Defining Love: A Message About the Meaning of Valentine’s Day

Being a college student, especially around Valentine’s Day, love has been on my mind a lot lately. The holiday brings up a rollercoaster of emotions in all of us. If you are single, it can make you sad or even bitter. If you are in a relationship, you may begin to panic about what gift you are going to get for your partner that will accurately sum up the depth of your love for them. But I think it is both incredible and terrifying that we allow one day to carry so much of our self-worth away with the breeze. Are we really supposed to believe that chocolate and cards and flowers are what represent “true love”?

I started reading this new book last week called The Other Side of Beauty. Written by speaker and former America’s Next Top Model contestant, Leah Darrow, the book talks a lot about material culture and the media’s influence on our ideas of beauty, love, and self-worth. In reading it, I came across some startling revelations and thought-changing quotes, shared throughout this post, which I thought only appropriate to share on the day pinned as the peak of love and romance.

So what is “true love?” It is, in essence, ineffable. It cannot be easily defined or put into words. But what I can tell you, is that our culture has got it all wrong, and is trying to sell us a definition of love that is entirely incorrect. Our culture is trying to sell us the idea that love, how much attention we give and receive, is the sole measure of our self-worth.

“Sometimes we are seduced into thinking that something is beautiful that really isn’t. And often this happens because we have a faulty definition of love…Your definition of love will shape your whole life. It will be the foundation of your understanding…of your own self-worth” -Leah Darrow

I spent far too long wondering why I wasn’t loved the way that I loved other people – completely and passionately. But looking back, I can see the traces of selfishness in my own love. I was wishing for the rewards of having people love me. Instead of honestly caring about the people I was blessed to have, I worked so hard to prove to them how much I loved them so that they wouldn’t leave. I told myself I was selfless, and I was in a lot of ways; but I was also still far too worried about how my relationships made me look to other people. I wanted people to know I was loved and valuable.  I wanted rom-com-worthy love stories and Instagram-worthy friendships. My definition of  love was flawed, as too many of ours are.

“This definition of love I adopted was purely physical, love was anything that made me feel good, and I loved whoever or whatever made me feel good…by limiting love to a mere physical act, I detached love from its highest calling, which is to desire good for others.” – Leah Darrow

In our current generation, love has become all about us. We latch on to people because of how they make us feel. We don’t commit to people because we are afraid the commitment might limit us or prove too much for us to handle. We think very little, as a culture, about how our feelings and commitments affect other people involved.

Because of this, our generation expects too much from love. We expect perfection and immortality. These expectations block us from seeing those who truly love us. In friendships, we think that people don’t care about us if they aren’t constantly around. In romantic relationships, we convince ourselves someone isn’t “the one” simply because we argue, or we aren’t physically, sexually attracted to someone 24/7. (I’ll keep this idea brief, because I already wrote a whole blog post on this called Honesty in Expectation). 

But these expectations are misconceptions, because that is not what love is. Yet, sadly, these misconceptions are what the the majority of the population has accepted as truth; that unless you constantly feel a burning passion to spend all of your time with someone, it can’t possibly be love. Blame it on technology, media, or maybe just too many Nicholas Sparks movies, but with our definition of love set so unreasonably high, we are setting ourselves up for failure. We sell ourselves short, and push away people that love us, all because our relationships aren’t the stuff of fairytales.

And I’m not trying to be pessimistic or hypocritical. I’m the first to admit that I am a hopeless romantic with high expectations. But at some point, we have to realize that love is the fairytale that we make it.

“Love isn’t merely a feeling; it is a desire to seek the good of the one you love. To say ‘I love you’ means ‘I’m going to do everything in my power to do what is best for you'” -Leah Darrow

We have to focus more on the you in “I love you.”

We have to be aware that sometimes, we will run out of things to say. Sometimes we will disagree. Sometimes we will get really annoyed and question the whole thing. But that doesn’t mean it’s not love.

The best relationships aren’t the ones without fights; rather, the best relationships are the ones worth fighting for.

Love means you are willing to set aside your pride and be there for someone, because you love them more than their bad days.

Because true love is wanting the best for others, not for ourselves.

And this is a very difficult thing to do, because it means completely changing the definition of love that has been fed to us by the culture we live in for as long as we can remember. But I am working hard to do it, and I encourage you to do the same, because I promise you it will have the most lasting impact on your life and your happiness.

“If my definition of love is God’s definition – that love is desiring good for others – then I will be attracted to people who love in this way” – Leah Darrow

I want to love truly. I want to love selflessly. I want to share in the joy that successes and happiness brings to the people I love, whether or not those things involves me. I need to let go of loving others only for how they can serve me.

This Valentine’s Day I am going to work to celebrate true love, in its purest sense.

I am going to do my best not to be jealous, bitter, or petty about the couples in love or the exes that have found new partners. I am not going to pin my lack of meaningful relationships on the horrible immaturity of the people of the opposite sex. Instead, I am going to make a conscious effort to stop comparing myself to those around me and wishing for things that I don’t have. I am going to try to honestly be happy for those who have found love in their life, and appreciate the love that I have in mine. Only in being happy for others, and loving others in the way we were intended to, can we expect to live beautiful, loving lives. We are all in this struggle together.

So remember, this Valentine’s Day, that your worth is not defined by the significant other that you may or may not have. Your worth is not defined by the flowers you do or don’t have on your desk. Your worth is not defined by the love you receive.

Your worth is defined by the amount of love you purely and selflessly give.

This Valentine’s Day I am going to do my best to make sure that the amazing people that I am blessed to know feel worthy and loved, just for being who they are. And I’m starting here, right now, with you, my incredible friends:  

Happy Valentine’s Day, beautiful soul! I just wanted you to know that you are extraordinary. There is absolutely nothing that you aren’t worthy of. The world is in need of your precious heart. So remember, you are enough and you are loved, just as you are, today and every day.

(If you related to this message and want to have a Valentine’s Day marked by true love, I encourage you to spread the message of the last paragraph and reach out to those in your life. Go into your contacts on your phone or your friends list on Instagram, and copy and send this short message above, or something like it, to 10 (or more!) people that you want to love. Even if you haven’t talked to them in years, just send it. Be brave! I did it! The amount of love I felt was overwhelming, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the responses I did or didn’t get. That’s what Valentine’s Day should really be about.)