Two and a half years ago, I published a blog post that was, in essence, my manifesto on dating. It was reposted by Relevant Magazine, shared by friends, and actually quoted back to me. In it, I boldly declared:
"I don’t think we can really win [at love] until we are willing to fold, to leave the game and remember that love is much bigger than a power struggle. Maybe I lose, and maybe that’s okay.”
And then I lost. Pretty badly, in fact. The specifics are unimportant, but the result was a deep cynicism towards my very own words. It is easy to be high and lofty in your ideals until you are elbows-deep in tissues. I felt foolish my ideals had led to pain and loss.
Did I still believe those words--that love is not defined by wins and losses, but in what is given? I wasn’t sure.
I imagine for many, Valentine’s Day is a day defined by loss--by what you don't have. Marked by the pain of what you've given away. At least, it has often been so for me, despite how much I rolled my eyes or tried to channel the confidence of Beyonce with a baseball bat.
It has been a day that declares it’s about love, but which usually makes the lack of love we have that much sharper—whether that is the love of a romantic partner, friends, or family.
In Thai, the word for "cute" is na-rak, which directly translates to "worthy of love." “That’s not cute” is often used to discourage kids from whining, making faces, having bad hygiene, being impolite to their parents. “That’s not lovable” is the literal refrain.
And isn’t that the refrain that trains us all? We are constantly fed information about what is worthy of love and what is not. There are statistics and charts and literal buttons that reinforce what we love and what we do not. It forms us and what we believe over time.
The way you look in that dress? Not lovable. Your face? Not lovable. Your body shape? Not lovable. Your personality? Not lovable. Your lifestyle? Not lovable. Your choices? Not lovable.
I have spent many years trying to fit the mold of what I thought was lovable, a carefully defined outline of a person that grew narrower and narrower with every wound received, with every critique given, or with every loss. And, like a preschooler hyped up on sugar, I've learned that despite my best efforts I can never stay within the lines. It defeats the purpose, trying to become perfectly lovable, because the person loved ends up not being me at all.
But on Valentine’s Day, the social media posts and flower shops and couples arm-in-arm seem to ask us: “Are you lovable?” And even though we know the “right,” self-assured answer is yes, loss and loneliness and dissatisfaction may whisper, “Are you sure?”
Last year on this day, during my morning coffee routine, I reflected on the loss I’d been grieving and if somehow my lack of love meant I was destined to be alone. Was there something wrong with me that consistently led to disappointment and pain in love?
These words came to me in the quiet space of my living room, like a scribbled note pressed into the hands of a friend:
Love is defined by the one who gives it. You are not worthy of love because someone chooses to love you; you are worthy of love because of what you give away.
Whether or not you believe the Christian faith, this is how love is defined. You are not lovable based on your ability to attract the perfect partner or avoid heartbreak. No, love is defined as what is given away.
“God is love,” it says in 1 John. Love is defined by the One who gives it away freely, knowing it may never be reciprocated, acknowledged, or fulfilled.
The Christian faith also says that our ability to give love is tied to our ability to receive the love that Is already given to us. Often the most unloving people are the ones who have experienced a lack of love or fear, deep down, they are not loved.
This year has been a long journey of trying to remember those words: that love reflects the capacity of the giver, not the receiver. Especially in moments when I feel unlovable. And especially in moments when I find myself unable to give love to someone I think is unworthy of it.
I am trying to break ties with the voice that asks, “Are you lovable?” And to befriend the voice that tells me, “You are loved. Will you receive it?”
So know this: if love feels synonymous with loss today, it is actually a sign that you are worthy of love. You gave love—to a significant other, a friend, a family member—and maybe it wasn't given back the way you hoped. It always takes courage to love.
But there is also love out there that is waiting for you to receive it. There is Someone out there who deems you lovable, to the uttermost. Not because of what you have or haven't done, what you look like at your best, or all the behaviors and niceties you've learned to wear. But who loves you because He is love itself, and He gives it without reservation.
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another… We love because he first loved us.
1 John 4:10-11, 19