Last year, I decided I was going to learn everything there is to know about love. It was almost summer, and the weather was getting warmer every day. After a string of dead-end "things" with guys throughout the previous year, I decided I was going to spend the next year studying love.
I wanted to ensure I'd be so knowledgeable when it came to relationships that I would never feel heartbroken again. It was a good thought, but what really ended up happening is something I could never have predicted. I discovered love cannot be learned, and that it has to be experienced.
In the beginning of my quest, I thought about the kind of person I wanted to love and how the person should love me. I read a lot of break-up poetry. I read books and filled the margins with notes. I wrote a lot about my own faults and how to fix them, convinced I couldn't "reach" love until I did.
But, despite how much I studied, I found I was feeling more alone and less fulfilled with the relationships I had in my life than I ever had before. Not only had I not found love, but my friendships were suffering as well. By thinking so much about love, I forgot to love. I forgot how to give it and how to receive it. I had become really connected with myself and really disconnected with the rest of the world. It felt terrible.
Then one day, I came across a quote by Andrea Gibson, and I realized I had been approaching it all wrong. It said:
Before I die, I want to be somebody's favorite hiding place, the place they can put everything they know they need to survive, every secret, every solitude, every nervous prayer, and be absolutely certain I will keep it safe. I will keep it safe.
That line became my new philosophy about love and relationships. It was like a light went on, and suddenly, I realized that in order to be someone's safe place, you have to let down your walls and invite someone in. Love isn't something you can take crash course in to ensure you'll always succeed and never be hurt or disappointed.
It made all the sense in the world why in the last year, I had accomplished the opposite of what I set out to do. I had kept my heart closed. I had kept it locked away because it hurts when it's broken. But, the result of locking something up is that nothing else can get in.
Sometimes, you have to put down the books, put down the pen and go live. People aren't lists, and love cannot be planned or predicted. Love is a practice, and in order to experience all of its beauty, you have to immerse yourself in it. You have to give yourself over to the learning. You have to risk that it's wrong. You have to risk that it'll hurt.
Andrea's quote will forever be one of my favorite reminders that being a lover and being loved requires vulnerability, something I've mastered behind a screen and hid from in the real world. I spent a year studying how to love, but until I lived every day intentionally experiencing it as a verb instead of studying it as a noun, I hadn't learned a thing.
Now, I find that I see and experience love all around me. Love isn't something that should ever be confined to describing just romantic relationships. In taking down my walls, the most meaningful and valuable friendships have enriched my life beyond anything I could have studied or prepared for.
Allowing myself to learn from experience and be open to the way love comes and goes has made me bolder in the way I live my life and love people. Last year, I viewed love as a destination, when it is a constant presence in our daily lives. It is being open and allowing your heart to grow, to flourish and to bloom.
You'll find you learn so much along the way, and while getting hurt is always a possibility, so is a cosmic love. If you don't want to miss out on that, let down your walls. Give it a try, and I'm sure you'll find love has been there all along.