I was 18 years old when the lyrics of “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” became more than just words. I’d known the song for years, as good music was never something I had to search for. My favorite music growing up was that of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. As a matter of fact, turn on some Temptations today and it’s a wrap (I love me some Paul Williams and David Ruffin)! But in knowing lyrics, I cannot say I always knew meanings—and I shouldn’t have. These artists and songwriters had lived full lives and poured their deepest emotions into the recordings. As a child, I appreciated the sound and authenticity of such art but had not yet experienced anything to really connect me to many of the songs. I do remember, though, the first time feeling what I perceive Ms. Tina to have felt about this complicated emotion we all call “love.”
Unfortunately—and I do believe it is a misfortune regardless of whatever growth may stem from such experiences—many women endure what we call “heart-break” because we have mistaken love with some other feeling or emotion. It could be lust, curiosity, excitement, attraction and/or a slew of other things. But it is more than likely—at least the first time—not really love (I have thesis length theories about why this happens and how certain things influence our understanding of what love is, but that’s for a later time). The butterflies, the giddiness, the selfishness, the jealousy, the competition, the controlling—these things are not love, but feelings we attribute to love because of their intensity and our inability to differentiate between emotions.
I had given my all (at that time) to preserve what my limited mind and experiences had led me to believe was love. Somewhere along the way of making “love” work, I lost myself. So much so, there are certain behaviors and instances my friends would recall of which I truly have no recollection and some things I (used to) want to forget, forever. But thank God I had a few good people around to check me when I needed to be checked.
A good friend of mine, who is still very special to me till this day called me—and not with a very pleasant tone—and asked me if I loved myself, to which I quickly responded, yes. She stopped me and said “Don’t answer me right now. I want you to really think on what I just asked you, and answer honestly.” Defensively, I responded, “I am being honest.” These next words changed my life—literally. My friend told me (in more words than less—it’s been a while), “Well no one can tell. What you are allowing to happen to yourself shows more of what you think of you than what he does.”
One of the hardest slaps in my face.
I believed her, and at that moment was even frustrated that she would be so harsh. It wasn’t long, though, before I was thanking her for putting my life into perspective for me. It didn’t matter how bad of a person I felt the guy was. It didn’t matter how wrong he had been for a lot of things. Did he have to be that way? No, but he was and that still wasn’t the problem. The problem was that I allowed it. Now, I in no way condone ill-treatment and misbehavior simply because “that’s just how they are.” But I do believe we all have the responsibility of protecting ourselves from being subjected to such situations.
I had been out of my character longer than I really knew. Angry, confused, depressed, doubtful—all feelings that take too much energy and time. I had been a happy and optimistic girl, always looking on the bright side. But I allowed someone into my life whose decisions did not always benefit me, yet I stayed.
Love, the way I had always dreamed it would be, the way my mother raised me to believe it would be was NOT what I had. I don’t know what it was aside from the greatest learning experience at that point in time.
If someone told you that the things you did, the choices you made, the people you allowed in your life screamed, “I hate myself” would that make you change? It made me change. I think about the lyrics of “What’s Love Got To Do With It?” now, and I understand—I also disagree.
When I first made the conscious decision to love myself, I realized that love was much more than a “second-hand emotion,” and “a sweet old-fashioned notion.” It was—it is—a deliberate effort to always do what is best for the overall well-being of the subject at hand. In this case, it was myself. I did need time to figure out just all that entailed, but in doing so, my world was renewed and so was my faith in this “love” I’d always hoped for.
Taking care of and loving myself led me to becoming the woman I needed to be in order for my (now) husband to see and pursue me. Even at the time he found me, I wasn’t completely where I needed to be, but I was able to recognize what actions proved “this is love”. Though it took some time getting used to, it most certainly soothed—and to an extent—erased the memories and scars that had shown me otherwise.
This vulnerability is not one to fear—it actually serves as a dual strength. Being open to love is scary because so many times it is abused and mishandled. But as you grow to see what is really love as opposed to other emotions disguised as love, you allow yourself the opportunity to experience something so rare, and so valuable, it may be hard to believe.
To be “in love” the way I am referencing in this post is to be in a constant state of growth. You are forever learning, forever changing, and forever becoming better than you were the day before. Because love is an action. If you are in a relationship—whether it’s romantic, platonic, work-related, or any other sort—pay attention to the BEHAVIOR of your counterpart. But first examine yourself. Make sure you exhibit the love you desire and watch it return to you. As Teddy P. sang, “Feels so good loving somebody when somebody loves you back.” I couldn’t agree more.