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A little thing called love

| Monday, February 2, 2015

We all know that February is the month of love. Romantic dates and Valentine’s hearts; candy, flowers and cards stationed around stores to seemingly taunt the single people just trying to buy groceries.

I’m not going to hate on Valentine’s Day because I’m single or because I don’t have a potential prospect to even change those circumstances. I’m not going to cry eating chocolates and watching The Notebook because my heart was broken by a former love. I’m also not into the whole “focus-on-the-other-loving-relationships-you-have” alternative just for the sake of making single sound less lonely. There are all of these pressures placed on one day to polarize the population into groups of couples and singles — alleged winners and losers. What the public overwhelmingly neglects to recognize though is that this day actually just gets people to start thinking and talking about the most important human sentiment — love.

Valentine’s Day puts a microscope on the end goal of human relationship — love — and encourages others to seek where it exists in their own lives. There are romantic and professional relationships, familial relationships, acquaintanceships and friendships — each with their own dimensions of experiencing love and commitment. Having been commercialized though, Valentine’s Day oversimplifies love by failing to address the spectrum in which love can be shared and experienced. We have been trained to understand love as purely romantic or purely platonic, making all of our relationships that fall between that gradient complicated and confusing.

While there is no universal definition for love, we understand its definition by how its been experienced in different capacities. It can be simple like sharing a conversation with a stranger or deep like the care we show to significant persons in our lives when they are most vulnerable. When experienced in its purest, most sincere forms, love is the most empowering and nurturing of human experiences. Small but powerful moments with another being collect in ways that elevate our self-esteem, confidence and feelings of security. These moments become embodied in a person’s actions, words and other characteristics, probing us to experience euphoria when we think about or spend time with them. Most importantly, we develop a fondness for the ways in which their existence draws out a pure and authentic part of ourselves that we could not have known existed without them.

As social beings, our self-awareness is a reactionary process. The depths of the human soul are drawn out in community when individual lives cross our paths and imprint ideas and emotions that we were unconscious to without that occurrence. Through music, film, stories and even our own experiences, we have subconsciously developed expectations of love and the ways in which it should manifest at different stages of any relationship. We’ve romanticized ideas of perfect love and, as a result, experience pain when that love fails to meet our expectations or is removed from our lives.

With Valentine’s Day upcoming, romantic love seems to be the most complicated to understand and navigate. In the four-year relationship I had throughout high school, I fell in love for the first time and my life has been forever changed. The loving stares, little notes and the warmth and security of his embrace made the developing stages of my teen years not only bearable but exciting, adventurous and fulfilling. He was my best friend and the only person who knew the most intimate levels of who I was. He wholeheartedly supported my dreams and shared his own ambitions and vulnerabilities with me. Being two years older than me, though, we were riding different wavelengths into adulthood. At the time, I didn’t understand how our worlds were changing or why we couldn’t satisfy each other’s expectations to make the relationship work. By the time I became a sophomore at Notre Dame, he had joined the Air Force and married a woman he met two years prior.

He spent a total of six years in my life, the majority of which were during the crucial years of my young adulthood. Initially, the heartbreak and devastation I experienced was overwhelming and damaging. I didn’t know who I was without him and struggled to understand what it was I loved so much about being with him.

People telling me to get over it grossly misunderstood the point of love. Love can’t be replaced because it is a profound experience that is shared between beings in a particular moment in time. Love is then strengthened as these moments persevere through new experiences, trials and life events.

These last two years have been critical to my formation as an adult, grappling with the challenges and rewards of having caught a glimpse at the power of love. Rather than focus on the love we don’t have, use Valentine’s Day to develop a long-term understanding of what love looks like where it does exist.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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