As a little girl, I felt unloved. I know now that it wasn’t because no one loved me, but because of many other things that got in the way of love.
As a result, I’ve spent my life trying to understand love and what it really means. This quotation from the Baha’i teachings has helped me enormously:
When I came across this quote, it moved me. I meditated on it and studied it deeply, trying to understand what it meant. After much reflection, I understood it to mean that when one person loves another, the love can only be felt if it is returned. On the surface, it is simple enough, but when you dig a bit deeper, it has another meaning.
You see, I learned something very important about love and loving from my older brother. He still struggles with love and has since he was a child. I learned that a big part of loving is being loved. Let me explain what I mean.
It first might help to know something about my brother. He is gruff and stand-offish. He wants to be loved by others in only one way: his. That means no hugging or other outward signs of affection, no announcing how you feel about him. He does take gifts, but he is callous and does not show appreciation for them. He acts as if they are expected. But the truth is, he doesn’t know how to be gracious and courteous.
I am the opposite. I am very affectionate and doting on those I love. I give gifts for no reason and often try to tell people how I feel about them. I strive to boost people’s confidence and encourage them to reach higher and farther. This quote from the Baha’i teachings expresses how I try to be:
We must ever praise each other. We must bestow commendation upon all people, thus removing the discord and hatred which have caused alienation amongst men. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 410.
I find it hard to love my brother. Let me clarify that: I love my brother, but I find it hard to express my love for my brother in a way that we find mutually acceptable. He wants love, he just doesn’t know how to accept it or show it. Consequently, I never really felt accepted by my brother.
I realized many years ago because of this sort of paradox—wanting love and yet rejecting it—that loving is being loved. Constructive and lasting relationships bloom when people are free to love each other in the way that makes each person comfortable and accepted:
Love is the source of all the bestowals of God. Until love takes possession of the heart, no other divine bounty can be revealed in it. – Ibid., p. 15.
I love my brother, and yet he cannot feel it because he doesn’t allow me to express it in the way that I would like to. I try to meet his needs, but I have trouble expressing myself in such limited terms.
They say that love is blind. I’m not so sure that I believe that, but I definitely get it. Sometimes, people do fall in love before really getting to know a person, overlooking things like red flags and character flaws.
I think the ability to overlook those flaws and red flags is rooted in our own need for love, and varies by how much we feel isolated from it. When I was young, I loved easily. There were many things which attracted me to others—partners, friends and colleagues. I felt so isolated from love that I craved it, and gave it away freely, but still I rarely felt it in return. As a result, I can honestly say that I was rarely happy—at least not in the sense the Baha’i teachings define it: “When we find truth, constancy, fidelity, and love, we are happy …” – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 61.
The ability to perceive and feel love depends not only on ourselves, but on the other’s ability to receive it. It takes at least two people to play catch.
I still love others freely, though. If they don’t reciprocate or cannot feel it, that’s up to them. I can only throw the ball, but I cannot make someone else catch it.