Recently I’ve been reading ‘All About Love’ by Bell Hooks, a recent addition to my paperback collection. Having heard how moving and insightful it had been for others I figured it was time to give it a read. To read literature written by a Black woman with the intent to have transparent and intellectual conversations about love has been beautiful. I’m still reading and digesting and reflecting on her work.
She begins the volume by emphasizing that love and care are different from one another. “Remember, care is a dimension of love, but simply giving care does not mean we are loving” , Hooks writes. Either can be present or absent in relationships. She went on to expound on how often we confuse care for love. Ouch. I had never meditated on the idea that caring can be an act we mistake and accept as the act of loving.
The emphasis on distinguishing the two was eye-opening. She stated care is a simple act while love encompasses many actionable things. We are conditioned, as she explains, to view love as a feeling. But this idea is warped and reductive. To love or be loving is a choice. It is greater than a short lived feeling that depends on circumstance. She goes on to another pivotal point for me by saying, “when we understand love as the will to nurture our own and another’s spiritual growth, it becomes clear that we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive.” Heavy. That line led to deep and difficult reflection on my own experiences with love and its presence in my relationships with others.
The idea of love and abuse not being able to coexist really dropped a bomb on me. Far too often is abuse normalized in our family units, romantic relationships, and even friendships. The idea that verbal and/or physical abuse happen in these intimate relationships because the person loves us is dangerous and confusing. This in turn leads us to believe the reason we had an abusive experience with a loved one is because of love. “It was out of love”. But this is wrong and untrue. To love is to act in care, respect, accountability, and trust— I believe. So I must agree with Ms.Hooks, abuse and love cant coexist and we absolutely must reevaluate our perspective on the word.
It is painful digesting the bitter truth that the idea of love we’ve been shown may truly never have been love at all. Maybe it was but maybe it wasn’t. It is painful to realize your parent or partner or close friend or family member has only been caring but not loving. It is also painful to recognize we may have chose to show others care instead of love too. Thus, there is a need for us to come to our own understanding of love and healthy relationships. Knowing what the word love means to us so we can demand more for ourselves and respect our boundaries is imperative to healthier relationships. Knowing and learning love ultimately, and most importantly, allows us to love on ourselves better.
I’m a firm believer in self-love being the root for all other expressions of love beyond ourselves. It’s the healthiest way for us to experience love internally and externally when we can pour into ourselves first. Self-love grounds us. We are able to manage our expectations. We have more empathy. We have strong boundaries. We accept people for who they are, that’s part of what application looks like to me. Understanding what love means individually gives us a clearer look at what others are bringing to us— love, care, both or none.
Her writing just makes me wonder how well we truly know love. We can collectively do better committing ourselves to understanding love for ourselves and then for others around us. We have a lot to learn.