The title question is one that I saw come across my screen the other day and, in my usual fashion, I replied snarkily.
“You know it’s love when you start giving up stuff you really like to see them happy.”
When I posted news of my engagement on the blog, a reader asked me what I meant by the following:
I know myself. The old Erika would’ve made a man like my current fiancé take off running in the opposite direction. I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate him for who he is if I were the old me.Excerpted from Not-So-Big Love: When Losing Weight Turns Into A Marriage Proposal | A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss
and really, it’s easy. Sort of.
My weight problems were a result of an emotional problem I had. Love is an emotion, a volatile one, at that. If I couldn’t handle my emotions properly and believed that the answer to all of my troubles could be found in the bottom of a container of Blue Bell, please believe that my lack of communication and problem solving skills would affect any relationships I’d engage in. Please believe I’d not be able to identify when a man actually loved me because I didn’t know what love looked like. I didn’t know what it felt like. I didn’t know how to identify it. And because I didn’t know how to identify love or the feelings it brings out of a person, it affected the love I gave and how I showed affection. It affected a lot. I just wasn’t a pretty picture.
It doesn’t sound like someone that a person who desires marriage would be interested in for anything long term. Someone emotionally stunted? Yeah, not so much.
When I talked about loving myself before, I wrote that I looked at how I loved my child – what I would sacrifice for her happiness, what I would struggle to acquire for her, what I wanted to ensure she would always have mentally as well as physically – and I wondered why I didn’t love myself the same way. It was through learning that process of giving love to myself in a very deliberate fashion that I learned what it was like to love someone. I mean, my daughter? I’d never even questioned my love for her. I’d never questioned what it felt like to love her. I’d never studied how hard I work to make her happy. I’d never questioned why I do the things I do for her. But turning that love back onto myself? There lied the challenge.
A combination of love and faith in that love got me to where I am, now. The things I’ve given up for Mini-me, the sacrifices I’ve made for her and the faith I had in the fact that I was doing the right thing all paid off, because those sacrifices are beginning to pay off for me in the end. Learning to sacrifice for myself? Win. Learning what it looks like to sacrifice, and see that sacrifice pay off for the recipient? Double win. Having someone in my life who is attracted to my ability to love and commit and sacrifice? That’s everything.
Can you imagine pouring everything you’ve got into someone who can’t give it back? Can you imagine displaying a willingness to give up everything for a person, and they not give in the same way? To value someone that highly, and know you aren’t seen worthy of the same? You’d leave, and rightfully so.
Loving myself requires effort. I have to show it every day. In the face of opportunities that might feel much more rewarding (like, say, binge eating), I have to make the hard choice out of love. I did it every day for my daughter, I learned to do it for myself and now, with a third addition to my household, he’s someone else I do it for.
In the book The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck once wrote that we apply meanings and feelings to love that don’t, actually, belong there… that once we realize that love is not essentially romantic and not, essentially, a feeling, we get to the point where we realize that love is an investment that requires work and effort to grow. It’s foregoing instant gratification for the pursuit of a higher goal, which is – more often than not – some kind of growth. While Peck was speaking spcifically to the growth of another individual, it’d be years after I first read the book that I realized it could apply to the growth of your own self, as well.
I do what I need to do for me. I know I’m beating an emotional eating habit. I turn down the things that trigger it. I don’t allow certain things in my house. I don’t give myself the chance to make excuses. I make the hard decisions for me because I know that I’m not ready to find out whether I’m ready. I am on an active path of loving myself, and I feel the benefits of such. It’s how I give, and it’s changed how I love. I’m more free, and I’m more vulnerable, and I’m happy.
I know not everyone will be able to relate to that, and while there are people who don’t care to read me talking about love all the time… don’t worry. I don’t care to blog about it all the time, either. However, because I talk about body image, compassion and learning to love oneself… and because my view of “love” is all-encompassing, I think it makes sense to mention here.
Soooooo, as snarky as I was being, I was actually kind of truthful. “You know it’s love when you start giving up stuff you really like to see them happy.” And just like your body thanks you and shows you, in return, the benefits of that kind of love by loving you back the same way? I’ve learned that pouring that kind of love into other human beings causes the exact same effect. It’s a powerful cycle, and can only make life better.