What is Love?

My grandma was sold as a baby for 12 Singapore dollars. Back in the 1920s, that was decent money.

Her adopted parents were rather well-to-do and adopted two other children as well. However, when she was 19 years old, my great-grandfather passed away abruptly. After crying for a week and crumbling with grief, my great-grandmother passed away as well.

In one week, my grandmother buried two parents. Overnight, she became a parent to both of her younger siblings.

It’s not a surprise that she would develop a fear of abandonment and a fear of being alone.

This fear has been passed down through the generations – from my grandmother to my mother and from my mother to me.

For the entirety of my life, my grandparents fought.

My grandma was always jealous of the women my grandpa flirted with. As much I love him, he was a huge flirt, and he had a big gambling problem back in the day. My grandmother’s fear of him cheating and splurging all his money away was very valid.

If my grandma was born in our current age, she might have never stayed married to my grandfather. For 60 years, she endured his yelling at her. For 60 years, she endured the lack of affection from him. She had to learn how to love herself – and love herself she did.

When my grandma was still alive, she was full of love. Full of love for the world, for people around her and full of appreciation for life.

After her parents died, she learned how to earn money fast through setting up businesses. She rented a shophouse in Tiong bahru and started two businesses – one to teach others how to sew, the other how to do floristry. She also bought a payphone and placed it outside of her shophouse, where there was a lot of foot traffic. She learnt that her small investment would reap her passive income through people making calls while standing outside her shop.

My grandmother was so strong. But alas, she was born in a time when divorce was not a socially acceptable option. It still isn’t, even now, but back then, she didn’t know that she never needed a man. She just loved my grandfather so much.

I know that he loved her too, and perhaps if he had ever gone for therapy, he would have learned to love her better.

Now that she’s gone, he has begun to mourn for her loss and through his grief – reflect on his past actions and behavior towards her.

The way that my grandmother chose to be with a man who didn’t know how to treat her well is the way my mother chose to stay with my father too.

This time however, they’ve entered a different era.

When they first got married, my father was a different man, compared to the person he is now.

He was cold, aloof, indifferent, and kept his thoughts to himself a lot. My mother would beg for him to be vulnerable to her. She waited patiently for so many years. It was a risk that my mother had taken. She took a huge chance on him. She knew that he loved her; she just needed him to love her the way she deserved to.

I saw for myself – the change in my dad’s temperament. I saw how different he became over the years.

Through rounds and rounds of couples counseling and therapy sessions, my parents’ dynamics changed. My father learned how to express his emotions to my mother in a safe space. He learned that it was okay to be vulnerable. He unlearned and relearned the different love languages, and how to be patient with my mother.

My mother too, learned how to love my father the way he needed to be loved.

Still, I had already absorbed the dynamics between them at a young age.

At 5 years old, I had already falsely believed that to love is to accept each other’s flaws unconditionally. I had already been conditioned to believe that you never walk out on each other, no matter how much you’re suffering in a marriage.

I saw it happen in many relationships and marriages around me too.

For years, I questioned the meaning of love. What IS love?

Because I inherited these beliefs of love, I ended up falling in love with a man who neither knew how to love himself nor me. He didn’t know how to accept my love for him as well. I loved him so much. But there came a point in our marriage where I saw that I had married a man like my grandfather and father. Even though it wasn’t my choice to end the marriage, I’m so glad it did. Because it released me from being the 3rd generation of women accepting men who don’t know how to love them properly. I would have been the next generation to pass down this inaccurate ideals of love (at least to me). If we had had children together, how would my children have turned out? How could I have educated them on what love is, when we didn’t even understand or demonstrate what love should be?

Now, I feel that love is not dependent on the duration of a relationship. Of any relationship – be it a romantic or non-romantic one.

We can’t wish for everything to last. We don’t have to.

Love is found everywhere, in all ways and in all things. Love can mean different things to different people, based on their personal journeys and experiences.

To me, love means being vulnerable with each other, it means being committed to choosing each other and growing together.

Now, I feel that nothing we want in love needs to last forever. If it does, it’s because the parties in the relationship both put in effort and commitment for that to happen. If it doesn’t, it’s because both parties somehow grow apart rather than together.

The sooner we let go of the expectation that relationships must last forever, the sooner we realize that love does endure all time.

It exists in our memories, it exists in our interactions with people, however short of long, it exists through generations.

Love is everywhere, especially when we know how to carry love for ourselves.

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