Learning to Love
All things considered, is love the thing we get right last?
Written by Mickie Woods
If I suck at something, I am the kind of person who will do whatever I can to work at it. For example, I used to suck at talking to men so I chose to go on a million Tinder dates as practice. I used to struggle with expressing myself so I started reading and listening to podcasts more. I’ve always been a terrible cook so I’ve recently made it a goal to learn and prepare a new recipe every week. And it was no different once I discovered that I suck at love.
Contrary to popular belief, healthy love is something we learn just like anything else in life. And while we are all built with the capacity to love, we are simply not hardwired to inherently know how to love in a healthy and effective way. If we were, we’d be perfect partners and flawless friends all the time — and that’s simply not that case. Sometimes we give too much of ourselves and sometimes we give too little. Sometimes we are too selfish, too attached, too aggressive… and we hurt ourselves and others along the way. The line between healthy love and unhealthy love can get blurry, and our efforts to love can become destructive if we don’t have a grip on it. Our upbringing, our environment, and the friends and partners we choose all play a role in how we love and learn.
Although we all struggle with giving and/or receiving love at some point in our lives, we still declare love as “the end, be all”. Nearly all religions are based on love. Many people will go as far to say that love alone is their religion. But how often are we taking a step back to first learn how to love? If love is what supposedly makes the world go ‘round, wouldn’t it make sense that loving fully is, and will always be, the hardest, bravest, and most important thing we ever do? If so, then why do we wing it? And how can we become more equipped?
Since I’m always actively learning to be a better lover, my tried and true rule of thumb is asking myself if the origin of my actions, words, and behaviors are rooted in love or fear — because any interaction with another person rooted in fear results in either a harmful outcome, an unfulfilling outcome, or both. Like John Lennon said, “When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer.” When I dig deep into my doubts and I find that the root of them is fear, I know that I need to take a step back, reevaluate my situation, and find the much-needed love — whether it’s more love for myself or more love for the other person.
It is often said that you should first learn to love yourself before loving others, but I believe that learning how to love from others before learning to love yourself can be just as effective. Because love is acceptance. It’s meeting yourself where you’re at and meeting others where they’re at, and it takes practice. In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm suggests that learning to love requires both practice and theory. We learn to love by being in love, but we also learn from studying it (or being taught). Representation of the kind of love that’s out there can give us a reference point. Community and seeking advice from others allows us to step out of our ego and consider outside perspectives. Humans are one of those species that needs nurturing, guidance, and care from others to survive. We are not meant to go through this life alone, and it's unnecessary to put pressure on ourselves to figure things out on our own.
But there’s something to be said about giving ourselves room to f*** up. There’s never any reason to rush, because love isn’t a destination; it’s a journey. We are guaranteed to fall and rack up a fair share of bruises, scrapes, and pain along the way. But remember that falling is something we do when we’re learning to walk. And walking is something we do once we have clear objectives and the knowledge and strength required to achieve them. Eventually, we become present and conscious every step of the way until reaching the point where it becomes second nature. But just as there is no walking after falling several times first, there is no loving without first learning how.