When I was a kid singing Hill's "Ex-Factor," I had no idea what the word reciprocity meant, nor did I know that that's what she was saying when she broke it down in the song ("re-ci-pro-ci-ty")-- I would always just sing gibberish during that part, haha.
Although I knew that Hill was singing to a lover and talking about a romantic relationship, as a kid, I sang it with my mother and father in mind (as I did with lots of other songs that dealt with love).
A few months ago, I read a book by Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions, and within the book she makes the argument that love does not and cannot exist where there is abuse, neglect and/or mistreatment. She also addresses the fact that to embrace such a definition of love means that a lot of us will be forced to come to terms with the fact that we have not actually received love from those who have claimed to have loved us. Because I am currently in Switzerland and do not have the book with me, I cannot provide direct quotes, but I will insert them when I get a chance.
Nonetheless, what Bell Hooks stated in her book made sense to me and I began to understand why it sometimes pains me to be around certain people that I love.
After reading the book, I tossed this idea around in my head for quite some time: In the act of giving and receiving love, there must be care, but care alone is not enough to say that there is love.
This means, for example, if a parent ensures that their child has food and clean clothes everyday, but also physically and verbally abuses the child, the act of feeding and clothing the child is not enough to say that said parent loves their child. In other words, both the mind and the body must be taken into consideration.
Love can be exhausting work, which is why, if you are giving it in abundance, it is important that you are also receiving it. You will know when love isn't being reciprocated because you will feel exhausted and in extreme cases, you might even feel pain-- physically, mentally or both.
For example, I once told someone that I love that being around them made me feel like dying. At the time, I wasn't completely sure what I meant by this. All I knew was that I'd done my very best to describe how I was feeling in that moment.
Once we parted ways, the feeling slowly disappeared, but my mind could not stop wondering. Later on, I realized what the feeling was and why it pained me to be around them. The presence of the feeling had to do with old scars that existed within our relationship, but also, I began to realize that we possessed very different love receptors and neither of us could actually give the love that we needed to each other.
There isn't much that you can do to guarantee that someone will be able to give you the love that you need and, in fact, the kind of love you need often changes depending on what stage of your life you are in. Just think, we struggle to give ourselves the kind of love we need, and we are thought to know ourselves better than anyone. With this being the case, I've begun to live in my body and exist within my mind like a child might live in the world.
I don't always know how to love my body or how to sustain my mind, but I've made it my sole responsibility to listen to and learn from them. Together, they've been teaching me how to go about living in a way that is true to myself and as a result, when I am not receiving the love that I need from those around me, I can use the love I have stored within myself to carry on.
Loving is not easy, but when it is accomplished, something beautiful is created and can be sustained with both diligence and care.