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.