Baby, don’t hurt me

Bella Hunter, Opinion Columnist

A common question about love today is not “how should I love?” but rather “how should I be loved?” Up until recently, the former was explored in all manners of literary and religious texts. Among them, the Bible stands out as one of the most accessible works for its notion of love being one of the most virtuous and all-encompassing. These texts, and the Bible in particular, were made the moral touchstones of centuries past. Through them, the duty to love others was communally recognized and shared. However, in today’s pull towards self-healing — a reaction to the violence of capitalism no doubt — we share a collective desire to be treated right. This has led us to ask, “How should we, as a society, love in general?” We dwell on the collective pain that is implicated by this question and forget our own responsibility to love others. This problem is both exaggerated and exasperated through the medium of social media.

Social media has rendered self-care a virtue and uncompromising expectations as conditions for love. Not only do we expect that a single partner will meet the rest of our social, emotional and physical needs, but we refuse to “settle” for someone who doesn’t by their mere presence make us happy. 

Unfortunately, when we adopt these terms and conditions, it’s easy to conflate the meaning of “love” with our values in a “relationship.” The consequence? We may harbor an unacknowledged assumption that — at the end of the day — the most beautiful and compelling thing in a relationship is what the other person can do for us. 

“Let go of relationships that no longer serve you”; “I am too full of life to be half loved.” These are the types of quotes pulled from posts on Instagram today. The general sentiment is well-meaning, and these are good things to keep in mind in specific scenarios (such as toxic or abusive ones). Out of context, they can often become orientations from which we act. By contrast, “love unconditionally” used to be an orientation widely accepted, but without it, we are left to focus too much on what others can and should do for us. We are to do this without recognizing the extent to which we have a responsibility to them. 

If, when we interact with our loved ones we are too focused on what they can do for us, we will inevitably be frustrated with them. We’ll primarily concentrate on whether they are living up to our expectations, pick apart their character flaws and fret over if they’re the “right person” for us. If we let this dissatisfaction permeate our hearts, the other person will always feel that they are falling short, and we will feel that there is no fixing the situation. Following dissatisfaction to its logical end, the only thing left to do is leave. 

On the other hand, a perspective of, “how can I love this person?” will always drive us forward. We will always be able to stop fights, let go of self-righteousness and love them for who they are.

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful. … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” (Corinthians 13).