Below is an adapted version of what I spoke on at the inaugural ‘A Conversation About Womanhood’ event, envisioned and founded by my best friend and visionary Seun Awolowo. To respect privacy (some stories are not just mine to be told), some details have been edited and condensed. After I finished speaking, one of the beautiful women in attendance suggested I write-up the speech on my blog, so here it is, a typed-up version of my notes:
“I want to start with a disclaimer: obviously I am a student of life just like everyone else hearing these words, I am no professed ‘expert’ on love or relationships (lol), so these words are very much delivered in a ‘if my journey could teach you anything’ spirit. This word Seun entrusted me with and asked me to speak on, love, is huge, and therefore in the next few minutes it’s impossible to say everything I would want to on the topic, so instead I’m distilling what has been put on my heart to share as pertinent in this specific environment.
What I realised when contemplating this word was that really, at our cores, we are motivated by two things as human beings—love or fear. There are nuances to each of these motivators, but if we strip back the layers, revealed will be one of the two in every decision we make and every choice that we have. To frame everything I’m about to say, I wanted to share words from scripture that Seun actually shared with some of us girls before we attended Colour Conference last year, they seem apt as a preface:
To Start All Over Again
“And now, here’s what I’m going to do:
I’m going to start all over again.
I’m taking her back out into the wilderness
where we had our first date, and I’ll court her.
I’ll give her bouquets of roses.
I’ll turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope.
She’ll respond like she did as a young girl,
those days when she was fresh out of Egypt. ~
Hosea 2:14-15 (emphasis added)
What I love about these verses is that they show that God always intends love to be romantic, romance is not solely reserved for the realm of ‘significant-other’ relationships, you can have romance in your friendships, your familial relationships, in your relationship with God. He intended romance for us: the giving of reverent attention, extra care, taking us somewhere out of the ordinary to revive our relationship, so that we can start all over again.
First dates, I love that reference, I’m going to draw more on that later on; to return to the place where we first met, and the feeling of newness, anticipation and a blank slate that accompanies that. I also want to briefly touch upon the fact that God gets what it is like to be in ‘Heartbreak Valley’ and he will meet us there, in fact, as Psalm 34:18 promises, he will be closer to us than ever before, as he is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. I can testify to this first hand. Anyway, all this to say, let’s reframe what we think of as romantic love and not separate it from any relationship we have.
Tell us your story: what does this word mean to you?
I remember learning that before the age of 7, science has proven that we, as children, have developed a blueprint for how we will think about the world and relationships which we will view through for the rest of our lives. I dug deeper into this and discovered UNICEF’s study which shows that our brain at the age of 3 years old is actually twice as active as it will ever be when we are adults, that blew my mind. The architecture of our thinking and the blueprint for how we understand relationships and love is formed at such an early stage of our lives, our earthly pattern can be perverted, and though I firmly believe in the promise of Romans 12:2—that we can be transformed by the daily renewing of our minds—that takes active and conscious work, otherwise we can remain in the patterns of our formative years for the rest of our lives, and sometimes those patterns are extremely negative.
I want you to think quietly for a moment, close your eyes if you need to, and think back to your first experiences of love. When did you first feel loved, when did you initially comprehend what love was? What it felt like to give it? What it felt like to receive? When I did this, I quickly realised that love was not verbalised in my household growing up, it’s a pretty common cultural thread in Chinese upbringings—you don’t tell your children “I love you”—you show them. Love was enacted for me, it was felt and shown through food, pride, acts of service. It was also not particularly physical in my household, we weren’t super tactile with our parents. My early truths about love were therefore: love is enactment, love is sacrifice, love is so much more than a feeling, love is unconditional and beyond mere emotion. I am grateful to have had this as my initial blueprint for love.
It’s interesting to me as well, that though I love words, the gravity of love felt, love enacted, was beyond them. In fact, speaking of language, one thing I’ve realised in the years since my mother’s passing, which, perhaps by virtue of being mixed race, seems to come up in even the most innocuous conversations on almost a daily basis: “where are you from?”, “where do your parents live?” etc. I always find it slightly awkward to answer these questions (for the listener, not for myself, as people often find it difficult to talk about death, particularly in a small-talk context) as it is revealing of bigger truths through the use of different tenses for both parents, present for one and past for the other. Sometimes the listener picks up on this, sometimes they don’t, but even my mouth forming those ‘was’ versus ‘is’ still feels subtly telling of a much deeper truth than the average stranger is prepared for. The one verb I have realised I never have to say in the past tense in reference to my mother though, is love. I love her, she loves me, love is the only thing that outlasts us, it is the only verb that we can always say in the present.
Of course, I couldn’t speak on this topic without talking about romantic love. It is the area of love which vastly impacts our everyday lives and changes who we are as people. One of my most hated phrases in regards to romantic love is “we fell out of love”. No, no, NO— that’s fake news right there— there is no such thing as falling out of love, it is an active choice. Lust and infatuation can be fleeting and they can be hella powerful, but real love is not something we merely fall into and therefore we cannot haphazardly ‘fall out’ of it. It is a choice, there is a moment, conscious or subconscious when we decide to love a person, the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of gaining intimacy and deep knowledge of a person can follow that and your momentary feelings of affection towards someone can waver, but when you choose to love someone for who they are, their inherent being, it goes beyond that to enacting love on the daily, weekly, monthly, year in and year out.
I currently have one close friend who is married, and having spoken to her before I spoke on this subject, her insights crystallised everything for me. She verbalised why romantic love is so important and so incredibly powerful and significant in our lives. It’s probably the only type of relationship in your life where the conjoining of all three aspects of our being are fully engaged: the physical, the emotional and the spiritual. Most other relationships in our life will have two of the three, some of them maybe only one, but it’s only really in an S.O context that all three are fully realised, or on their way to being so. But what I want to make clear is that my realisation over time has been that love is not different in different contexts, it is expressed in different ways but the core values of what love is and its essence are very much the same.
What has your journey of discovering your feminine power in relation to this word been like?
Funnily enough I’ve always had a lot more male energy in my home life than female, I grew up with three brothers and a father, so my mum and I were the only feminine forces in our home. I have definitely found in the years since her passing that I became more of an emotional conduit for the men in my life, it is something that is partially conditioned by society’s perception of masculinity (which is definitely shifting for the better but still very much in-progress) but I think as much as this can be a burden and I have learnt in recent years to draw my emotional, mental and psychological boundaries when it comes to pouring out of myself (to the point of being empty)—we can encourage the ultimate strength of vulnerability in the men in our lives in a positive and productive way, we can encourage them to talk to each other about real and deep and necessary things rather than just to women. Emotional labour is not just ours to carry, but maybe in this moment of cultural change, ours is still the model they are following for now.
What do you know now about this word and yourself that you didn’t know in your teens?
A few words to my younger self on love: love isn’t tortuous baby girl, it isn’t melodramatic (it may be beautifully dramatic at times, but there’s a clear difference), love isn’t toxic. If what you’re experiencing is any of the above, it most definitely isn’t love, PSA for both parties: get out while you can! Also, though love is self-sacrificial, it is NOT self-obliteration. I really hope you see the difference and know where to draw the line. Love is synonymous with respect, and a good relationship is the ultimate collaboration. Not only are the best relationships built on mutual respect, but they are corner-stoned by self-respect. Don’t leave your self-respect at the door, again, there’s a key difference between self-respect and pride. One is still loving, the other is putting your ego above your own needs and what you actually want to ascertain in a situation. Sometimes you need to step back and self-evaluate, or do so with someone who knows you better than you know yourself. I came to realise that in relationships we too often place so much value on love and not an equal or greater amount on respect. It takes love and respect in equal measures to have a successful, healthy relationship. Toxicity breeds when respect leaves the room and one is clinging to your notion of love sole. A significant relationship in my early twenties helped me to realise the beauty and the key of having respect and friendship as an integral foundation for love. Even if circumstances lead to the breakdown of a romantic relationship, mutual respect always remains and will allow you to hold love for that person despite a change in your relationship status.
What scriptures have encouraged you or brought light to your sense of self in relation to this word?
I can’t speak about love without interpolating what the Bible has to say on it, what is commonly referred to, even in secular society, as “the golden rule” is a direct quote of what Jesus said and a clear definition of love as enactment:
““Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like it, “you shall love your neighbour as yourself [that is, unselfishly seek the best or higher good for others].’ The whole Law and the [writings of the] Prophets depend on these two commandments.”” Matthew 22:37-40 Amplified translation
These verses honestly floor me. They answer every question about legalism, judgment and condemnation that is often associated with religion, when Jesus says that the law and the writings of the prophets (essentially everything within the Old Testament, which he directly quotes from Deuteronomy, also a part of the Torah) hangs upon the commandment he gives, and ties the New Testament with the Old by associating the first commandment issued to the Israelites with the final one he issues during his time on earth. The explanation of love given here is so counterintuitive, the unselfish seeking of the best or higher good for others above ourselves, but not forgetting that we are supposed to love ourselves in this way as well, as this is how God loves us. I love that though self-love can seem very new age, as can vision boards and manifestation, these concepts are all within the ancient scriptures and texts, nothing is new under the sun. e.g. ‘A Course In Miracles’ is actually based on biblical scriptures.
Following on from the above, this verse sums up what I believe to be the definition and embodiment true love: ‘Love makes it impossible to harm another, so love fulfills all that the law requires.’ Romans 13:10-12 The Passion Translation. Obviously, oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13 defines love in terms of actions and is such a beautiful and definitive map of how to love and what love looks like in its tangibility. I’ve included it below for those who would like to read it afresh:
‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NIV)
What is a healthy truth we need to remember about this word?
To finish, I just want to leave you with the lessons I have learnt about love through personal experience and revelation: it is mysterious but it isn’t illusory, elusive or intangible. Mystery has to do with allure and the ongoing sense of revelation that you have in discovering the many layers of someone’s depth and breadth, that continues to change over time. Love is most definitely tangible and in reality it can be seen. It is not fickle, it is not insecure. Everyone has love languages, and if you take the time to learn those of your friends, family et al. your relationships with them will become infinitely easier to navigate in both how they express and how you show love to them, e.g if theirs is words the way they talk to you (not just in what they say but tone, method and consistency) is an expression of lack thereof of love, if it’s time, they will prioritise and make time for you.
When someone shows you who they are, believe them. It can be tough to swallow this truth, as sometimes we have vision for who someone can be/see their potential, but it isn’t our place to necessarily be with them on that journey. Remember, love is sacrificial, but it’s not self-obliterating.
Two last slices of learned wisdom to leave you with, firstly a quote from my fave, Bobbie Houston:
“May love be the last great act to shock the world”.
And finally, these words from a previous blog post:
Love isn’t blind. Love is intelligent, love is considered. Love is so much more than a feeling. Love is synonymous with respect. Love is an enactment. Love is tenacious. Love is a moment-by-moment choice. Love is in the doing as much as it is in the being.”
Always in love,
Feature image: Wefie snapped in the English countryside, July 2018 (spot the sibling)