Reading bell hooks' work was the first time my spirit felt so fired up to express myself through writing. I first read her works on love when I was 23 or 24 right after a pretty devastating breakup. The quote below stood out to me the most among the countless memorable bell hooks quotes and inspired my very first spirit-led written expression.
I wrote the following piece back in 2017 and was proud of myself for my spirit-led writing but was so overwhelmed with doubt, harsh self criticism, and impostor syndrome (hello, Virgo Mercury) that I never shared it publicly - just kept it saved under my "Potential Blog Posts" Google drive folder.
I re-read it now in the present and I still cringe at certain parts - but to share it is an exercise in self-love, compassion, and acceptance for who I was then, where I was at in my healing journey and my consciousness in that moment.
So I'm sharing it publicly now in honor of my past self, the growth and healing we've accomplished since, my current ever-evolving self and our now-ancestor, bell hooks.
Part I: On changing our destinies: the search for love...
“Countless biographies by women reveal that girl children witnessing a mother’s suffering at the hands of male tyrants - fathers, brothers, and/or husbands - are deeply, traumatically affected. Not only do we want to rescue our mothers but also we want to change our destiny so we will never suffer the way they did or do” (hooks, 2002).
My very first lessons on love actually taught me what love was NOT. At the age of 8 I discovered that my father was cheating on my mother. The hardest part was that I was the only one in on the secret and felt powerless. For 3 years, I suffered from childhood depression and severe anxiety/fear of how everything would unfold. While there was never any physical violence - there was so much emotional and psychological violence towards my mother - that I also suffered second-hand emotional and psychological violence from my father.
I learned what love was NOT:
-Love was not passive aggression
-Love was not lying to each other
-Love was not yelling at each other
-Love was not speaking to each other with contempt in your voice
-Love was NOT dysfunctional, toxic, violent communication
-Lovelessness looked like NEVER (not once!) seeing your parents affectionately embrace each other - publicly or privately
-Lovelessness was never going on family outings, just the 3 of us
-Lovelessness was disrespecting each other’s feelings
How was I supposed to have faith that one day I would find a life partner that would love me deeply for who I was and bring joy to my life? To what standards would I hold myself and my partner if my own parents couldn’t provide me with an example of what love should look, sound, and feel like? This childhood trauma haunts me every day and informs/fuels my search for love. bell hooks is right - I’m on a journey to change my destiny to make sure I don’t suffer the way my mother did. But it’s a terrifying, draining, PTSD-inducing journey.
But you can’t give or receive love until you truly understand what love is…
So here is my attempt at defining love - a concept I’ve never seen successfully modeled by anyone in my inner circle:
I envision a future where my children not only feel loved and cherished by their parents, but where they clearly see and feel that their parents love, cherish, respect, and support one another.
Love WILL look, sound, and feel like:
-Public and private displays of affection
-Caring for the physical health of your loved one (bringing them soup, medicine, tissues, warmth when they’re feeling down)
-Caring for the emotional/mental health of your partner (listening to and empathizing with their feelings)
-Making the time for meaningful conversations and providing a space for emotional connection (actively engaging with each other as opposed to passively tolerating each other)
-Respectfully and effectively communicating with each other during conflicts
-Love is doing something for your partner because you know it’ll bring them joy or meet one of their needs - and doing so simply because their happiness brings you happiness and knowing this is a mutual understanding
-Love is not having to explain the above point to your partner
-Love is having ALL of your feelings welcomed
-Love is unapologetically expressing yourself and still being respected and accepted
-Love is knowing that your partner chooses to love you - they have agency - they did not stupidly “fall” into love - they CHOSE to be with you
-Love is placing your partner’s needs and happiness on par with (not above!) your own :)
Part II: On feelings & needs…
All throughout my last relationship, any conflict I had with my partner was usually initiated by myself. And I was typically trying to express how a need of mine was not being met. There was NEVER a time when my partner expressed a need of his that wasn’t being met. I started to feel self-conscious - why was I the only one feeling like my needs weren’t being met? Was I too needy? Were all these feelings crazy and irrational?! Why did it seem like he was so cool, satisfied, and complacent all the time? I would ask him to share if he had any unmet needs and he often just kept silent and didn’t even know how to figure out if he had any negative feelings or unmet needs.
Ultimately, the demise of our relationship was due to our toxic cycle of (mis)communication. He grew tired of facing the same issues month after month (that some need of mine was not being met). He took my expressions of my needs very personally - it seemed like he interpreted my unmet needs as a reflection of how good or bad of a partner he was - which explained his usual defensive demeanor.
My partner was a very techy person - an electrical engineer - so I thought if I could relate emotions, feelings, and needs to something more concrete, maybe he would understand and stop taking my expression of unmet needs so personally. And then it hit me! Sex! We had an amazing and communicative sex life. We were extremely comfortable talking about our sexual needs, desires, and fantasies. We were eager to try new things to meet our partner’s needs, desires, and fantasies because it brought us erotic pleasure to see our partner revel in sexual ecstasy.
Clearly my partner didn’t interpret my expression of sexual needs as a reflection of his lack of sexual expertise - he knew this was something he could change or improve - and he was motivated to do so because my sexual pleasure brought him sexual pleasure.
So, back to feelings and needs - we live in a patriarchal society - a culture that values hiding your emotions or proving you don’t have any because to do so is feminine and thus inferior. So it’s difficult for women and especially men to be in touch with and identify their feelings and needs - and MUCH harder to make such requests of your partner to help you meet your needs.
But if we could just flip our perspective on feelings and needs...just like a partner can listen to your sexual needs and enthusiastically do what it takes to get you off sexually - they should be all ears to what your emotional needs are and then enthusiastically do whatever it takes to get you off emotionally!
However, as long as we live in a society that values domination: (toxic) masculinity over femininity - all humans, regardless of gender identity, will be fearful of and reluctant to get in touch with their feelings and needs - and much less be able to communicate about them. And sadly, we’ll be less likely to ever experience healthy, caring, respectful, responsible, mutual, nurturing, empathic, and true love.
So what does this all mean?! This means the revolution against patriarchy starts within yourself. Do you know what your own feelings are? Do you know which of your needs are being met or unmet? Do you know what can be done to help meet those needs? Do you know how to express these requests to meet your needs to yourself? Are you willing to listen to yourself and make your feelings and needs a priority?
¡Hermanx! - this is called self-love and care. It’s time we stop feeling ashamed that we yearn for love - we are HUMAN - our feelings and needs are always valid. ALL feelings are welcome. If we don’t take responsibility to care for and love our body, mind, and spirit - no one will. The search for love starts within yourself.
My personal journey to experience self-love and self-actualization is extremely rewarding - however, I still got a ways to go. And while I’ve been working hard on showing myself the love I eventually want my life partner to show me (and show him or herself) - I can’t help but doubt if I’ll ever find a partner who’s just as conscious and willing to challenge the patriarchy as I am. I yearn for a partner who decides that his “”loyalty to the people whom [he] love[s] is always more important than whatever lingering loyalty [he] may sometimes feel to other men’s judgment on [his] manhood”” (hooks, 2002)
As DJ Khaled would say - they don’t want us to have successful, loving relationships! Mutuality and commitment to support one another’s spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical growth is MAJOR key to experiencing true love.
So, if there are any woke men of color out there who are willing to do the (cue Rihanna) work, work, work, work, work to challenge the patriarchy with me and experience true love...holla at ya gurl.
*All quotes were directly taken from “Communion: The Female Search for Love” by bell hooks (2002)