There are many levels of love and each contains different layers.
I have come to believe that if we are operating the way we were built to operate, there is a level of love we should feel for almost everyone we meet.
I’m not saying we should fall head over heels in hopeless love, surrendering our whole selves to every soul on the street. But I am saying that if we are living in a state of openness and acceptance of both ourselves and others, functioning from a lens of compassion and connection, then we will likely experience a type of love birthed from compassion, empathy, and kindness, for almost everyone we meet.
Believe it or not, that’s a good thing.
The thing is we are scared of love. Petrified.
In fact, not only are we afraid of love as a feeling, we are also afraid of love as a word.
We are scared of everything that word represents. We are afraid of vulnerability, of openness, of allowing others into ourselves and of diving into others.
Because it costs us something to love that way. To live that way.
Investing in other people in a genuine way costs us small pieces of ourselves. It requires something of us on a deeper level and most of the time, that is not a place people are comfortable living.
Relationships—genuine relationships—beg us to crack our hearts open, even if it’s just a little bit.
We are so desperate to connect with one another and to crawl out from behind the walls of isolation we’ve built through various things; yet when faced with the opportunity, we hide from it. We keep each other at arms length most of the time.
And, even in those relationships where we’ve reached a level beyond the surface, there’s a blockage we often hit because we only allow each other so deep.
If we’re being honest, most of us aren’t even that good at tuning into our own hearts, much less anyone else’s.
We tell ourselves a myriad of excuses for why we live this way, and while many of them are valid, they aren’t that convincing to me.
“I’m busy. I’m tired. I don’t have time. I’ve got too much of my own stuff going on. We don’t know each other well enough. They don’t care anyway.”
We use these excuses—among others—to keep a safe distance between ourselves and everyone else. It works. Emotionally, it does seem safer to just worry about your own circle and not get too involved in anyone else’s.
But is that really the safe route?
Sure, it stops us from being hurt by others.
But does it really?
Do we not often feel hurt by someone else’s lack of investment in us, yet forget that we never actually invested in them either?
Do we not feel lonely and alone, yet neglect to reach out from behind the walls of protection we’ve built?
It seems to me that we are desperate for each other. Craving intimacy with other souls existing near us, yet we are so afraid of feeling anything that we don’t even give ourselves the chance.
In my opinion, the only way to truly connect with anyone is to open yourself up to the possibility. We have to first open our minds and allow ourselves to be vulnerable and exposed long enough to invite someone else to come along and enter into that space with us. If not, we will just continue playing emotional bumper cars with each other and never actually get anywhere.
We’ve become so accustomed to operating in our own bubbles, keeping everyone else on the periphery, that when we do encounter someone who has the capacity to slip inside our borders just a bit, we often shut it down. We question their authenticity. We are skeptical of their motives. And we allow our own insecurities, fears, and past hurts to overpower the potential for a genuine connection of any kind.
That’s such a cheerless way to live.
We’ve lost it. Trying to develop bona-fide relationships and even truly trying to get to know someone now comes across as something too intense. We label those people crazy. Needy. Desperate. Weird. And we distance ourselves from them.
Particularly in the dating scene this theme exists. People mistake kindness for desire. I was recently told, “I think you’re in marriage mode and you just need to be in date mode.” While it’s true that my brain is more wired for long term commitment, I was simply trying to get to know the person. But people are so uncomfortable with below the surface communication that it apparently makes them feel like you want to marry them rather than get to know them.
I’ve also had genuine friendships with people in which it’s clear there’s a level of mutual love for each other; yet, when even the thought of the “L” word presents itself, it’s shut down in a New York minute.
We think that saying we love someone means something it isn’t allowed to mean. That if we give a genuine piece of ourselves, maybe we won’t ever get it back.
But isn’t that the point of relationships? To give and receive levels of affection we simply cannot create alone?
Operating from that principle, we don’t lose anything by giving of ourselves. In fact, we have everything to gain. Yet living in this protective bubble of fear and resistance, we are creating the exact thing we dread: We are creating a world of solitude and disconnection where we watch each other from behind our glass walls but never really reach each other.
The fact is that loving others brings to the surface our own mortality. It reminds us that we could lose things. That we aren’t invincible and that our hearts really do beat and bleed. That’s painful.
Regardless of what level your heart operates in connection to certain people, we have to stop being afraid of love. In order to not fear love, we have to first not fear our own hearts. We have to first learn to trust ourselves and crack the window to our own souls before it will ever feel safe to let someone else in.
Until we figure out that piece, I don’t think we will ever get the kind of love and fulfillment in relationships (of any kind) we truly desire.
Author: Rachael Boley
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson/Editor: Erin Lawson