I received All About Love from the library of a friend. I swear that borrowing a book chosen for you by your friend automatically makes us think more highly of the book. (Is there research on this yet?!)
At the time I had just read an essay about the importance of friend love called “What If Friendship, Not Marriage, Was at the Center of Life?” (The Atlantic’s Rhaina Cohen, 2020) which got me thinking about how we are taught to prioritize some love (or relationships) over others. (Hint: romantic love. It’s romantic love.)
So a book about love — not a self-help or some sort of how-to, but a cultural commentary on love— was the logical next step in my journey to understanding how love functions and how it’s misconstrued.
All About Love: New Visions is by Black feminist writer and cultural critic bell hooks. It’s 13 chapters of wisdom, much of the book based on debunking myths we hold about love that keep us in a state of fear.
hooks said she first chose to write and speak about love because “youth culture today is cynical about love.” She said this in a book published in ’99. Obviously this statement rings true.
Before sharing what I learned from the book without context, I need to lay out the foundational definition of love under which hooks operates. In M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled,” Peck defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Thus when I use the word love in this post, that’s what I mean. I’m actually going to capitalize Love to remind you of this.
Additionally, you may find it helpful to learn what hooks defines as the Dimensions of Love. The essential ingredients to the recipe of Love, if you will. These are care, commitment, trust, responsibility, respect and knowledge. All must be present to be love.
Let’s get into the views that hooks takes a deeper dive into. I admit that many of these I was guilty of believing.
1. Love is a feeling.
“Whatttttt? Love IS a feeling,” you say.
But Love (capital L) is not a feeling. Feelings are fleeting and sustained.
As my friend introduced me to this idea and has never allowed me to forget — Love is an action. Love is a choice. Feelings pass and are entirely impermanent.
Here’s what bell hooks has to say:
“Most of us learn early on to think of love as a feeling. When we feel deeply drawn to someone, we cathect with them; that is, we invest feelings or emotion in them. That process of investment wherein a loved one becomes important to us is called “cathexis.” In his book Peck rightly emphasizes that most of us “confuse cathecting with loving.”
Oxford dictionary defines cathexis as “the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object (especially to an unhealthy degree).
Calling it Love when it’s really cathexis or attraction or just plain overthinking or thinking often of that person is something I see alllll of the time. All of the time.
Love is a thing that’s easily confused because we don’t all have the same foundation that I quoted. We don’t REALLY know what love is. We assume it’s undefinable, a “feeling.”
2. Love is a mystery.
“Love is the greatest mystery. Love remains the mystery of life. Why love is the only mystery that matters. Why is love so mysterious?” Are all headlines I found on page 1 of google.
Love is not a mystery (the way it’s often portrayed in the media) according to hooks.
One quote I found says, “Love is not really a mystery. It is a process like anything else. A process that requires trust, effort, focus and commitment by two willing partners.”
What is mysterious about trust, effort, focus and commitment?
Clinical psychologist and author Sue Johnson says ““I think it’s absolutely disastrous for us to keep defining love as a big mystery,” Johnson says. “We need to know about it, we need to know how to shape it. It’s now the basis of our families. Really, the family stands or falls on feelings of affection. … We are all longing for it, and it’s just kind of not so poetic and fun anymore to define it as slightly out of reach and sort of only magical.”” (Huff Post).
3. Love will solve all of our problems.
Well if I just had a partner then…
hooks says, “Many of us believe our difficulties will end when we find a soul mate. Love does not lead to an end to difficulties, it provides us with the means to cope with our difficulties in ways that enhance our growth” (229).
That “other stuff” doesn’t go away. That “other stuff” is life. For some, a partner can make the other stuff more bearable at times.
4. Romance, care and affection are all the same as love.
bell hooks says, “A lack of sustained love does not mean the absence of care, affection, or pleasure.”
Romance is not love.
Affection is not the same as love. In fact, there can be affection w/o love. How is that possible? Affection is a gentle feeling of fondness or liking. You can like a coworker. Be fond of them. It doesn’t mean that you Love them — participate in the acting of growing spiritually with them.
hooks quotes Diane Ackerman, author of The Zookeeper’s Wife: “Without a supple vocabulary, we can’t even talk or think about it (Love) directly.”
Don’t confuse the words. Look them up and start using them more precisely.
5. Love can coexist with… abuse, injustice, domination.
This is not one that I’m going to get much into, so I’ll instead let hooks speak loud and clear:
“There can be no love without justice.” | “Without justice there can be no love.”
“Domination cannot exist in any social situation where a love ethic prevails.”
6. Romantic love should be prioritized over all other love. Similarly, family love is more important than friend love.
Romantic love is not more important than friendship love… Family love is not more important than friend love.
hooks says, “Most women and men born in the 50s or earlier were socialized to believe that marriages and/or committed romantic bonds of any kind should take precedence over all other relationships” (136). She talks about how way way back (I believe as does The Atlantic article) that friendship love was the prioritized relationship. Then notes that in the 50s there’s a shift, and perhaps unfortunately that mentality has been one that, as a society, we’ve “went with.”
Just think about when you were a child. I’m sure you’ve been told “But ___ is family” or “Family first.” Here’s a specific example: Were you ever told “You can’t _____ because it’s your super distant relative’s event that means nothing to you or your family, because “____ is family”? How do you feel about that now? Will you have these rules for your children?
7. We all automatically know how to Love from birth.
This myth is not a difficult one to believe. After all, kids can reciprocate care or affection and others’ actions such as kisses, hugs, smiles, etc.
bell hooks says, “Because children can innately offer affection or respond to affectionate care by returning it, it is often assumed that they know how to love and therefore do not need to learn the art of loving.”
This assumption is a massive mistake to make. Massive.
Journalist and mental health advocate Elizabeth Wurtzel said, “None of us are getting better at loving: we are getting more scared of it” which speaks to our lack of education and practice of Love.
8. Love at first sight is real.
In all honesty, I wanted to end with this one because it’s a fun one. Plus it doesn’t need much explaining now that we’ve covered everything we’ve just covered. By definition of Love, you cannot Love someone at first sight. You can feel an attraction or interest or excitement. You cannot Love at first sight.
This one is fun because it reminds of reality TV shows like the Bachelor. None of that is Love. None of that is Love at its true definition. None of it. The exception would be any relationships that have remained in tact over time AND meet the definition of Love.
If you had one single takeaway from this video, it’s that bell hooks’ all about love is your next read. RIGHT.
Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day!
P.S. in case we haven’t met…
you seem normal is a mental health medium run by 24-year-old communication professional (hello!) who… well, seems normal. Turns out, my roommate is mental illness. Actually more like my unborn, and non-conceived baby. Because it’s like, inside of me. This is getting weird already. Topics of focus: self-awareness (we love it), mood, anger management, perfectionism, relationships & boundaries.