Learning the hard way

February 12, 2011

As Valentine’s Day approaches, my son is intrigued by the idea of love.  It is clear to me that he is already puzzled by the girls in his class.  I wish I could tell him that like learning to tie his shoes or how to tell time, eventually he will figure girls out.  But I know that is not the case.

Understanding love is one of the universal struggles that none of us can escape.  Almost all of us want it, and not one of us was born knowing where to find it.  Each person must learn the same lessons that those in previous generations already figured out the hard way. 

I am by no means an expert on the subject.  But, if I could give my son and his four-year-old friends any advice, here is what I’ve learned from 34 years of trying to figure it out:

There are as many different kinds of love as there are people in the world.  That’s why parents can love all their children equally.  That’s why you can get your heart broke and move on to love again. 

Don’t worry about your heart filling up.  Love everybody.  Love the person who fixes your car.  Love the person who bags your groceries.  Love the stranger next to you in the crowd at a basketball game.  Never, ever stop loving.

Sometimes, saying no and being tough is more loving than always saying yes.  Four-year-olds aren’t the only ones who respond well to boundaries. 

If you are always struggling to feel powerful in a relationship, you aren’t in love.  If holding a person’s hand makes you feel empowered and ready to take on the world, you are.

You can love anyone you want.  Just don’t expect everyone to love you back.

No matter how hard you try, you are going to let down those you love.  And they are going to let you down.

Don’t let anybody ever tell you that love is hard.  Relationships are hard – friendship, parents and children, marriage.  That stuff is hard sometimes.  Love is easy.

Forgive, but don’t forget.  Learn from other people’s mistakes as well as your own.

Forgiveness does not equal obliviousness.  Be brutally honest with yourself about the strengths and weaknesses within yourself and others.  It’s okay to admit that you and those you love are not perfect.

Love is not blind.  Love has 20/20 vision.  Fear, insecurity, greed, and jealousy blur that vision.  Fight a mighty battle against these things.

Love yourself first.  You can’t love anybody else until you forgive yourself for being human.

Learn to find a balance between loving yourself and loving others.  Not enough self-love, and you lose yourself.  Too much self-love, and you lose everything.

You don’t have to be a sucker to be loving.  Stick up for yourself.  You deserve to be treated well as much as anybody. 

There is a difference between love and respect.  You can love people in spite of themselves.  Respect must be earned.

Share your life with someone who thinks more highly of you than you do of yourself, and whose awesomeness inspires you to be a better person.  To paraphrase the author Anne Lamott, the happiest couples are those in which both people think they got the better deal. 

Don’t wait for the day you have it all figured out, because it will never arrive.  Love takes practice.  Don’t give up.

This article first appeared in the Lewistown News-Argus and the Sidney (Mont.) Herald on February 12, 2011.