Love is simple. Love is confusing. And love is everything in between simplicity and confusion.

Because Valentine’s day is a day from today, let’s talk about love. If you are a person who’s ever been confused by or questioning your love for someone or how someone is showing their love for you, this is my love-letter to you. I’m here to give you the green light and say that you’re not alone in your desire to explore the meaning of love. In fact, I’d like to congratulate you for engaging in the nuanced grey-area of love. The very act of you questioning love means that you’re serving yourself and others in love which, in my opinion, is the greatest thing we can ever do as humans: share love. You are so full of it. Love that is. <3

Like you, I have been very enamored with and confused by love. In my time loving humans on this planet in romantic, platonic, and familial ways, I’ve asked myself these questions:

“Is the love I feel for this person the real deal?”

“Am I loving this person in the way that I would want them to show up for me?”

“Am I really in love or just infatuated?”

“This person I love is irritating me… does that mean that I’m not loving them unconditionally like I want to?”

“Is it time to leave or limit this relationship?”

If you’ve also asked yourself similar questions, welcome to the nuanced grey area of love. Isn’t it nice to share the joy and confusion of love with others? I love you.

After a lifetime of experiencing the full spectrum of love from fiercely unconditional to conditionally tolerant, I’ve come up with a litmus test for love. I’m going to share it with you in hopes that it helps clear any confusion that you might have in your romantic, platonic, and familial relationships. Gaining clarity on who we can trust our hearts to, spend our time, and share our love with is essential to the well-being of our whole person. This mental clarity serves us of course, but also serves the people whom we might love, but who don’t treat us in the way that we deserve to be treated. Keeping a healthy distance from people who can’t love us in the ways that we need isn’t selfish. It is an act of self-love and also an act of non-violent truthful love for them. The #metoo movement has done so much to open a conversation about love and personal boundaries. It’s opened and opportunity for us as a society to discuss what is and what is not okay in relationships. And in this spotlight, we have the chance to reframe the conversation about love and create healthier relationships for all.

There is so much nuance on the subject of love. Since you’re still reading this, I’m assuming that you’re a person who likes to dabble in nuance. I see nuance as actively choosing to see the grey areas of life. Our world is rife with polarized thinking. We are too often told: “You need to pick a side; are you with us or against us?” For some things in life such polarization is necessary and in service of the love of humanity, like deciding that assault and murder and other horrific acts of violence are not acceptable in society. But for romantic, platonic, and familial love, we need a wider scope of perspective. We need nuance in order to navigate these waters. It’s not easy. It can, in fact, be very difficult.

I love all things related to water, so my favorite metaphor for nuance is being adrift in a small cruise ship somewhere in an ocean. On my vessel, we have a fully functional satellite phone, so we can call for help and go back to the familiar territory at any time. We always have the option of going back to the familiarity of what we know and sometimes we need that. But here in this raft, we have an endless supply of fuel, provisions, fresh water, sunshade, and snacks to help us navigate the wide and unknown ocean. All our needs will be met here (unless that need is for absolute certainty, in which case you should call for an emergency pick-up on the satellite phone. You won’t be judged. The crew and passengers and I love you.) But if you’re ready to explore uncertainty for an undisclosed amount of time and go where ever the flow of the ocean takes us, we’re going to be just fine here on this boat. I promise. Pack your favorite cozy comfies and some flip-flops. Bring your favorite pen and a journal if taking notes is your thing.

Now that we’ve accepted that the challenges of love ought to be explored in nuance, we are free to explore the hard questions without the pressure of solving the dilemmas and fixing the problems. You can stay on the nuanced ship at sea as long as you’d like.

For those who have already been steeped in nuance for a while and are grasping for strings of relief from the work that is uncertainty and nuance, I love you. And I present to you my litmus test for love.

Litmus Test For Love

Ask yourself these questions about the people who say they love you unconditionally:

  1. Do you feel respected?
  2. Do you feel loved?
  3. Do you feel cherished?
  4. Do you feel celebrated?

Ask yourself these questions about the people who you say you love unconditionally:

  1. Do you respect this person?
  2. Do you love this person?
  3. Do you cherish this person?
  4. Do you celebrate this person?

If the answer to all of these questions is yes, congratulations. You’re deeply involved in what our highest work of humanity is: to love others just as they are, unconditionally.

If the answer to any of those questions is no, I recommend exploring why. This is your invitation to get on the nuance vessel. You don’t have to do this alone.

Have a hard conversation with that person if you feel safe and heard by them. Get a therapist. Get a coach. Talk to a friend whom you really trust and who ideally isn’t close to the person in question; if the trusted friend also knows the person, the conflict of interest is too high to be effective.

Or if you’re feeling that perhaps that a conversation with this person wouldn’t be effective, put some distance between you and that person. Limit your contact with them. Set boundaries for them. Or end the relationship. I know first hand how painful, scary, chaotic, and disorienting ending a relationship can be in all facets of life. When it’s all too much to bear, remember that your time and energy are precious resources and that you deserve to be loved unconditionally, just as you are. If someone who claims to love you cannot respect, love, cherish, and celebrate you, then you deserve to share love with someone who can.

If you can’t bring yourself to end a relationship because you’re afraid of being selfish, remember that being dishonest with someone about your love for them is not in service to their time and energy either. Ending a relationship is absolutely an act of love.

I hope that this litmus test helps give you a fresh perspective on love. I hope that if you’re experiencing confusion in love that this litmus test can help get you unstuck, get you into the company of people who can help you.

Bottom line: you deserve to be loved unconditionally for the whole person you are.

I love you. Thanks for reading.

I’d love to know what you think about love. Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Breathe and believe, beauties.

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