I am a child of the ‘90s.
I will feign not ignorance, but bliss, in having little clue what J.Lo meant by “Love Don’t Cost a Thing.”
I think love is the most expensive thing out there.
Its price is heartbreak.
When we love someone, we know there’s no hanging on to them forever. They will leave, whether “when death do us part”, or when we go down different paths.
The cost of love is losing someone and never seeing their smiling face again.
It is dropping off your child on their first day of school, knowing that it could be the last time you see them.
Love costs a few pennies, at least.
Buddhists teach us that when love is pure, it is detached. That is to say — lived in the present moment, free of desire, free of expectation, and free of suffering. This love is reserved for enlightened beings (top shelf, premium price).
Fast forward through time and myriad definitions for love have been sought and debated.
Tell you the truth, I find semantics quite tedious.
So let’s forget what love should be, and focus on what it is. Because it’s a lot of things.
1. An opportunity to share a life
“If I love you, you can have everything. You can have my time, my devotion, my ass, my money, my family, my dog, my dog’s money, my dog’s time — everything.” - Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat. Pray. Love.
Sometimes, a spiritual connection runs so deep that you find it uncomfortable to draw lines in the sand. So you share your every thought, feeling, and activity with that one human.
Other times, it takes conscious effort. You shed a few skins, learn to share, open up as time passes. You’ve been hurt and trust bears risks.
There are many shades in between, but I know I’m a Sharer. I don’t have a dog, or money, but if I did — you could have my dog’s money.
When I first wrote Liz Gilbert’s lines in my Quote Notepad, I hadn’t yet fallen in love. Yet, I thought to myself, ‘this is me!’ Lo and behold, the prophecy came true — with strings attached.
Gifting your all to someone may not involve spending money, but it involves spending energy.
2. A reason to surpass difficulty
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken” - William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116
Bill likes tempests, that much we can agree on.
But so does love.
True to its name, the fiery passion that provides meaning to life looks forward to an obstacle, just to prove itself immovable. Love does not change when circumstances change.
One of my biggest regrets is speaking the words, “I love you” when I didn’t really mean them. When that short-lived relationship ended, all that was hurt was my ego.
While a word is just a word, the manufacturing of a false reality keeps us from experiencing the actual thing. The reality may be that a relationship is nearing its close.
Later on, the same words erupted from my heart towards a new set of ears. External circumstances were moving rapidly and chaotically. Our love didn’t change. Our decisions did.
Same ending. Less ego.
One may come out alive from a tempest — but they don’t necessarily have a ship.
Prices may go down as well as up and you may not get back the original amount invested.
3. A lesson in disguise
“Being loving does not mean we will not be betrayed. Love helps up face betrayal without losing heart. And it renews our spirit so we can love again.” - bell hooks, All About Love: New Visions
In my moments of wisdom, I shake hands with hindsight and take off my guilt tinted glasses. Thereafter, I can see that every heartbreak served its purpose: healing the ego’s wounds so I could absorb the lessons from the relationship.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had my share of lovers disclaiming that "they were likely to hurt me", and me replying "let’s do it anyway".
Whilst I am happy to discuss my extravagantly romantic plunges with some other occasion, I will say this: yes, I did end up hurt, but that’s not the punchline.
Once healed, it was evident that the relationship, or its end thereof, rekindled my growth as a person. One person taught me who not to pick. Another taught me the basics of nourishing a mature relationship.
Sometimes, it takes a loss to see that enoughness was there along.
4. A memento to others
“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” - Maya Angelou
At the time of writing, this authoress is disenchanted with the practical.
If you utter the word “love”, I bet most people will imagine a couple with 2 babies, probably white, probably heterosexual, probably working their way through a mortgage and full-time jobs, which they probably despise but which are needed to pay said mortgage.
Feel free to debate me later, but the point is this:
We’re conditioned to color within the lines of what love is supposed to look like. Extrapolate that to happiness and fulfillment, if you will.
What if love is the ray of light that hits the painting before reflecting into our retinas?
What if it’s that which we can’t define but which we know is there?
What if, without it, we couldn’t make sense of anything else?
I love this quote from Maya Angelou because it pushes your imagination to your deathbed— when you don’t remember what you’ve accomplished, but who you’ve connected with. And that’s what people will remember about you, too.
It also reminds us that the lives we’ve touched will eventually lose us.
5. A non-linear journey
“In every relationship, in every moment, we teach either love or fear. (…) As we demonstrate love towards others, we learn that we are lovable and we learn how to love more deeply.” - Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love
Love is an intention. A commitment, day after day, to see the light in others and mirror it back to them. This requires generosity and faith — a belief that what goes around comes around.
It also requires wisdom. Cathexis — described by Scott Peck as an emotional investment in someone — is not the same as love. Yet, it is often mistaken for it, even when accompanied by abuse.
Wisdom guides love towards a safe place. Love does not require physical presence, or even words. It is wanting the best for someone and taking appropriate action to support them in their journey.
Sometimes that means spending your life with them. Other times, it means letting them go.
Whatever its manifestation, love requires fuel.
In theory, it doesn’t cost a thing. In practice, it depends on oil prices.
Though the romantic in me revolts, love isn’t always blissful. It is a journey that incorporates grief, lack, and betrayal. It includes its absence. It accepts redefinitions.
It can surface as a non-attached connection with the world, and it can sustain a 50-year monogamous relationship.
It certainly goes beyond the wisdom of five quotes.
I could go on spitting metaphors and 90’s pop songs, but cognitive dissonance begs for reflection.
Our primate brains, evolved as they are, don’t like accepting diverging realities in one go.
Love don’t cost a thing, and yet it may be the most undervalued stock in the market.