📚 Finished reading All About Love by bell hooks.

Here the author tells us to consider love as something you do, not something that is; a verb rather than a noun. She likes Erich Fromm’s definition of it as:

…the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will - namely, both an intention and an action.

The media infusing our world - romantic comedies being one of the most obvious examples - makes it all to easy to confuse love with something else; perhaps attraction, care, connection or affection. The latter categories can co-exist, and may by definition have to, with love - “approaching romantic love from a foundation of care, knowledge and respect actually intensifies romance”. But they’re distinct.

This has some implications. If you love someone then you will not deliberately harm them. You will not seek to dominate them. So, conversely, if you deliberately harm someone you cannot love them.

…we cannot claim to love if we are hurtful and abusive.

By definition this precludes some parents from rightfully claiming to love their children. In fact:

One of the most important social myths we must debunk if we are to becoming a more loving culture is the one that teachers parents that abuse and neglect can coexist with love.

Furthermore, love is a choice. You do not uncontrollably fall in love. You feel uncontrollably be attracted to someone, but that’s something different. If love is something you do, then you have to choose to do it. And if you do want to do so, then it takes time and commitment.

She considers love as a more universal construct than how we typically employ the word. It may have a different meaning to us as individuals. It may be enacted and demonstrated differently. But her view is that there’s nothing qualitatively distinct about love for a romantic partner compared to that for others you are close to, or members of your community - “There is no special love reserved for romantic partners.”

She makes a lot of the distinction between love as usually practiced by males as distinct from females. The way we’re brought up, the ideas infused into us by our surroundings, the structure of the society - especially the patriarchal and capitalistic parts of it - result in us failing to recognise or practice love in the way that would cause us and the recipients to flourish as much as they could.

The patriarchal aspects of our society are undoubtedly most unfair and harmful to women who learn for instance that to be worthy of some flawed misconception of love they must be good girls, submissive, constantly tending to the emotional needs of stunted men with no expectation of reciprocation. After all, they’re compelled to live in a world where seemingly “most men use psychological terrorism as a way to subordinate women”. But it’s not like men aren’t constrained by any expectations: “how can any of us communicate with men who have been told all their lives that they should not express what they feel?”

Perhaps somewhat pessimistically, she suggests that:

most of us will go to our graves with no experience of true love.

But we can hardly be dismayed at that, because we actively flee from it.

…most of us run the other way when true love comes near.

Nonetheless we learn to be needlessly terrified of the prospect. On one hand much of the modern world is ever more cynical above love. It’s a myth, it doesn’t exist, it’s Hallmark making us buy cards. On the other hand almost everyone appears to desperately seek this thing that they don’t really believe exists.

We learn to lie and mislead other people, almost to trick them into being our partner. This is perfectly normal behaviour; there are popular relationship books in every bookshop that give advice on how best to do this, “The Rules” being one such famous one. The author sees this alone as being a reason why many people will never know love

We only feel like there’s a chance we could be ourselves after we ensnared someone and yet somehow we expect that to go well. Our desperation and fear sees us behave and tolerate behaviour from partners and immediate family members that we’d never consider from our friends or community. We may want a partner more than we want love, to the extent that we may be scared to dwell our own needs in these matters under a misguided fear that “carefully choosing partners will reveal there’s no one for us to love”.

Even if we make the right connection, we’re disappointed that our life didn’t suddenly become easy. Contrary to the messages suffusing our world:

Love does not lead to an end to difficulties, it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth.

In the above this, I’ve missed out large chunks of some more spiritual stuff; there’s a whole chapter on angels for instance. I also see how heteronormative the above is. I think that does reflect the book though, although there’s the occasional acknowledgement that other types of romantic relationships do exist.