On Love as Acceptance

With Valentine’s Day here, I doubt I’m the only one who starts guffawing at the heavy commercialism around buying chocolate or diamonds, the traditional symbols of romantic love. But I won’t disparage the holiday itself, because it does present an opportunity every year to reflect on the concept, word and feeling of ‘Love.’  Today, I thought I’d write about a completely different notion of Love, where it actually represents a deep, all-encompassing acceptance. This is obviously a massive topic, so I’ll just skim the surface of my own experiences with that fateful word and how my ideas around it evolved.

I’ll start by saying that for me growing up, Love as a concept was originally divided into ‘romantic’ love and, for lack of better word, a more ‘familial love,’ of the kind I thought I felt for my parents and friends at times. My first contact with “Love” as a romantic concept was probably, for better or for worse, Disney movies. If you grew up in the nineties with me, love represented romantic infatuation with ‘The one’, between two heteronormative, straight, ridiculously well-proportioned and good-looking people. Every time I had a crush, I believed I was in the midst of this passionate and romantic “Love with a capital L”, the kind of love that everyone dreamed of. Not so sadly, 100% of those crushes faded, few lasted more than 2 months.

On the topic of ‘familial love’, I struggled occasionally because I grew up in a family that refused to say “I love you.” My Indian parents found it ridiculous – why state what was assumed, they’d say? I would go to school and hear open heartfelt confessions of love between lovers, between friends, between parent and child. And I’d wonder, didn’t I deserve the same? Eventually, my mother grew tired of the complaining and appeased me – she said she’d say “I love you” every time we got off the phone. Not surprisingly, once the experiment started, I recognized the wisdom of my parents’ preferences. It suddenly felt meaningless, cheap, and almost as casual as ‘goodbye.’ My parents loved me, but they prioritized expression of that love through action and daily sacrifice in raising me. In fact, my insistence that they say “I love you” came off as a suggestion that what they were doing was simply not enough. Of course, it was natural to want to feel loved, but inherent in my initial desire was a selfishness to feel loved without the work of giving back. And just like that, the habit of “I love you” like a handshake parting ways faded as quickly as it came.

As I’ve gotten older, many of these notions about love in relationships have changed dramatically. First of all, I’ve come to kind of abandon the idea of a separate romantic and familial love – to me, relationships with significant others originate from the same place as my relationships with my friend or family. There is spectrum that determines the differences in those relationships which includes different degrees of understanding or acceptance, emotional involvement, physicality, and commitment among other things. But I’ve been fortunate to realize that I can understand and accept ‘friends’ as deeply as family and share myself emotionally with family the way some might with ‘significant others’. In fact, the labels around these terms mean less to me than the dance of figuring out what will work for any given relationship.

Second, and perhaps most importantly: I’ve realized that for me, love is fundamentally a function of acceptance. But, this does not just necessarily extend to just the person across the room you’ve been crushing on –for me, love is necessarily an intellectual, emotional and spiritual connection between oneself and anything beyond the self which includes elements of acceptance as things are.  This acceptance hinges on an acceptance of one’s self in the present as well, since accepting another’s anger, for example, must include an acceptance of how it may be hurting you and allow for the care of oneself in the face of that anger. I love my cat, Luna, not in spite of the way she wakes me up but actually precisely because she does and because that’s a function of her trying to play and be with me. And I can accept that sometimes that annoys the heck out of me. And I love her for doing it, and I love the tired days of playing with her anyway and trying to find ways to better sync our sleep schedules (she’s less of a kitten now and doesn’t wake me up nearly as much, thankfully!).

Given that I’m using a cat as an example, I also think that this notion of love can extend to any person or living creature, an object, a project or passion, or a higher being. It doesn’t even require that any of those things necessarily love you back. I’m not sure if Luna can accept me intellectually, for example. She might just hang around for the cuddles and food. But loving anything might deepen our acceptance of ourselves. Luna has helped me realize how much I enjoy cuddling and caring for her, and I’ve grown to accept and love that aspect of my character.

This is a complex and daunting notion of love. It asks much more of us than simply receiving chocolates and gifts, unfortunately. I’ve grown to accept and love my past self in her craving for what she thought was love – today I know that what I really craved was attention and care. But those previous notions of love pointed to a deeper understanding and acceptance which I also craved. Today, I feel and try to cultivate love as acceptance all around me, and I love that rollercoaster ride.

Embraced by Esha Khurana | Perelman Class of 2017


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