To understand love you also have to have a clear idea of what it is not. I have had plenty of experience at that.
A friend once said to me, many decades ago now, that each soul has a mate somewhere in the world and they are always searching to find each other. Neither can rest until they do meet, and sometimes it takes many lifetimes.
I found my soulmate in this lifetime. I think I knew him before because he felt so familiar to me when we met and there was no 'falling in love' heady romantic mixture, just a quiet sense of knowing and belonging that neither of us has questioned since. It was so very different to anything or anyone else I have ever grown close to in any other way.
The journey to get here took many turns but included some of the following mistakes:
Thinking that my desperation, when meeting someone else’s desperation, meant we were destined to be together- not a good recipe for a relationship and not love.
Thinking that someone who found me attractive, either sexually or socially, or in some personal way, and had expectations of me, would be a good friend / partner etc. This is not a relationship on any level that would feed me but just based on their need to glean whatever they could from me until I ran out or said 'no more' to them. This is a typical narcissistic pattern of relationship one shuld steer clear of but they are so very seductive in the early stages.
Being talked to as if I was someone special in some way and thinking that someone who found me amazing would not let me down. But this meant they were putting me on a pedestal and falling off pedestals is a long drop. It is also a form of imprisonment, not for my benefit or gain at all, not amutual equal relationship.
Thinking that someone who wanted me as a status in some way because of my looks or being interesting company or something that they could gain from me, but rarely had that much to give in return, when the chips were down or when I again failed to deliver.
Thinking that being needed would make someone appreciate me and return the favour. This never worked since all I found was that they took until I ran out and then they dropped, judged or left or even in some cases ridiculed me for not being a bottomless resource for their needs only.
Finding that people are attracted to you, befriend you and then simply want to compete with you to show that they are somehow better than you. SO much so that you are in almost constant conflict and combative mode and rarely able to give or receive with any generosity and this other will use your down moments to massage their own superiority.
People who find my slightly wacky ways as being of passable value as a class clown, the royal courtly fool, not to be valued a such, but just occasionally be amused by.
There are some variations along these themes of so called friendship or love, and I am sure many more stories to tell. Of course do remember that I was also very needy and hollow inside, so by the laws of energy attraction this is what I attracted towards me until I learned to change that inner energy. I am not judging anyone here, just stating lessons learned along the way
I learned that loving your self means investing in yourself, your time and effort to heal and change, to turn negative energy into loving energy. I have taken a long journey into the discovery of what love is and I have found the following:
It takes effort and humility, openness and willingness to change and adapt to each other. No one is already 'there'.
It takes acceptance of the whole person, recognition that we are each a process rather than anything fixed, that we all evolve even if we don’t recognise it or try not to, and that this is the most crucial process in living a meaningful life together.
There is great joy in the mutual development and the discovery of who we might each become.
For some this seems threatening. They see it as (if you change I can’t control you any more, get what I want from you any more, where do I stand with you now?) and ( if I need to change you don't really love me then, do you?).
But real changes always occur as part of life.
Are you the same person you were five or ten years ago? Changing and evolving emotionally or spiritually is an adventure to find out ‘who’ the other will be when the transformation unfolds, and that person will be a whole new adventure to learn about and live with. You never lose you basic self, but you reveal more of that person, and become the best version of yourself that is possible.
It is what keeps a relationship new and fresh every day. It stops us becoming complacent and routine. It keeps that relationship or friendship alive and vibrant no matter how long you have been together.
It takes courage to stay strong and be yourself whilst still being able to negotiate your way through the relationship or friendship.
Love is fearless and brave and courageous and will stand firm in the face of cruelty and unkindness. It will fight with you, not against you. It will be there if you fall or fail or feel utterly bereft and distraught and broken. It will say 'no' when it has to and say 'yes' the rest of the time.
Love is gentle and kind and compassionate when we feel weak and vulnerable and lost, it does not try to take over or take advantage but just creates a holding space while you regain equilibrium.
Love is wise and chooses not to be divided against others, but instead wishes to find harmony whilst not imposing on others.
Love seeks to give and nurture without taking credit for or taking away the achievements of the other.
Love is speaking out and taking risks with a friend or relationship when you think it should be said, even when they do not want to hear it, even when they move away from you as a result. You loved them more than you feared losing them and you will still be there if they walk away and then fall and turn to you once more. This especially applies to parental love but also to deep personal relationships.
Love means putting your needs second at least to the person you love. In a good balanced relationship this will work so well because they will do the same thing for you, so you are both blessed with being able to give your whole hearted love and kindness and know you will receive in equal measure. One you have learned the joy and liberating experience of giving your all to someone, to others even, then you will know a deep, deep loving joy.
Love means understanding the difference between needs and wants and learning to manage them yourself so that what the other gives to you is all bonus, excess. Your cup runneth over.
I like to think that my practice of mindfulness, which is pretty constant and daily, fills me up to the top with wellbeing and contentment so that I do not feel the need to hold on to anything inside myself, to keep anything back for myself, I am already overflowing and have plenty to share. So unless I am rejected or I feel the energy is not healthy as in above, then I am open and flowing in your direction. Love feeds me and nourishes and nurtures me so that I am available to others when they need me. For me that is what love means and what it feel like to love and be loved.