What love is and what love isn’t.

It’s Valentine’s Day. This might mean a wide variety of things to you. It might be a day where you hold your loved ones close and celebrate all the wonderful things about them. It might be a day where your broken heart hurts a little bit more than usual. It might be a day where you feel like the world is saturated with hearts, chocolate, and lovers, and you feel more alone than ever. It might just be something you roll your eyes at.

No matter your opinion on the holiday, it does seem to be a day focused on love. So I’m taking it as an opportunity to explore my experience of love, and inquire how I can better love others and myself without conditions or limits.

When trying to understand love, it sometimes seems easier for me to define what I know love isn’t. I know love isn’t force, control, or possession. I know love isn’t humiliation, ridicule, or contempt. I know love isn’t shame, coercion, or fear. There was a time in my life when I correlated all of these things with love, because the person who claimed to love me the most was using them against me. I might have believed this was love, but my body sure didn’t. And my body never forgot.

Years later, I’ve been rebuilding my definition of love. If it isn’t all of those things, what is it? I start by naming the opposites. Love is not control, it’s freedom. Love is not humiliation, it’s encouragement. Love is not contempt, it’s compassion. Love is not coercion, it’s compromise. Love is never shaming. Love is alwayscaring.

The most powerful definition that’s been modeled to me by those who really love me is that love is presence. Love is someone sitting with you when the world feels too heavy, when the despair is thick in your chest and hope feels intangible. Love is a listening ear. Love is safety. Love is knowing it’s okay to be who you are. Love is knowing you don’t have to be “fixed” to be worthy of acceptance. Love is being vulnerable with someone and knowing they won’t use it against you.

So today, and always, I hope you can feel this love within you and around you. I hope you can believe that even in your darkest moments, you aren’t alone. That who you are is acceptable, lovable, worthy and good. I hope that there is someone or something in your life that reminds you of what I know to be true: you don’t have to DO or BE anything to earn the love that is your birthright. I hope you can remind yourself of this, too.

Thank you for being a part of this community. We are stronger than we know, braver than we feel, and inherently worthy.

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