James Baldwin once said that love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. My opinion is that love is a path to self-discovery, yet who and how we love does not define us.
To begin with, a common problem nowadays is the misconception that people should be judged upon the people they love. However, we are not who we love – we cannot choose the person we are going to fall in love with; we can only take it as what it is. This, however, goes both ways. Just as we have to accept who we fall for, we have to admit the painful reality of unrequited love. An emotion this genuine cannot be forced upon anyone; otherwise, it will lose its very essence and turn into a dullness that will overtake our lives. A certain maturity is required to be able to understand these, but once that realization sinks in and we have stopped trying to shape ourselves into something we are not, that brings us one step closer to self-acceptance.
Furthermore, it is a well-known fact that one of humanity’s recurring concerns is progress. The evolution of a community relies strongly on individual progress, which in itself is a matter that traces back to self-development. However, one can only work on growing oneself if there is a foundation to build upon. A common question the contemporary human stumbles upon is ‘Who am I?’. The answer can be rather frightening. As James Baldwin put it, during our endeavors to find our true selves, we often prove untrusting of our own minds, thinking that they deceive us and make us reach dead ends. We can get dragged into a whirlwind of possibilities and stereotypes and forget where we started from altogether. That is where love comes into play. It is an emotion so strong that it overrides everything else; it forces us to reconsider ourselves and our standing points- it gets us thinking and it makes us focus on the important things.
When we are infatuated, it is natural to wish for our feelings to be requited. Hence, we try to be better. When love first blossoms, many of us probably try to fundamentally change ourselves into another person; for example, by taking up a new hobby or telling ourselves we are going to work out more. However, if amidst all of that, we choose to take a deep breath and delve deeper into introspection, we will be able to find the optimal solution to the problem. We will find that the best person we can be is ourselves. That is the reason why trying to be someone we are not will turn into a resounding failure. Similarly, no one is better at being our unique selves than we are.
By trying to make the other person reciprocate our feelings, we might find the way to love and create ourselves. What might start off as an attempt to better oneself for the sake of another turns into an introspective journey that can lead to personal growth and the realization that nobody should need to change in order to love and be loved. Understandably, arriving at this conclusion and truly understanding it is by no means easy. Love-wise, it is the peak of knowledge we can grasp. Once we have achieved that, it will be much easier to view the topic of love; after all, it carries a different meaning for every human.
Related to the way we cannot choose who we fall for or who loves us, the type of love that blooms is a matter that needs to be addressed. The Greeks managed to do it quite beautifully. They used to divide love into four categories: agape (the love of God for man and of man for God), eros (love, mostly of the sexual passion), philia (affectionate regard, friendship) and storge (love, especially of parents and children). As opposed to the way we cannot chose the ones we romantically fall in love with, we do make a conscious choice regarding our friendships. The relationships we develop with our friends, however different from an emotional standpoint, still deeply affect us and play a major part in the shaping of the person we turn out to be. Each of the four types of love can lead to a fruitful experience, as long as both people involved communicate and reach a certain level of sentimental maturity.
To sum up, love is one of the many paths to achieving progress- both as an individual and as part of a community. Love is an open door and we only need to muster up the courage to cross it. It leads to self-awareness and, if we let it, it can turn into an experience that will broaden our perspective and get us one step closer to discovering our true self.