Monday Notes: Understanding L❤️VE with Will Smith, bell hooks, and Gary Chapman

Recently, I read Will Smith’s memoir, Will, bell hooks’ All about Love, and Gary Chapman’s, The 5 Love Languages. Here are three common themes each book reinforced about my understanding of love:

Love is deeper than what we’ve learned.

Each author makes clear that love is more than what we were implicitly shown and explicitly taught.  

As a Black, feminist scholar, bell hooks’ message is that what many of us have learned about love is based on the fantasies of men, which is rooted in patriarchy. Therefore, she uses a more in-depth definition from social psychologist Erich Fromm. Fromm says that love is “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” That’s deep, right?

Gary Chapman is a pastor, and much of what he writes is rooted in Christianity and scripture. For example, he alludes to Genesis 2:24, but he clarifies that “becoming one flesh … did not mean that individuals would lose their identity; it meant that they would enter into each other’s lives in a deep and intimate way.”

Pop culture icon, Will Smith describes the evolution of his relationship with Jada as something that grew to be more spiritual. They’ve publicly call each other “life partners,” which implies something more than riding off into the sunset with a beau.

As someone who’s been married for twenty-five years, the idea that love is more than what we’ve been fed resonates. My marriage to Dwight is the most transformative relationship I’ve ever had. He’s been instrumental to my self-evolution. Through our relationship, I have learned what it means to love someone and to be loved.

What you learn in your family of origin shapes how you view love.

The idea that our families teach us how to love is not new; however, each author shares a nuanced approach to this concept.

bell hooks’ says that “to truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients—care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication.” She also suggests a family’s love doesn’t always feel like love because the love we receive from family is primarily care, which is just one component. Many of us do not learn each characteristic of love from our families. Do you see how this can pose a problem for future relationships?

Gary Chapman also explains that many of us have learned how to show love based on the family in which we were raised. For example, my mother showed love by giving gifts. She expressed this love language by throwing parties. I always had two birthday parties—one on my actual birthday and another on the weekend with either family or friends. Guess what I thought love was for a very long time? Guess what my primary love language is?

Will Smith’s memoir brilliantly illustrates how we pass on generational patterns of showing love, whether they worked for us or not. His abusive father showed love through a work ethic and the result of the work ethic, making money, which provided safety and shelter. bell hooks would call this care, and Chapman would label it acts of service. Will then showed that type of love to his wife and children, and even though their family looks hella successful, it backfired; his wife and children didn’t feel loved.

Love is a choice.

Is love a choice? My experience makes me say no.

I maintain that I didn’t not choose to love Dwight any more than I choose to breathe. As soon as we met, our union was solidified. Gary Chapman found this concept so important he devoted an entire chapter to it. He calls this beginning, in-love phase “a temporary emotional high” and “on the level of instinct.” Everything after that is where he says the “real love” begins.

Cool. Chapman agrees with me. We don’t choose to be in love. But maybe we do choose everything after that, which maintains love?

bell hooks says it’s important to acknowledge love as a choice as a way to take ownership of our feelings and actions. She says, “to begin by always thinking of love as an action rather than a feeling is one way in which anyone using the word in this manner automatically assumes accountability and responsibility.”

This makes sense to me. Choosing to love or to be loving makes every act intentional, not some willy-nilly, out of control situation.

A story from Will Smith’s memoir that shows how love is a choice was about his daughter, Willow. Willow asked him this paraphrased question: Does it matter to you how I feel? He implied that every argument, every misunderstanding asks this question: Does it matter to you how I feel? He goes on to explain that we show each other the answer by our actions, by the choices we make, which reveal how we choose to love one another.

So, yep. I get it.

We can say, “I love you” a million times, but when it comes down to specific actions, are we choosing to be loving toward the person we say we love? The answer is the difference between someone feeling loved as opposed to just hearing words.  

If you made it this far, thanks for reading. I know I got a little theoretical, but hey. It happens. Let me know what you think about love.


69 thoughts on “Monday Notes: Understanding L❤️VE with Will Smith, bell hooks, and Gary Chapman

    1. From what I’ve read on your blog, Jean, I think you’d appreciate bell hooks’ thoughts and contents. With this book, in particular, All About Love, I found myself nodding from beginning to end. It’s like someone had been reading my mind all these years. The care comment/concept is one of those examples. I could never quite put my finger on why family members simply saying they loved me, didn’t FEEL like love. hooks answered that for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great mashup of texts! I think I chose to love several people before my husband, but with him I had no choice! The fun (and work) is in the choosing to maintain and grow that love.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I can see how that would happen. Sometimes, we meet someone and choose an emotion (in spite of other things), but when it’s LOVE love lol, then there is not choice to be made, other than what you described—the maintenance part 😉

      Thank you for this compliment and comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Katherin, I enjoyed this intersectional analysis. Bell Hooks…….she was on more than a few reading lists, back in the day. so far back, I can’t even remember, anymore. The 5 Love Languages is quite fascinating sounding. I’m not familiar with Chapman, though since reading your essay I’ve sourced him a little on wikipedia, etc.. I bet this book is pretty easy to find in the library, maybe I’ll borrow a copy, check it out, for myself. Chapman’s pastoral background does give me pause, as does the fact he’s an older white man. Making room for new voices is important so I tend to set the bar pretty high, part of me is afraid of what I could find. On the subject of love, as I’ve go0tten older, I’ve taken more chances when it comes to love, and especially words of affirmation, especially for certain friends., who I had come to believe were more like family. It has been a profound shift among my adult relationpships that has paid dividends. Other times, other relationships I’ve taken risks and found myself wondering if i’v e miscalculated but with Chapman’s framework I wonder if we were just speaking different languages and there’s a delicate path to follow, for different relationships. i’ve used all of the languages in one way or another, maybe. It’s a complicated tower of babel..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jason!

      Yes, hooks is back on everyone’s list since her passing, I suppose. Someone gifted me the book right as I was in the middle of thinking about love; kismet, I guess.

      So, yeah…Chapman is very male, very white, and very Christian. I have a superpower that you may/may not be surprised to hear about: I am able to read (and talk to others) without even thinking about all of the things. I can sift through words and just read what the intent is/was.

      But I say that because if you can’t do that, then don’t read this lol because again, it’s very male, very white, and very Christian.

      Oh, and I did get my copy from the library. I refused to buy it, mainly because my initial intent was to criticize the whole notion, but I thought it wouldn’t be fair, unless I actually read the book and what he had to say. I was a bit surprised.

      In terms of your question, it could be you were speaking different love languages, or it could be you weren’t speaking a dialect of that love language. For example, I like gifts, but the gifts have to be well-thought out and intentional, because to me, that means you actually know and love me. I had a friend who gave me some workout shorts, just because she knew I worked out, but they weren’t shorts I’d ever wear in a gym, and I told her so. To me, that wasn’t thoughtful at all. On the other hand, my daughters and goddaughter gave me a framed photo of themselves that mirrored a photo shoot I did a couple years ago; the fact that they took the time to meet up, find a photographer, stage a photo shoot, etc. etc. meant a lot to me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Please keep right on being theoretical! I’ve not read either book, but I sure want to now. And I agree, that while we can’t choose to be in love, we do choose how we show that love. Nothing shows it more than caring about how someone else feels, and letting them know it. Deep down, that caring is what we all crave.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! Thank you, Ann. When I first started this blog, I decided it was going to be the opposite of scholarly lol, but I can’t seem to get away from it. It’s in me!

      Yes and yes to showing love by caring about HOW someone else feels…it’s integral to all relationships!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read Love Languages (skipping the overly Christian parts) several years ago and it’s a great framework for understanding myself and others. I’ve watched people shower someone with gifts but if that’s not the receiver’s love language, it’s not having the intended impact. Likewise, I have a dear friend who shows love by doing acts of service which his wife never seemed to acknowledge and his love language is verbal affirmation. You can imagine how that turned out. I’ve added Will’s memoir to my hold shelf at the library, thanks for the recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was hard to read sometimes because it’s so explicitly Christian, but yes…I got a much better understanding of the idea, rather than simply taking the quiz and assuming. What was fascinating to me is that we assume we know what receiving gifts means, for example, but really it can be a range of things, depending on the person.

      I really enjoyed reading Will, and I hope you do, too. It is a memoir, though, and you know how those take a while to get to the point, so just a warning, it’s not overtly about love.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I read “about” Love Languages before getting the book so I did some cherry picking as I read his book because it hadn’t been mentioned that it was religious and I’m not Christian.
        I enjoy memoirs so I’m looking forward to it. Thanks for the insightful post and book suggestions.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I once had a “short” relationship with someone, who did a workshop in HOW TO BECOME A LOVING PARTNER??? She used those learned concepts to overlay her dysfunctional abilities to relate and to express her emotions.
    I am critical of any kind of analysis and theory regarding humanities emotional characteristics and we can witness the confusions those theories have left behind in our theoretically overloaded western civilisations. Since the time man had gained consciousness, there is not such a thing as a disinterested emotional response.
    A lioness may defend her offspring to the death, because all, that she relies on are instinctive (emotional) responses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What in the world??? lol I guess there are con artists all over the place.

      Being critical is important, no matter what we’re discussing, I think. And yes, to the lioness example. There’s not thought or pontification about it. She does what her intuition tells her to.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I was wondering how to relate to your post, Katherin. Sadly, I did not have much intimacy during my 31 year marriage. But love is very applicable for me as a parent. Parental love for me has been very selfless – my children are my everything and sometimes it takes effort to stay connected. Yet, they know I am always there for them and I try hard not expect anything from them. Watching them mature and grow has been a delight for me. But it’s not all roses, as you certainly know. But it does speak to a love that I could never divorce myself from. Also, I am sure losing my first-born son affected the way I feel about my living kids. I appreciate every day they are okay.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Judy! I think you can probably still relate, even if it’s from the opposite point of view. For example, I’m guessing your 31-year marriage may not have had many of the characteristics listed (e.g., care, open and honest communication, respect, affection, etc.).

      I also totally agree with what you’ve said about motherhood and love.

      Although I’ve primarily talked about romantic love here, whenever I discuss relationships, I’m including ALL relationships (which is something bell hooks also talks about). So, love is love. It isn’t different because it’s not romantic, you know 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  7. “Choosing to love or to be loving makes every act intentional” – I quote you on this, I loved it and find it very meaningful. I admire how consciously Will is living and modeling the right aspects of Love with his family and to the world. I remember how much I appreciated discovering Gary Chapman’s book long back. It helped me build within me all that I didn’t have a reference or understanding of. Love is the most messy and misunderstood value in relationships. I too think my marriage is the most transformative ground for me. The choice did come out of a deep instinct and yet a lot after that is a choice renewed on a continual basis. I loved reading your post full of depth, clarity, and wisdom.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Pragalbha ❤

      I think we like the idea of just bumping into one another falling in love or being loving or saying, "I love you," and letting the rest take care of itself, but that's not how any of this works (I don't think). We have to be intentional.

      I agree with everything you've said here, including a "a choice renewed on a continual basis" part. It really is, and it too, requires some intentionality, even if it's just reflecting on yourself and your relationship goals.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This is a brilliant work of analysis to take three books and relate them! I love it! This sentence really jumps out to me, “Choosing to love or to be loving makes every act intentional, not some willy-nilly, out of control situation.” Wow – exposing every act as intentional. That is powerful!!

    Thank you, Kathy, for such a delightful and illuminating post! Happy Valentine’s Day!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. “We can say, “I love you” a million times, but when it comes down to specific actions, are we choosing to be loving toward the person we say we love? The answer is the difference between someone feeling loved as opposed to just hearing words.”

    Amen. Okay, Kathy, you preached on this one. Thank you for sharing this.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Feeling loved is different from hearing the words I love you repeatedly. Yes, it means something, to say the words, but to actually feel it, to me, is different.

    I’m specifically thinking about parent love for teen child. If he’s mad at me and I say I love you, he rejects that and says ‘no you don’t’ because he didn’t get what he wanted. But to still hear the words in circumstances like arguments solidifies the love the parent feels for the child even if the child rejects it at that moment. Love is deeper than words.

    Funny you mention Love Languages. Yesterday was the first time I heard this phrase so I did the test and got a glimpse of what it’s all about.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. EXACTLY! Feeling love is not the same as hearing, “I love you.” For a long time, my father would say, “I love you,” but I never believed him, and one reason is because what he offered as love, didn’t feel like love. It felt like words, if that makes sense.

      I wonder if your son is rejecting the idea that you love him for other reasons, or is it just tied to not getting what he wants?

      I’m encouraging everyone to do more than take the quiz. I thought I understood what Chapman was saying by just taking the quiz, but the book (as patriarchal as it is) gives some great examples of “dialects” of the language.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. What you’ve said is what bell hooks basically says, that if we can invoke love into all we do, then all of our systems would be better.

      I did watch the movie, and I thought Will did a phenomenal job!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting how you described the 3 books and compared them. I enjoyed reading your views on love. Made me think. I’ve been married twice. My 2nd marriage is a “soul mate” relationship. We did love each other almost at 1st sight. We work on our relationship daily, by intentional choice, we keep the love deep, respectful, and caring. We enjoy each other’s company, desiring to spend time together. Love is difficult to describe. It changes over time, and it changes us.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Janet ❤

      I'm glad you're able to relate to the soul mate comment. There aren't a lot of people who understand what I'm talking about, and they equate it to some type of fantasy, which it's not.

      I totally agree that making intentional choices is how you maintain the love between two people, whether romantic, friend, or familial.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. I’m currently on a dating/looking for romantic love sabbatical while I figure some stuff out about myself. This is definitely food for thought. The love languages, I am familiar with—the other stuff, not so much.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I heard something once that resonates: if you don’t love yourself, how can you expect others to love you? This self-love takes practice, I learned…

      Another thing: the relationship you have with yourself is the most important relationship you will ever have.

      It’s diffcult sometimes, during lonely times, but it makes sense to me.

      I thought I’d share. 😊

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I’ve heard this too … and a follow up that brought it to a deeper level is if you can’t love yourself and show yourself love (whatever that means to you) then you’ll have trouble showing others love.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Those sabbaticals are important. Even though I’m married, I go on them from time to time to dig a little deeper and figure out if what I said I wanted 25 years ago, is still what I want today 😉

      I also wholeheartedly stand by the concept of self-love and all of its facets (e.g., therapy, nail salon, dates alone, etc.).

      Have you read the love language book? For me, it added a deeper layer to what I thought I understood them to be.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for the validation—most people think I’m a little crazy. 🤣 I read the love language book a long time ago. It may be worth checking it out again. I’ve done a lot of personality type tests—so it might be interesting to see how it all goes together.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. As I write in my blog, sometimes Love is not a choice. We who were abused and loved our abusers anyway did so because as children, we didn’t know how to stop. I once loved my father and now I have gone no contact. It’s hard because I have 7 half-siblings scattered about the globe and only three of us are no contact while 5 still are flies in his web. It still hurts that they do not understand how much he put me through. It’s strained my sibling relationships. As they say the black sheep is usually the healthiest member of a dysfunctional family. Baa.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rock, I certainly see and understand your point. It’s hard to love someone who abused you, and for sure, abuse is not love; however, I think you’d like reading Will’s book. He came from an abusive household; his father beat his mother, and terrorized the kids.

      The black sheep is usually the one who brings all the issues to light. Sending you some more light so you can keep shining it onto what’s unhealthy and needs to be changed 😉

      Like

  14. Yes to all of this.

    We are not taught to love ourselves first. I don’t know, maybe we fear that it will take too long to find someone to love after that.

    I’ve realized that using the word love is a shortcut to saying what we really feel. Instead of saying “I understand you” and that’s all, we say “I love you”. Or we say “I love you” because we feel obligated after someone says it to us.

    The discussion to say what we really feel, which might be that I don’t understand you or don’t love you at may never be had.

    Unfortunately, we might spend a lifetime with someone based on this “misunderstanding” only to realize that it was fear of not being loved that got us here and they didn’t love us either.

    That’s my two cents adjusted for inflation. 🌹

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I liked this Shirley “We are not taught to love ourselves first. I don’t know, maybe we fear that it will take too long to find someone to love after that.” But I think the real problem isn’t how long it will take to find love, but how hard it will be to find someone who will accept and respect the real you, not try to change you. For women in particular, it’s easier to bend and shape ourselves to fit into a relationship than to be discerning and choose a relationship that fits our self concept.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. We most certainly are not, Shirley! What we are taught to do is depend on others for love, and we are taught to do things FOR love, which oftentimes can result in people pleasing, and we are taught that things that aren’t love (e.g., abuse, codependency, etc.) are love.

      I agree with you about using the word “love.” We haven’t learned that there are other words to use. I wrote about how my stepmother said I loved her simply because I came to help her when she had breast cancer. That wasn’t love; it was care, but we confused these things all the time.

      I completely agree with everything you’ve said. We never even stop to take the time to parse out what these things are or mean, and yep…”spend a lifetime with someone based on this ‘misunderstanding.'”

      Thank you for the $.02!

      Like

  15. Great reflection on love. I look forward to reading Will Smith’s memoir. Sounds very insightful. I liked your description of your own marriage as “instrumental to my self-evolution.” Well said. That rings true for my 22 year marriage too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! Will’s memoir is excellent! A friend of mine is reading the audio version and he says there are clips in there that enhance everything, like from the TV show, etc. A bookstagram person I follow also read the audio…twice, and she swears it’s better that way.

      I’m also glad you can related to the self-evolution comment. To me, that’s part of what love is all about 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. This is so true. One comment that we hold on to FOREVER can change our entire lives and how we perceive things, while they’ve gone on and totally forgotten not only the comment, but also the circumstances surrounding the comment lol

      Liked by 1 person

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