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Love: To Know and Be Known

Being in love with the idea of love


One stone giving valentine to another stone.
Love on Valentine’s Day — Pixabay

When I was a senior in college and confused, I asked a lot of different people, older than me, almost like a research project, why they married their spouses.

The answers ran the gamut, of course:

I was pregnant.

We would always be in each other’s lives.

We were in love.

He was my best friend.

I didn’t want to be alone.

I wanted to marry someone rich.

The New York Times Modern Love column ran a story about the 36 questions to make someone fall in love with you, and the column’s authors heard from many readers. Asking deep questions and listening deeply can increase our intimacy.

I long wondered what love meant. I didn’t know.

Raymond Carver tried to understand love.

After all, he wrote What We Talk About When We Talk About Love . That great 1981 short story of two couples arguing and talking about love over gin and tonics.

I knew “being in love” is that feeling which is called limerence by some psychologists. All the song standards express it— the mooning in June, and the blues in the night.

I grew up in a religious home of idealized love. Love had a charitable and social action meaning. We talked about loving your neighbor, agape, koinonia, spiritual community. Love is an action verb, I heard, and I embraced servant leadership, for many years.

Then I got to a point where I secretly despised working with needy people. Dysfunctional families that wouldn’t change. Self-destructive cycles we could see continuing. While I believed in the value, it became harder to embrace love as an action verb.

I also came to embrace tough love.

I let the consequences of actions occur without rescuing people from them. It’s cold outside and the kid who knows better forgets their gloves? With tough love, we let the consequences happen, and next time, they won’t forget their gloves. Maybe.

Those Greeks had many words and definitions for love, more precise than our English language on this subject. Now I define love as knowing and being known. Knowing alone is not sufficient, but it’s necessary.

As a student, I started researching and writing a biography of a man I met and interviewed him. I asked many questions. There were many red flags. He was older. He drank too much. He was a womanizer.

But I knew him.

I met his mother, his father, and his grandmother. He preferred clothing designed by Pierre Cardin. I recognized his smell. I knew he was in a car accident in high school, and had many months of recovery. He read a lot while in traction, which prepared him for jail time while incarcerated for civil disobedience. He “re-read” books in his mind to pass the time.

He loved me, too, because I knew him. He knew me.

My son knows me, perhaps better than I know myself. He asks me a question, I deflect, and he says, “Yes, you do! Otherwise, you’d have answered.” He knows my tendency to avoid the hurt and opportunities to be critical. I still hear my mother’s critical voice; I’m not sure what my internal voice in his head says.

I’m at the dinner table with an old friend and her husband of many decades. They look at each other for a long minute. Her husband says, “Sorry, we were just reading what each other was thinking.”

They know each other.

It may be a feeling. It may not. It’s an old sole, not an old soul. Or maybe both, a comfortability, well-worn.

While the loss of a beloved is tragic, love stays with us. The energy is still there. The shadow is still there. Talking to the other is still possible. We still hear their voice in our heads — or maybe it’s in our hearts.

I love my long-time friends this way. We have memories only some people share with us. Reliving them together in conversation brings them fully present and makes them precious.

Remember that camping trip? Only one particular grade school friend remembers our first sleep-away camp, and our homesickness. I still have that book she gave me, from a birthday party.

I’ve reconciled and relived those moments with some old friends I may not see again on this side of the veil.

When I was younger, even a couple of decades ago, I struggled with the question “Who do I love and who loves me?” Maybe it is the fundamental self-esteem question.

I asked many questions of my nothing-in-common neighbor when we were getting to know each other during COVID on adjoining patios. He mistook my interest in “Who is this person?” for romantic interest. It wasn’t. He asked me astonishingly few questions, I thought. When he explained his romantic response, I protested, “But you don’t know me!”

I had an elitist reaction — he wasn’t my peer, not in terms of career or education or politics or anything I thought important. So how could I love him? I could be fond of him.

I worked in a blue-collar community where many professional women had happily partnered with blue-collar men. I didn’t understand how they could. But part of me asks whether choosing kindness over credentials isn’t better. I don’t know. Maybe that’s a long-standing question.

I do know I love and am loved.

Some of those people who love me are gone from this life, but it doesn’t matter, the knowledge and experience of their love remains.

I am loved by imperfect people. That’s good, because I’m imperfect, too.

Spread the love

3 Responses

  1. Vicki
    | Reply

    Sharon, I’m reading this the day after Valentines Day …a rather disorganized, frantic Valentine’s Day for me…trying to do too much, sending and sharing love to those I care about and not reaching all of them….sending you belated love my friend and thinking of some of the fun, shared experiences we had trying to raise boys with love. Miss you, Vicki

  2. Elise Albert
    | Reply

    The experience of having been seen, having been known in their lives, is important to people as they approach death—-that their being here on planet Earth mattered. You touched on some important points here, Sharon, many thanks…

  3. SingingFrogPress
    | Reply

    Ah Sharon, this is wonderful. So much wisdom in your words, and so much skill in getting them to flow together to support so many subtle meanings. Thank you so much for this Love Day post!

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