How we love shapes who we are and how we relate to the world. It often dictates how we view ourselves and what we think we can achieve. So where did this start? Who or what taught us about love in the first place?

Was it a romance that spun us out of control? Was it a parent that loved us unconditionally and helped us stay in control? Or was it something that happened to us that made the world stop spinning in one direction and then start to spin in the other? Is it because of what you got? Or is it because of what you didn’t get?

I collected responses across continents, identities, and ages. It isn’t what you might think….

PARENTAL LOVE: UNCONDITIONAL OR BIOLOGICAL REQUIREMENT?

“I always felt cared for, nurtured, and safe as a kid. My parents put us before them. They spent money on experiences and learning opportunities for us before they ever did anything for themselves. I guess I had unconditional love but for some reason pockets of me felt un-seen, misunderstood and lonely under that blanket love. I missed an individual “I see you” sort of love, a customized love “I love you because of your unique XYZ…” I felt I had “blanket love” because I was my parents’ kid but not necessarily because I am me, child number 3….

 

With my kids, I don’t love with food, braces, sunscreen and warm coats. That is just body maintenance… I love with long talks, exposed vulnerability, eyes that that see the soul, hugs that wraps each of their insecurities and honor their individual spirit…”

 – Woman, 40’s, European

 

“I only truly know what love is after having kids. That love is greater than any love for anyone including myself. Totally selfless. That’s why, with small children, I feel I have lost part of myself…..I hope the next phase will be about balance so I can balance their needs with mine. Maybe that will help me love life more instead of it feeling like such a crushing amount of responsibility all the time.”

–  Woman, 40’s Asian American

PLACE MORE THAN PARENTS

“I certainly did not feel safe or at ease in the house or with the parents I grew up with. So, “Home” has always been a desired destination for me. It is a safe, secure, comfortable and relaxed place where love is realized and built upon. And our family of choice, therefore, supports and fits in that. Whether they live in our physical home with us or not.  Love is a piece of Home and Home is a piece of Love.

– Man, 40s American

 

ROMANTIC LOVE: OBSESSION OR LIFE ALTERING?

“Most romantic loves were just me chasing and obsessing over being loved back. But there was one…..I was 22, he was 27. We met out dancing. He taught me to suck the marrow out of life and enjoy every second. We actually DID stop to smell every flower. And you know, I rolled down hills with him. Like actually rolled down hills laughing while getting bruised. The romance didn’t last, but my love for life did.”

– Woman 30’s European

 

“My mother taught me unconditional love albeit through a critical lens. It was through TV and movies that I saw what intense romantic passion could be. Love is such a deep interpersonal concept that it’s hard to get advice from people. Love is irrational. Love is intense. You are the only one that understands that love because every love is unique like a snowflake.”

– Man, 40’s, Asian American

 

“The men who taught me love were actually ones who broke my heart. One treated me well, saw me, connected with me (helped plan my 40th birthday) and, most importantly, was honest with me.”

–Women, 50’s, American

 

FRIENDSHIP: SUPPORTIVE LOVE?

“I was struggling to come out as a gay man in college. I had an amazing loving girlfriend. She knew about my struggles, and engineered an encounter for me with a bisexsual so I could experience being with a man with her there to support me. That’s selfless supportive love.”

– Man, 30’s Australian

 

“At first, I think my father taught me love. He wasn’t a deep thinker and had tons of children. But when he talked to you, you were the only one in the room. He wasn’t afraid to love. Fear is what keeps people from sharing how they really feel. As I became a young adult, it was my friends. I could count on them for undying love and support. They became my family. They also held me like I was the only one in the room. They didn’t need me to be anyone else but who I was.”

– Woman, 70s, American

 

“I had many love influences. My paternal grandparents evidenced through time spent with me and great food. Close friendships in my childhood and teen years. Fresh, sincere, honest. My Mom, but a tortured type of love. My Dad, demonstrated through actions rather than words. First romantic relationships, but full of confusion in the presence of something new. Having kids. Deep, profound, honest love. My ex-wife, like my father, through actions. Even now. A friend. 

-Man, 50s, South American

 

 

SELF LOVE: THE HOLY GRAIL

Anne of Green Gables. She taught me that the hot boy might like the nerdy, smart girl into books. And that she might blossom into a beautiful woman someday too. It taught me to be ok being me. Which is love.”

– Woman, 40’s, Australian

 

“I grew up in a rural farm country. I lived on a hill with drunks and hippies. It was hard. I did not grow up in a supportive environment. People were mean. But I read Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine and I saw how you could have hope and joy just by getting a new pair of shoes. It wasn’t love. But it was hope. Or perhaps love and hope are the same.”

– Man, 50’s American

 

‘We are hardwired to love. The ability to love is innate yet it takes the right nurturing environment to feel safe enough to open the heart and surrender. I am thankful to my parents for loving me unconditionally. That said, our culture and experiences taught me some gnarly energies. Deep shadows of fear, blame, shame and guilt which led to over giving, people pleasing and lacking boundaries….Death of loved ones and a shit ton of therapy and meditation  is what taught me self love. This energy of faith coupled with much forgiveness has lead me to whole hearted open-hearted freedom to give and receive the most profound love of my life.”

Woman, 30s, American

AND FINALLY LEARNING LOVE IN UNUSUAL PLACES…..

I thought I was a loser in the Love stakes…

The early heartbreaks

Those unrequited loves 

The later heartbreakers

The double digit number of bridesmaid dresses…

My distinct lack of roses and diamonds..

 

Meanwhile I got on with life

 

I pursued love that never disappointed …

 

Travel (what wonders/beauty/awe/curiosity). That visceral love affair with the city of Shanghai…. 

I learned to love my work and learned where I thrived and what made me wither.

I continued to make friends (learning along the way those to let go, or swerve) and built friendships that have lasted decades with the most eclectic range of men and women who I love dearly.

I took comfort from the homes I have created (the retreat an introvert requires)

I learned that my intuition/that gut feeling isn’t odd or misguided or irrational. It’s me knowing how/where/who to put myself with so that I can flourish and others in my life get the best version of me – is that learning to love myself?

 

And then finally that quiet thoughtful man who I met at dinner with friends

He makes me laugh, he has held me when I’ve cried, listens to my rambling stories, pulls me into line when I’m a little too silly and pretends to like my experimental cookery. I love him and I think he loves me (possibly not at all my cooking).

-Woman, late 40’s, European

What about you? Who or What taught you to love? How did it change how you relate to yourself as well as the world? 

**This post was inspired by Pop Up Magazines Sidewalk Edition in San Francisco. They asked the question…..and then I asked the question. Some answered me. Some are still thinking it through ….and what the hell love even is. Do get back to me. Share. In writing or over whiskey. 🙂

**Responses have been edited. Otherwise we’d have a chapter book. : )

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