“Love is the most important thing in my life,” I say drowning in cliche. What makes it a cliche is not what you would think. It isn’t the exaggerated air carried by the phrase “most important thing in my life” or even the weight of that four letter word. Rather it is that the word love has become hollow, empty of meaning and import in a world where everyone is searching for it. The cliche is the apparent emptiness of a word we hope means everything.
Love as a word has no meaning because it is a symbol. Like all words, “love” merely represents something that has been codified into a recognizable and translatable format to facilitate communication. Each time we use the word we pack it like a musket being loaded with a ramrod, full of our intention and our definition of “love”. Yet how many of us are actually clear on what we mean by the word “love”? A quick look at the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines the word “love” in fifteen different ways. These are generalized definitions ranging from religious undertones as well as a technical term in tennis. But the point remains that even a brief glance at definitions of love can yield many differing perspectives. We must also consider the myriad ways in which popular culture (whether in the form of Romeo and Juliet or Love Actually) perpetuate perceptions of what “love” means.
I go back again to the question of how many of us are actually clear on what we mean by the word “love”. This question is not a question to the general we as a society, but a very particular question to myself and each individual who is reading this. Here’s a better way to put it: what does “love” mean for me? If you can answer that question you are on your way to reclaiming the emptiness of a word by creating the only kind of meaning we can: our own.
A misfire of any word can be painful, but none so painful as a misfire of love. Saying what you mean is one of the most powerful ways to live your life, to find fulfilment, happiness, and ultimately meaning. We can only do this once we have taken some time to define for ourselves these words we throw around. Some of these words are ours alone to create meaning with. Love is one of them.
So when I say love is the most important thing in my life there I know what “love” means for me and yet I push my working definition constantly, refining the meaning for myself. Right now I offer the definition of “love” as the struggle for patient, compassionate understanding, and for me it is anything but cliche. We could talk for hours about how I’ve come to this definition and how it has played out in my life. While I welcome that conversation as a way for us both to uncover more meaning in this thing called life, there is an inevitable question:
What does love mean for you?