“Love” is a relatively new word in the human vocabulary. The dictionary defines love as “a strong affection for another arising out of kinship.” Some of the words that indicate love are: cherishing, devotion, fondness and tenderness. Love is often wonderfully expressed in poetic form.
When asked to describe the meaning of love, people have a difficult time. With study, I began to understand why. Most people, when talking about love, go into a deeply emotional place. Those who had been loved could easily describe what it felt like. Many could not switch from the feeling state to choose words that express love in a rational way.
For instance, when I love someone, I feel warmth spread throughout my body. As I look into their eyes, I imagined them watching a vast stream of memories flowing by. When I asked my good friend Michael to explain love, he paused and became reflective. His voice tone softened as he used feeling words: “I feel a mix of attraction, affection and admiration for the ones I care for. Love is a special bond, a choice, an availability combined with a deep honesty that is able to endure anything life can throw at you.”
People have told me how important love is to them yet how hard it is to find—and that sheds light on one of love’s mysteries. Love remains elusive until you clarify what it means to you. Each of us must find our own way of discovering this meaning.
I spent time asking family and friends to share their thoughts and feelings about love. I liked my mother’s response to: What is love? “I love different people in different ways and for a variety of reasons. I love them for who they are. Because each person is so distinct, I love each one differently.”
I attended La Salle High School, an all boys school taught by male instructors. Most of my teachers were Christian Brothers, an order committed to spiritual teaching. I liked most of my teachers because they treated me with respect. These men understood me, accepted me and encouraged me. They became models for me of the kind of man I wanted to become.
Many of the threads of virtues I have today originated from the presence of these good teachers. My high school experience was rather unique because every day we had a class on religion. In my senior year, Brother Kenneth asked the class to discuss the subject of love. By the end of the week we came up with the following definition: “Love is wanting what is best for the other person.”
I liked this concept of wanting what is best for the well-being of another. Loving someone means supporting what he or she feels is optimum for themselves. Love is a decision to care for another’s happiness as we would our own. Both the culture we grow up in and our life experiences contribute to how we view love. Our individual experiences with the topic of love help us to define what love means to us.
#2 Kinds of Love
Here is a summary of the kinds of love to guide you. Adapted from Kindred Spirits: The Quest for Love and Friendship.
Family Love – represented by strong emotional bonds with those you consider family.
Puppy Love – being open to new love at any age.
Romantic Love – an intimate relationships where you express your erotic feelings.
Real Love – based on knowing yourself and who the other person is.
Committed Love – requires a high level of maturity and engagement to make agreements that foster happiness and growth.
Unconditional Love – you strive to give yourself constant love regardless of your flaws.
Conditional Love – establishes reasonable conditions concerning how you expect to be treated and accepted for who you are.
Self-Love – requires an intimate knowledge of yourself. The more you know about yourself the more there is to love.
Whole Love – means honoring all of yourself, your strengths and weaknesses.
Conscious Love – a choice to act out of your higher consciousness.
Integrated Love – you equally respect your head and heart ( thoughts and feelings) to guide you.
Balanced Love – wanting what is best for you, me and us.
Kindred Spirit Love – a special friendship where you nurture each other’s self-esteem, encourage their growth and give comfort.
Mutual Love – a reciprocal exchange of the many different forms of love.
EvoLove – a way of loving that is constantly seeking to evolve the human spirit.
Earth Love – first we learn to love ourselves, next each other and then we extend our love to the Earth.
Seven Chakra Love – exchanging love from your energy centers in a manner that is open, balanced and integrated.
Virtuous Love – all virtues are acts of love.
As I began to examine my level of self-esteem there seemed to be many different aspects. I invented this self-assessment tool to help me identify the different areas of myself that I wanted to develop.
These ten qualities of self-esteem lead to a well-rounded sense of self. The sentence after the definition shows how you feel about yourself determines how you perceive others. What is your current level of self-esteem in each of these areas? What can you do to improve? Our friendships are a reflection of our self-love.
#1 Self-Concept is how I think about who I am.
I am special so I am able to acknowledge your uniqueness.
#2 Self-Image is how I feel about how I look.
I look good so I feel you look good too.
#3 Self-Confidence is a realistic belief in my capabilities.
I can do it so I trust you too are capable.
#4 Self-Reliance is the trust in my abilities to solve problems.
I trust my abilities so I trust yours.
#5 Self-Responsibility is my ability to make conscious choices.
I assume responsibility for my choices so I trust you to do the same.
#6 Self-Control is the power to direct my emotions and actions.
I am in charge so I expect you to be in charge.
#7 Self-Respect is a high regard for myself.
I honor who I am so I respect you.
#8 Self-Worth is the sense of value I give myself.
I am valuable so I value you.
#9 Self-Care is the concern for my health and happiness.
I enjoy taking good care of myself so I support you caring for yourself.
#10 Self-Acceptance is the ability to be compassionate toward myself.
I accept who I am so I accept you as you are.
Intimacy refers to knowing and being known at your intrinsic core, your deepest nature. Intimacy can be physical, mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual or any combination of these elements. It is a need common to us all, yet to experience it, we must customize intimacy to each person and situation. The kind of closeness we share with a coworker differs from that with our parents, a lifelong mate, a sibling or a new lover.
When we know we are truly safe in the presence of another, the feeling of closeness emerges. Such connections help us to heal and do our personal growth work. We need intimacy to feel we belong, for it validates our innate feelings.
We can experience intimacy in myriad ways: dancing at a club, singing with a choir, walking in nature, working on a project together, struggling with a crisis or planning an adventure. We can tap into multiple sources of intimate energy with people, places and animals. The frequency of interactions, the length of time spent and the desire to generate closeness all affect the quality of the intimacy.
Our experience of authentic intimacy is so uniquely positive that we wish these moments would last longer and occur more often. It is a desired state of being. Yet no matter how strong our intention is for personal connection may be, our direct experience of intimacy can remain elusive.
As desirable as it is, intimacy is inherently risky because, inevitably, it can hurt to be so open. It is important to know who you can and cannot trust with the inner you. Ultimately, we want to share intimacy with those who make it safe to lower our guard, for they have mastered trustworthiness.
Virtues are the advanced relationship skills needed for intimacy. The interplay of basic virtues such as commitment, empathy, and openness creates the strong base needed for intimacy. Developing the ability to be intimate requires the clearest intention to create a relationship in which nurturing flows, for intimacy is a mutual exchange, a giving of one’s self and a willingness to receive from the other. The virtue of understanding plays a vital role in the unfolding into intimacy.
The reward for developing our virtues is intimacy.
I struggled long to define what intimacy meant to me. Finally I tweaked the syllables of intimacy and I got “in-to-me-see.” Now the key to the meaning is always in front of me.
The deeper your awareness of yourself, the greater capacity you have to love. Intimacy demands more than a glance. It involves discoveries about yourself. In-to-me-“I”-see. The deeper you look within, the greater your ability to be intimate. As counterintuitive as this may seem, getting to know yourself is the greatest reward of intimacy; thus the value of introspection, of spending quality time alone with yourself, is great. Becoming friends with yourself involves gaining an intimate knowledge of who you are.
Your level of self-reflection determines the level of intimacy you can attain with others. The deeper you look into yourself, the more you will want this same level of intimacy with another. It is only when you look inside and discover your own treasures that you can share these gifts with your friends. The more you see into yourself, the more others will want to see into you. Being self-aware gives you the clarity to relate to another’s core, and to offer your own.
How do you define intimacy?
What kinds of intimacy do you seek?
#5 In to Me See poem
I have seen into myself.
My innermost thoughts and feelings have been revealed.
I want you to see who I am, to understand me as well as I do myself.
I want to look into you, really see you, know your longing.
I wish to love you as fully as you love yourself.
Seeing into you, I see myself anew.