with me, the more I began to understand her, and the more I began to see her. I believe it is because my eyes had been opened to love, what love really means. We often talk of family love as unconditional, but I believe this type of love is rare. In many families, members do not see one another for who they are, without question, without judgment. Mothers and fathers do not always see their children, and siblings do not always see each other. This means love is lacking.

That said, I do think, in a family where love is lacking, love can be rekindled. I believe that’s what happened with my sister. I believe that, in some cases, when the divide runs too deep, it may be difficult, if not impossible. But I also believe that we can love better if we open our eyes to what love means. In other cases, however, as in romantic relationships and in friendships, I believe love either exists or doesn’t.

I may sound binary in my thinking when I say that love either exists or it doesn’t. But I do believe it is true. We don’t have to fully see someone to be in a relationship with them or to keep a friendship, but if we don’t see them without question or judgment, aren’t we simply using them? Why compromise when we can find real love elsewhere? And I believe it is possible to find this love abundantly — by loving ourselves first, which will attract this energy.

Remember, love is seeing another person for who they are, without question, without judgment. Love is the absence of a need to understand. Love is acceptance of another person’s flaws, and not because we accept to live with them as in some sort of compromise, but rather because we see them more as cute idiosyncrasies than as flaws. Love is perceived perfection. That other person can be ourselves; in fact, we are the first person we should feel this way about.

To Love and to Be Loved

It’s not unreasonable to feel that our world lacks love. In times characterized by political extremism, growing polarization, and a war on the European continent, it is almost a euphemism to say that people don’t see each other. In some cases, it’s not a matter of “not seeing,” it’s a matter of ignoring and dismissing. But I believe there is a way to love and to be loved, which we can all use to make the world a little better — at least in our immediate environment.

To love and to be loved are inherently the same. Love is contagious; the more we give it, the more we receive it. And the beautiful thing about love is that it is expansive, not scarce. It is ever-growing. So the question becomes: why, then, is love lacking in the world? It goes back to the idea that to love and to be loved are inherently the same thing. To love, you must be loved, and to be loved, you must love—a classic chicken-or-the-egg scenario.

Children are not born to hate, they are born to love, but the road to adulthood is paved with pain and hurdles. Some people are less fortunate than others; some are abused, bullied, and victimized by others, including friends and family members. Shame and trauma are more common than we care to admit, and they take a major toll on love.

Shame and trauma don’t prevent love, though. They simply make it more difficult. A person who was shamed and traumatized is more likely to have low self-esteem and engage in self-sabotaging behaviors. For instance, people who were made to feel worthless as children likely will grow to have a negative self-image, which will lead them, though unconsciously, to question why anyone else would love them.

Love is no simple matter. Feeling enamored with someone alone does not qualify as love, let alone true, healthy love. Take the parents who “love” their children and, in the name of love, bully them into being someone they are not. Take the former lover who, in the name of love, becomes a creepy stalker. Take even the citizens who “love” their countries who, in the name of love, commit terrorist acts against one of their fellow citizens.

Is Love Everything?

With the description of my last relationship, you may wonder, “why did it end if it were so beautiful?” Truthfully, I wish it had never come to an end. I wish we were still together and I could have married her. But I have come to realize, the hard way indeed, that love is not everything. That love does not hold all the answers. That love is incredibly irrational and can blind you. The odds were against us. There was the distance. There was the age difference. There were our respective situations. There were several factors that made it incredibly difficult. And while I would have tried in other circumstances, I realized it did not make sense, and it may never make sense.

I also came to realize, both from reading and personal experience, that there is no such thing as The One. There are many Ones, and The One is the person we decide it to be. This perhaps sounds unromantic, but it’s a healthier love philosophy than the alternative scarcity mindset: that there is only one person for us, which forces us to settle for suboptimal relationships. The good news: When I find “The One” and marry her, that will be not only because I love her as I have never loved anyone else before, but also because we know that together we can build a future that makes sense. And there is a silver lining in the sky; most women I have dated in the past I felt could be “The One.”

Meanwhile, I keep my mind and heart open. And I realize that, unlike what I’ve experienced in the past, true love will come, but perhaps not in the way I think, and that it will take time to grow—as good things generally do. I will meet someone, and over time true love will come. I don’t know how much time is needed and how much growing up I need to do. But I know that the day I do, I will look back at these early years with a smile, thinking about how much I’ve learned and how far I’ve come.

So what is my theory of love? That love is seeing another person for who they are, without question, without judgment. That love is the absence of a need to understand. That it is acceptance of another person’s flaws-not because we accept to live with them as in some sort of compromise, but rather because we see them more as cute idiosyncrasies than as flaws. That love is perceived perfection. That we can love indiscriminately so long as we open our hearts. That we can learn to better love our friends, family members, and neighbors. That we can find true love in relationships, in our families, and in our friendships.

That we can find true love everywhere if we try.