Occasionally I picture myself discussing matters of the heart with my children. When they’re small and get their first crush. When they’re older and have their first heartbreak. When they are much older and considering marriage. And I picture myself telling them about the best, worst, and most bittersweet parts of love, because even in my short life, I’ve felt all three.
The best part of love is when it’s requited. You feel it, they feel it, and it is able to grow and flourish on both sides. This is the love my children will grow up seeing between Travis and me. They’ll see the things we do for each other, the way we express our love for each other, and if they’re paying attention, they’ll even see it grow. The feeling of requited love is the absolute best feeling in the entire world and one I wish for all my children to have.
The worst feeling in the world is hatred. I hate to admit that I have felt pure, unadulterated hatred in my life. I’ve come to realize however, in my experience, that you can only hate someone as much as you once loved them—that hatred comes from a place of betrayed love. You can never hate a stranger as much as you can hate an unfaithful spouse, a hurtful sibling, or in my case, an abusive parent. But hatred is, almost always, an unrequited feeling. The only one who feels it is you; the only one it hurts is you. Luckily the worst feeling in the world is also the most unnecessary. You can live your entire life without hating someone. If you find that you do hate someone, really consider if that hatred is helpful to you or not. Is it affecting the person you hate in any way? Is it holding them back from living their own lives? The answer is almost always an unequivocal no. It will take time to overcome this feeling, time to let it go—months, years, decades even—but remember that the time given to hatred (not the time overcoming it) is unproductive time. And wasting your life on the worst feeling in the world is the worst thing you can do for yourself and your own happiness.
And finally, the most bittersweet feeling: unrequited love. This is a feeling that I don’t talk about much even though it once almost tore my heart in half. Maybe that’s why I don’t talk about it. I imagine myself telling this story to my children very carefully. Unrequited love is not an unreturned crush (though that is incredibly painful in and of itself). It’s true love on your part, and most commonly indifference on the part of the other person. The love I felt for this person was complete; I would have done anything for him. In fact, I ended up completely removing myself from his life because I knew that it made him uncomfortable that he didn’t return my feelings. It was devastating, embarrassing, and hurt more than anything I’ve ever felt. Even though at the time it felt more bitter than sweet, afterwards I realized how much it had changed me. I realized my capacity to love, and it was immense. I was able to extrapolate that love to strengthen my feelings of charity toward others. If I couldn’t have romantic love, I could put that love toward being kind to people. It was hard—quite possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I got through it and let it help me in the long run. And because I knew what real love felt like, I recognized it when I fell for Travis.
I’m fully aware that my kids will probably roll their eyes when I try to tell them all this, but I think deep down they’ll listen. The human condition transcends generation gaps and there is always value to be found in the experience of another. More importantly, I hope my children have their own experiences with love. That they’ll figure some of this out on their own. But they’ll also know another type of love: the love of a parent. And hopefully that will help them along their way.