I like to think that most of my relationships are based on the unspoken agreement that whatever I’d do for the person, they’d do for me. Although I don’t meticulously calculate what every act is going to get me in return, I expect to see compensation and, in some cases, retaliation to some extent. This assumption is usually correct, and even when it’s not, I shrug it off, because life can’t always consist of perfect balances. However, when it comes to love, especially the romantic kind, society takes on a much harsher tone. Love is perceived as having an inherently reciprocal nature, and thus, is shamed and considered “less than” when it’s something that’s done on a more individual level. I’d like to argue that the love you do on your own, without hoping for anything in return, can be the most powerful kind of love that’s out there—and that the power of love, really, stems more from what you put into it than what you get.
Popular movies, old literature, songs, and family stories have all created this irrefutable claim that love is a game of two. Sure, there are some examples here and there that settle with admiring unrequited love, such as Mark in “Love Actually”, who seriously likes his best friend’s new bride, but for the most part, love is only seen as great when it’s fulfilled. We root for characters like Elizabeth and Darcy in “Pride and Prejudice” or Bella and Edward in “Twilight” to get together despite all odds, and sigh with relief when they do, as if something that was tragically incomplete has just been righted. Sure, having a crush is fun, but how would that measure up to an actual relationship, with dates, anniversaries, and PDA? This societal norm heavily implies that love, when done on one’s own, is not “the real deal.”
I want to begin refuting this idea by acknowledging that love gives people the ability to accomplish crazy things. There are so many examples of this scattered throughout history, such as King Edward VIII giving up the throne of England and Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan building the world-famous Taj Mahal in the name of love. In the fictional realm, too, characters constantly throw away their lives for the sake of their hearts, like Romeo and Juliet in their fatal misunderstanding, or Harry Potter’s mother, Lily, when faced with the Killing Curse. It’s evident from these stories that love transforms people into souls capable of truly impressive feats.
Although love in nearly all of these situations is a mutual sentiment, I strongly believe that it was less the benefits that the people were gaining that prompted them to commit these acts, but rather, the deeply personal emotions that they felt. In the examples above, the people were not asked by their significant others or sweethearts to go to those lengths. They weren’t reaping any profits, and they weren’t presented with the same generosity by the people whom they helped. In fact, in certain cases, they were never repaid—in Harry Potter’s case, his mother didn’t even live to feel her son’s love for her, but she still saved him without a second thought. These people were not carrying out these actions because of outside factors, but due to the sheer strength of their feelings. They were compelled by the love they felt—not the love they accepted, or the love they shared. Maybe it hasn’t struck you yet, but that sounds pretty profound to me: the fact that you love essentially on your own, and acquire all sorts of abilities thanks to it.
Of course, I want to say that I know what it’s like to be loved, and sometimes, that can feel so much better than sitting around and, for lack of a better word, pining. I also agree that the best-case scenario is having your love reflected back to you, and knowing that you have that mutual bond. But I believe that simply because your love looks a bit different from the deep-rooted image of two intertwined hands, doesn’t mean it’s any less qualified in its sincerity. After all, it’s incredible that even in those miserable instances where the people you love hopelessly don’t love you back, you’d still be open to performing grand, wild, and possibly very unsafe gestures just to make them smile.
Love is great, but in our modern-day depiction of it as a team effort, we overlook the fact that it begins with one person. The emphasis on the paired-up type of love is often justified, but it shouldn’t detract from the authenticity of love as an individual act. So, even though Valentine’s Day this year is in the books and we’re still stuck in the middle of this long, dreary winter, I encourage you to feel powerful in your love starting today—and by that, I mean the love you feel for those around you. Because your happiness doesn’t have to come simply from the love you receive, but instead, from the love you practice.