For Valentine’s Day, I will try to answer a simple question: what is love? Everyone has their own idea, but not all people will see it the same. To me there are different types of love: such as puppy love (crush, infatuation, the hots); familial love (father, mother, brother, sisters); love of community (feeling of belonging); love of life; spousal love; self-love (many trans people struggle with this one, I did); and (the crown jewel) true love.

In movies and TV we see romantic, passionate love. Is that really love?  What is the difference between having the hots for someone and truly loving them? I’d say a lot. When we first get into a relationship everything is new and exciting. This to me is a form of puppy love, with butterflies in the stomach. Sex is usually great. That helps us bond with intimacy.

We say we are in love at this point, the newness and interest give us a glow. Dopamine, norepinephrine, and endogenous opioids flood our senses, and it’s overwhelming. We feel good about ourselves. Our adrenaline kicks in, and we obsess about our partners. But is this love? Depending on lots of variables this too will get old. When you get married it usually last about seven years before we lose that spark, the excitement. So, I ask, were you ever truly in love, really? When so many people get to this point, they get divorced or separated, so they never get to the point of true love.

True love was demonstrated to me by my grandparents and my father. When my grandfather died my grandmother was distraught. We tried everything to help, even getting her a puppy. However, she missed him so much she died one year to the day after he passed away.  She did not have any medical issues, but I think she died from a broken heart.

When I was growing up my mother and father were a typical couple. It wasn’t until later life that I understood that my father really loved my mother. Because, when she got sick, he never left her side, and when she died, he visited her grave almost every day for years.

When you find the right person, life gives you different stages of love. Early-life love is euphoric. Like a drug, you want to be with the person all the time, and you kind of lose yourself trying to please them. If you make it past the seven-year itch, you are able to begin to allow true love to set in. The relationship becomes warm and comfortable and natural. You do little things for each other. It’s knowing that your spouse likes a large fork for some unknown reason, but you know it makes them happy. Sometimes you think the same thing instantly from a look. It’s hard to describe in a short space. When you are apart you don’t sleep well. You relish your time together, yet you are comfortable doing your own thing. You just cheer each other’s victories and comfort each other in their defeats.

What I see as true love is shown in the movie Forrest Gump. Forrest’s love for Jenny, to me, is true love. No matter what she did, he loved her and accepted her. Even when she couldn’t love herself, Forrest always showed her true love. Forrest was like an abused dog. No matter how hard she beat him, when she showed back up, he was right there with his tail wagging and still loyal to her. To me I think of this as true love on Forrest’s part. But also, in the end I think deep down Jenny also loved Forrest, but she needed to follow a different path.

I guess it comes back to what your definition of love is. You get to where you just can’t see yourself without them. To me that’s true love.

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