If you ask a hundred people what love is, you will probably get a hundred different answers. The reason for that is; love is subjective, it is quite different for each of us and we have different shades of love for all of the people in our lives.
There is that first love that most of us are fortunate enough to know, the love we have for our parents. They are our touchstones, our guides, our protectors. In truth, they are our gods until we are old enough to perceive something bigger. The love we have for our parents shapes and defines us. It is the bedrock and from it all other love flows.
As we grow into little humans, there’s the love we have for our siblings. This love is always present but we hardly ever acknowledge it formally and when we quarrel, as sibling do, it is easy to lose sight of it, but it is always there. There are times, especially when we are younger, that we will utter nonsensical things like “I’m not going to be your brother/sister anymore.” But these times are transient (or should be) and in the end, our siblings are the people we will probably love the longest throughout our lives given that we usually outlive our parents and pass on before our children.
There is that very first love. You know the one. That shy flower, hidden behind a back and presented with a flourish in a schoolyard. That toothy, toothless smiling kind of love we have when we first start to see flashes in others of the qualities we will inevitably be drawn to when we’re older. It is honest, it is simple, it is innocent. It is also the yardstick that the romantics among us will hold all of their future relationships up to.
Adolescent love seems to consume us entirely, lasting for a few, confusing and tumultuous years. It clouds our minds and we take it so seriously as we believe it to be utterly unique, as if no one has ever known this type of love before or ever will again. It is tears. It is laughter. It is hormones. It is practice for the main event. This is also a time where most of us will experience that most cruel form of love, unrequited love, that is all at once everything and nothing. That feeling of being full and empty at the same time. It is longing, it is lonely and it burns in our chests like a lava in an abyss. This is a chapter in some of our lives that we wish was over the very moment it begins.
The love we have for our pets is a simple love. It is quiet, it is kind. It is comforting and altogether one of the most rewarding expressions of love we can have. Throw a ball and you’ll see what I mean.
The love we have for our friends is loyalty, it is familiarity, it is camaraderie. It has no constraints and no complications. It is probably the easiest kind of love which is why we can have more than one friend. If it is done right, it lasts a lifetime.
The love for a soulmate is a mix of everything we know about love to date. All of it rolled into one. When you find it, you know. It is as simple as that. You remember every shade of love you’ve experienced and you feel it for another human being. This person is the one that fills the gaps in our hearts and minds. The one person that we’ll tell all of our secrets to – and everyone else’s. The one person that you want to share everything with and until you do, it’s not entirely real. It is also the one love that changes most over time, that we have to keep up with lest we fall behind.
Then there is the love we have for our children. How does one put this love into words? It transcends everything else. It is the one love we cannot know or understand fully until we actually have children. It is that deep sense of purpose realised, this is why we are all here, a ‘now it all makes complete sense’ kind of love. It actually begins before your children are even a single cell dividing into two. In most cases you plan for children and from the moment you do, they are real to you, you love them. You begin to imagine what they will be like and watch the clock tick away from the moment you find out you are to be a parent through the long months until they arrive. You buy clothes for them, toys for them, books for and about them. You nest for them. You plan and pray and worry about them at every step of their journey in the womb. You have sleepless nights just reading a brief paragraph in a baby book about some random illness that could befall them and find yourself angry at the universe that such a thing even exists. The love you feel for your child growing in their safe womb is so clear and palpable you could sculpt it out of stone with your bare hands.
Then suddenly the day arrives. Today your child will be born and the flood of emotion you feel is second to none. Your heart beats so loudly you feel that doctors and nurses around you may be distracted by the sound.
For those of you without children, imagine now if you will, compressing into a ball, every single emotion you’ve had from the moment you were born. Place that ball of energy squarely in your chest and you’ll have some idea of the feeling of expectation, joy, relief, love and white knuckled terror you have on the day your child is born.
P.S. It never goes away.