Love in your 20s can be one long, horrible, emotionally devastating journey.
When we find it, we are boastful and happy; when we lose it, we are devastated and full of despair. When we are single, we begrudge others who have it.
It’s not surprising then that we spend more time focusing on how much we hate love instead of celebrating whatever amount of it already exists in our lives. Take Valentine’s Day, for example:
If your Facebook newsfeed looked anything like mine, it was full of anti-Valentine’s Day statuses like, “This holiday is stupid!” and “It sucks to be single!” and “Valentine’s Day is an overrated holiday invented by Hallmark!”
Maybe all of that is true, but it’s more likely that behind all that cynicism there is a widespread, innate desire for love.
We qualify the existence of love in our lives upon some public display of attachment built on wanting, clinging, needing and lusting. None of these are true expressions of love.
Moreover, we believe love is limited to our romantic relationships. We fail to acknowledge that love exists in other aspects of our lives, too.
It exists in our relationships with our family and friends. It exists in our relationships with coworkers. It even exists in our daily interactions with strangers.
It isn't surprising that we maintain such a limited view of love, though. Just like we’ve learned how to tie our shoes and ride bikes, we learned that love will eventually “find” us.
This kind of mentality sets us up for failure because it leaves love to chance. Love is thus confined and limited from flourishing in our lives.
We forget that there are so many ways to love and to be loved in return. So, why not pursue all kinds of love instead of waiting for it to manifest in our lives in the form of romanticism?
But then, what exactly does it mean to pursue love?
To pursue love means to act with intention and purpose. It means to love for the sake of loving, with no expectation of something in return. It means to be vulnerable, which, by the way, I've learned is not synonymous with weakness.
Vulnerability implies having the courage to be yourself and to accept others exactly as they are, where they are in their lives — both physically and mentally.
This is perhaps the biggest challenge we face because it requires authenticity.
Authenticity means we must remove the mask from the person we invented during our college years and start being true to ourselves and to others.
Doing so requires an emotional intimacy most of us aren’t prepared for, but once we take that first step and voice our fears, we can begin building deeper connections.
Vulnerability isn’t as scary as it sounds. We face opportunities to practice being vulnerable every day, like telling someone you like them, admitting you made a mistake at work or asking someone for help.
Vulnerability isn’t just limited to romantic love, either. Many opportunities exist; we just have to decide if we'll take them.
Our fear of vulnerability seems to stem from our fear of rejection and authenticity. Because of this fear, we spend more time hiding the truth than speaking it.
As a result, our relationships suffer and we suffer. But, it’s important to note that even in our difficulties, there are moments of grace.
Being vulnerable doesn’t always mean you’ll get what you want, but our experiences in love — romantic or otherwise — can teach us valuable lessons. Furthermore, it can make us more comfortable in the presence of vulnerability.
Vulnerability really is the safest place to be; there are no pretenses and there is no hiding, just truthfulness and authenticity.
To quote Brené Brown,
"Show me a man who can listen to a woman and not try to fix her problem but rather just listen to her and be there for her, show me a woman who can sit with a man who shares this vulnerability and still love him the way he is, and I'll show you a man and woman who are courageous and have done their work."
While Brown is speaking specifically to romantic love, the premise and underlying lesson is relevant to all of our relationships. The vulnerability we work so hard to avoid is actually the key to having a successful relationship.
So, pursue love; don't wait for it to find you.
Find power in your ability to be vulnerable and practice it in all of your relationships.
The more open and loving you are, the more loveable you will become.