When did you Know?

Let us reflect on a word that seems so ominous, sacred and down right unmentionable.

You must be thinking, what word are you referring to? Would you be able to guess the word if I told you I didn’t hear it directed toward me until I was about fifteen years old? My aunt said it and still I must admit that I didn’t understand this word. Was it because I never heard it before? Or was it because I only heard it shared among people of the opposite sex? I’m sure you have figured it out. But let us go deeper.

The L-word

When did you discover what love really meant? How old were you? Where were you? How did you come to that revelation? Did this revelation connect to a partner, child, religion, or yourself? What contradictions existed in your understanding of what the word means with the reality of how it was manifested?

As a child in the Caribbean, I remember sitting in church with my grandmother and hearing the pastor repeat, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”In my mind, love became something that included sacrifice. So if someone loves you they will be willing to sacrifice something dear to themselves for you? That made some limited sense.

In high school, when I read Romeo and Juliet, again the idea of sacrificing something so dear came up. That seemed grim and unhealthy, to me as a teen, in attempting to figure out this L-word.

At eighteen years old, when I traveled back home for the memorial service for one of my favorite great-uncles, I told my grandmother that I loved her for the first time. She hesitated before she repeated “I love you” back. How mysterious? I thought. I began to wonder, in her childhood among nine siblings, how many times did my great-grandmother told her that she loved her? What about her dad – my great grandfather, how many times did he tell his children that he loved them?

The Mystery

When I first was told “I love you” by my boyfriend at seventeen years old, I thought that it was the most magical thing ever. Me, still not quite understanding the meaning of what it means to “love” someone, felt connected to this person when ever he said it and in turn when I repeated it. He celebrated my victories, ensured my safety, and he shared his authentic self with me without being pushed or primed. Sounds nice, but was that love?

When things started to change, “love” became a thing said as a place holder in tandem with issues we faced. I can only guess now, that the responsibilities of being an adult and being a man caused him to behave in ways that shocked me and made me further question this “L-word.” I was trapped mentally and physically in our own apartment because I became fearful of him. Needless to say, I fled and quickly ended up in a similar situation that lasted ten years.

The Investigation

It was the initiation of a pending divorce that triggered my research into this seemingly mysterious word. When I stated that I needed to leave for the safety of our children, his response was, “I can not live without you and I would kill myself if you leave.” Hearing that made me delay the divorce.

If someone sacrifice their life for you, does that mean that they love you? Or, does it mean that they are mentally unstable? Why is it that love is reserved for romance? How is it that someone who says they “love” you can harm you? How is dis-line of our Black and Brown children connected to love. Does spanking your child and indication that you love them?

This investigation became a rude awakening. Bell Hooks quotes Diane Ackerman in her book, All About Love New Visions, “as a society we are embarrassed by love. We treat it as if it were an obscenity. We reluctantly admit it. Even saying the word makes us stumble and blush . . . Without a supple vocabulary, we can’t even talk or think about it directly.”


Though reading this book I was able to discover the definition of the “L-word.” It made sense and I was no longer afraid to say the word around people in my life who I truly loved. In turn, I acknowledged that the reason I was so reluctant to say I love you was because I lacked understanding of the word and love for myself.

Moreover, how can I see the awesomeness in you when I can’t see it in me?

I am still on the self-love journey and I am learning how to love myself honestly and without apology. In the absence of the core definition of love it fostered my inability to make better choices. This is the point of life: you live, you learn, you forgive yourself and you make better decisions next time around.

When we are unable to call a thing a thing without understanding it in its simplest form we misconstrue and misinterpret it. Bell Hooks argues that, “To truly love we must learn to mix various ingredients — care, affection, recognition, respect, commitment, and trust, as well as honest and open communication. Learning faulty definitions of love when we are quite young makes it difficult to be loving as we grow older.”

I am going pause here and allow us to sit with that quote for a few minutes.

Yes, love is a verb. It can be expressed in any human connection. The experience of “genuine love is a combination of care, commitment, trust, knowledge, responsibility, and respect.” This definition is not muddled with death, mental instability, lust, sacrifice or pain. It is clear and it embodies all of the attribute which sustains love toward ourselves, others and our community.

How does this definition mesh with or change your belief about your understanding of the word love? Share your thoughts by commenting!

To read more about Bell Hooks or to pick up a copy of All About Love: New Visions click the hyperlink. It is one of those books that has the ability to transform your life. It did that for me!

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