Why We Should Ban The Word 'Love'
Adult defensiveness about love makes life harder for young people
Posted December 20, 2013
We use the word all the time and ‘love’ is probably the most important experience in our lives, yet our constant use of the word makes life harder for young people. We say the word as if we know what we mean and as if young people should therefore know what they mean.
“Love you too!”
But what exactly do we mean? When we say that we love somebody, that we’re loved by somebody, that we’re in love with somebody, how do we know? What does that mean?
“How did you and dad know that you loved each other?”
“We just knew, okay!”
“You mean, because you fancied each other?”
“No, not just that….”
“I don’t know! We just knew!”
When adults pretend that love is simple (“We just knew, okay!”), then young people expect simplicities and, when they don’t find them, panic, feeling that they must be missing something obvious. So they search endlessly for some kind of proof, some way of being sure about love. If he buys me an expensive present, then that must mean that he loves me…. If I get butterflies in my stomach when I see her, then it must mean that I love her…. If we get engaged, then it’ll show that we really do love each other…. If we’re pleased to see each other…. If we have sex…. If I get pregnant…. If he begs me to go back out with him…. If she promises that she loves me…. If we never argue…. If he gets my name tattooed on his arm…. If we’ve been going out together for a really long time….
“Do you love him?”
“Are you sure?”
“Totally! Don’t tell anyone but—look—I cut his name on my arm!”
I spend a lot of time assuring young people that it’s always hard to know exactly what we feel about another person; that what we feel is hard to quantify. It’s not simple and jumping to conclusions won’t make it simple. In fact, we feel all sorts of things about another person, never one thing and certainly never something that can be simplified into a single, all-encompassing word. I tell them that not knowing what we feel is normal. So better to go slowly, better to wait and see. Better—perhaps—to abandon the search for any sort of definitive ‘love’ and allow ourselves to enjoy all the varieties of feeling and experience contained in every relationship. With one young person, we banned the word ‘love’ from our conversations and it seemed to help, obliging us to think harder and more specifically.
This matters because, in their desire to ‘know’, in their frantic search for some kind of proof, young people often end up making mistakes which are impossible to undo.