“Being loved deeply gives you strength; loving deeply gives you courage.” – Lao Tzu
Love is not a word thrown around much by people my age. Sure, we will readily spout that we love our friends, our family, ice cream, that television show or band, etc. But seldom do we millennials reference the deep, true love that characterizes some of the most beloved of fiction. Love, especially in college, seems to be a dying art. Although I am sure there are more like me who dream of being wooed, who believe that romance with the chase, the manners, and the sweet ending can exist. Then again, I’ve always been a dreamer with highly romanticized notions of what life is like. It seems that many more people are searching for more temporary relationships.
In college the hookup scenes are legendary. Sex researcher Kristin Mark of the University of Kentucky explains, “[students] talk about it in the context of being too busy now to maintain a relationship or not wanting to make a relationship a priority at this stage in their life.” Instead of love letters and phone calls we have parties and tinder. We have drunken nights, meaningless encounters, all the “fun” without emotional baggage.
Let me tell you a story that epitomizes why we all aspire to find great love, but are so hesitant to begin the journey. We all know a friend or family member who has this ideal, coveted relationship. For me, it has always been my Aunt Carol and Uncle Mark. Mark was the best friend of a previous boyfriend of Carol’s. It wasn’t until the summer after graduation that they began dating. Like all great things, the summer ended too quickly and each went their separate ways. Carol left for nursing school and Mark for Union College.
Sometime between then and when I was adopted, the two got back together and fell madly in love. They made each other laugh and think—each enriched the other. Their lives grew symbiotically, intertwining beautifully like a twisted tree, never to be separated once they found each other. I loved visiting their house because it always entailed being enveloped in their sphere of happiness.
The memories I have are fleeting for I was only eight when Mark was diagnosed with bladder cancer. For me, it was a series of chaotic events and heightened emotions. Knowing only that something was bad, that Mark was sleeping downstairs, that Mark needed special treatment, that Mark was gone. It was only after all this that I understood how truly special their relationship was.
It was very difficult for the rest of my family to see Carol in such pain. Suffocating grief characterized many of the interactions with her for a long time. Even years after Mark’s death, the mention of his name brought up a choked silence and tears. Carol and Mark had matching pins, a heart with wings, something that Carol still wears today. It was a love so deep that dating again was never even a question. Mark was the one, the only one for her.
What is it exactly that makes us so afraid of becoming emotionally attached? Why does true, deep love have to be such a rarity? Loving to that extent takes strength. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, a trait that underlies the most authentic and meaningful of human connections. Brenè Brown has done extensive work with this topic, listening to countless anecdotes and concluding that, “vulnerability is the core of shame and fear and our struggle for worthiness, but it appears that it’s also the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love.”
She speaks about how we, as a society, try to numb vulnerability, or perfect ourselves and those around us. We avoid confronting our shame and choose not to deal with such insecurities. Yet, to find this more profound, true love, like that of Carol and Mark, loving with our whole hearts, ignoring our inner fear of being unworthy or inadequate, is essential. The kind of love we crave goes beyond mere approval. It is the acceptance of us by another, not for who we are or what we do. It has no conditions, cannot be earned or proven, it simply is.
Eleanor Roosevelt preached doing one thing everyday that scares you. Being vulnerable is frightening, but let us accept ourselves and acknowledge “to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.” If daily we reveal our true selves, good and bad, confident and insecure, to one another, surely we will be able to make more meaningful connections and perhaps even find this elusive thing called love.
Kerner, Ian. “Young Adults and a Hookup Culture.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 14 July 2014.
Paul, Sheryl. “If It’s Conditional, It’s Not Love.” The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 09 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 July 2014.