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Everything I learned about love growing up was wrong.
You know, the kind of stuff Ted says on How I Met Your Mother every time yet another ex calls him out on his insane obsession with Robin:
“That’s more than crazy. I don’t think there’s a word for what that is!”
“Actually, there is a word for that. It’s love. I’m in love with her, okay? If you’re looking for the word that means caring about someone beyond all rationality and wanting them to have everything they want, no matter how much it destroys you, it’s love!
And when you love someone, you just, you…you don’t stop. Ever. Even when people roll their eyes or call you crazy. Even then. Especially then. You just — you don’t give up, because if I could give up… If I could just, you know, take the whole world’s advice and, and, move on and find someone else, that wouldn’t be love.
That would be…that would be some other, disposable thing that is not worth fighting for. But that is not what this is.”
I love that show, but the one thing I’m more heartbroken about than the fact that it ended is that it spreads ill-advised definitions of love like this one. If you’ve heard it often enough, it takes a long time to unravel all that nonsense.
The ancient philosophy of Stoicism is, at its core, about a single skill: learning to recognize what’s in your control and what’s not. And while the Stoics weren’t exactly known for their romantic insights, a similar dichotomy torpedoes our modern understanding of love.
We’re so intent on seeking it outside ourselves, on finding the noun — the feeling — in another person, that we forget it’s the verb we control. The action. The choice. Most of all, we forget that love starts with loving ourselves.
It requires no one’s presence but our own.
Love is rolling out of bed after hitting snooze seven times, yawning, scratching your head, and saying: “Okay, how can I win this day?”
Love is looking in the mirror and not mentally attacking what you see.
Love is dressing not the way you hope will impress people or whatever you feel like, but dressing the way you need to dress to be your best self today.
Love is greeting people on your way to work, even if you’re not looking forward to the first task you have to take care of once you arrive there.
Love is pouring so much of yourself into something you make that the thing itself becomes as vulnerable as you are worried that it’ll get shot down.
Love is releasing that thing and hoping it’ll fly but not kicking yourself if it doesn’t, because it’s still a thing, not you.
Love is tweeting a joke at your own expense because you can take it while the person who needs to read it the most can’t.
Love is using social media to highlight others, not yourself.
Love is sending the last message in a chat not to check the box or brag about it, but because you want the person on the other end to feel cared for.
Love is opening an empty file at 10:35 PM, long after you know that day has come and gone, and staring at the blinking cursor for 25 minutes regardless.
Love is making pain a meaningful part of the way, not a hopeless dead end.
Love is turning off the Wi-Fi and knowing you’ll make it through the night.
Love is caring more about your own, irrational deadlines than any of the world’s countless societal ‘obligations.’
Love is dancing to the music the same way when people are watching that you would if you were alone.
Love is settling for “I started” not “I finished.”
Love is realizing when you’ve run out of kind words for yourself and then choosing to stop talking.
Love is forgetting your own story for a while and listening to the one nature tells you; in the wind, the ocean, the trees, in every ray of sunshine and every raindrop falling from the sky.
Love is helping someone in need, not because they deserve it, but because you can. And most of the time, the person who needs your love the most is you.
Love is a river. All it does is flow. Water has no smell. It’s transparent. But always moving. A powerful force if it needs to be, gentle whenever it can.
Love springs eternal from the well inside your heart as long as you go fetch water. It’s a habit. A routine. A daily practice that takes lifelong commitment.
It’s not a disease. True love can’t poison you. It’s not loud and it’s not irrational. It’s not an emotion and no external experience. Just one of many behaviors each and every one of us gets to choose, day-in and day-out.
Whether we make that choice or not is entirely up to us. That’s not something the characters in our stories tell us because it doesn’t look glamorous on the big screen. But every dog has his day. So while he may not think of the right behavior, let alone the right person, even Ted Mosby has a point when he says:
“Love is the best thing we do.”