One of the satisfying things about reaching midlife is understanding some of life's deepest questions like "What is love?" Is it the feeling you get when you're head over heels for someone? Can you create love, or choose who you love? Here's what I think.
When People Ask "What Is Love?"
People generally wonder about the question, "What is love?" when they are unsure about how they feel. Or, when they aren't sure if someone loves them. When you have to define your emotion down to the nitty gritty, chances are it isn't as genuine as when you just feel it and go with it.
Love can be different for the various people you meet and relationships you have, but usually you know someone loves you because they tell you or show it. There is love that you have for your children, for friends, and even in some cases, your coworkers. In nearly every case, it can be defined by a combination of positive feelings and actions, that include:
- Respect for you
- Appreciation of you
- Treating you well
- Acknowledging your feelings
- Caring for your well being
- Wanting you to do well in the world
- Praying for you
The Definition of Love Changes With Time
When I was in my teens, I saw an interview with Prince Charles and Lady Diana after they announced their engagement. At the time, I thought that this had to be the most romantic thing ever and as I watched them I kept thinking how happy they must be. That is, until the question came asking if they were in love, and Diana said "of course," and Charles said "Whatever 'in love' means." They both laughed, but at home, I was crushed. If a prince and princess didn't know what love was, what hope was there for the rest of us?
As the years have gone on my idea of love has changed for the better, I think. My midlife answer to "What is love?" consists of moments for me, and they are often the most simple: My husband and I sitting comfortably and talking about silly random things, how he knows by looking at me whether I've had a good day or not, or how he'll leave me a note some mornings just to tell me that he is proud of me.
When we were first married our pastor told us that the love we had for each other would change. I wondered if he meant that love would wither and become less meaningful as years went on. Instead he said that we would begin to care about each other even more, but also differently than when we were dating. He said as we took on new roles as spouses and caregivers, and built our life together, our love would deepen. It has.
The Five Love Languages
Love, at the deepest level, isn't necessarily about romantic feelings, although in the dating world it starts out that way. The answer to "What is love?" for me also has to do with family. In the Five Love Languages, Dr. Gary Chapman says that "everyone has a love language," and we all gravitate toward one of five: "Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Receiving Gifts, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch."
I know that my personal love language is definitely Words of Affirmation. I think I realized this when my grandpa got sick and was at the end of his life. He was the type of guy that just didn't say "I love you" very often. But he did love us. We all knew he did. Still, my own father passed away without ever telling me he loved me, and when I told my grandpa how much this bothered me he made a point to start saying it. I never asked him to, but he knew how much it meant for me to hear it. When I would visit him he would give me a hug and just hold on, saying "I love you" with such meaning that I can still recall those hugs vividly years later. When I think about those moments, I'm reminded of the timelessness of love, because I can feel my grandpa's love still with me, even though he has long passed.
What Is Love for Single People?
What about those who aren't married? What is love for those without a life partner? Love isn't so elusive that you can't find it in different forms. There is the love you might have for a companion, for someone who enjoys the same things as you and gives you pleasure just by spending time together. For midlifers who don't want to get married, "What is love?" could be answered in the satisfaction of an independent life where you have people who care about you, but yet you don't need to answer to anyone but yourself.
The answer to "What is love?" is different for us all, and yet, the same. One of the beautiful things about love is that it changes shape and form for every relationship and time in your life.
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