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Like, Love & In Love: How To Really Know The Difference

Love & Relationships

Trust me, I know how it feels to take a long time to fully release a man that you love. And when I say "long time", I'm not talking about a few months either. I've been pretty open about the fact that when it comes to my first love, it took a little over two decades to really and truly get over him (for the record, to me, "over him" means although there is complete peace between us, he no longer has any piece of my heart, seeing him no longer triggers butterflies, and there's no possibility of there being a romantic future moving forward).

Why the heck did it take so long? There are a few factors that come into play. Physically, he is soooo my type. Although I was sexually-abused as a child (and teen), he is also the first person I chose to give my body to. Even to this day, I dig his brain (a smart man with a lot of wit is the ultimate aphrodisiac for me!). But I think, more than anything, I'm simply not wired to "kinda love" someone. Either I'm all in or I'm all out and since he was my first experience with romantic love, once I started, I didn't have an exit plan.

So, what finally got me past all of that? Going to lunch with him one day back in 2015. For the billionth time since 1993, we discussed that maybe this time something could work. But for whatever the reason, when he said to me, "I've always loved you and I'm always going to love you", something in me clicked. It was like, in those few seconds, my mind scanned over our on again/off again emotional roller coaster ride and I honestly couldn't tell the difference between how he treated me when we were in love, when there was just love between us, and when we tried to co-exist by liking one another as friends.

That's when I knew it was time to bring our perplexing lil' love story to a close. It's also when I realized that unless every human being knows the distinctions between like, love, and in love, we can find ourselves thinking that just because someone uses a particular word that the actions that should express it will follow.

Yes, they should. But unless the person saying them actually knows what they're saying as they're saying them, there's a huge chance that they won't. Here's what I mean by that.

The Meaning of Like, Love, & In Love

The Definition of "I Like You"

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Like is cool. It's when you know that you're attracted to someone beyond the physical. You enjoy some of the same things. You see a lot of life the same way. You're not thinking too deeply about where things could go in the future, but you know that you definitely want to spend more time with this particular individual.

And so, you go on a few dates. Come to think of it, "date" might be a strong word at first because it implies there is a romantic connection; however, sometimes folks are not sure what the connection is — yet. Hmph. Come to think of it, this right here can oftentimes be the cause of a lot of disillusionment with relationships because while Person A thinks "Let's catch a movie" means that Person B is really digging them, Person B actually may be asking in order to see if there is real chemistry — or not. (Amen? Amen!)

Like is platonic (although one day I'll break down what that word really means). Like means both people are free to see other people. Like offers absolutely no guarantees and, to tell you the truth, like also doesn't come with a ton of expectations either.

Two people who like each other are on the road to becoming friends and maybe something more. But if nothing comes out of "the like", there are no hard feelings (or at least there shouldn't be).

The Meaning of "Love"

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Love is what grows from like. Or at least it should. I say should because, unfortunately, there are a lot of married couples I work with whose main problem is they skipped over like and jumped right into love (or lust that looked like love to them at the time). So when all of the fireworks and excitement died down, they realized they didn't complement each other very well and actually didn't like each other very much.

Anyway, when someone loves you, they care about you on a deeper level than like. There is a profound connection. They make investments into you and the relationship. They are careful with your heart and time. They know something is real and they are (typically) open to exploring it. They see you and adore what they see.

Here's the challenge, though. You probably know (or at least heard) that there are different kinds of love — eros (sexual); philia (friendship); storge (the love between family); agape (universal love; the kind we should have for all mankind); ludus (uncommitted love); pragma (practical love; for instance, a lot of marriages start out with a lot of eros but stay married due to pragma), and philautia (self-love).

Can you just imagine how much time, pain, or even, based on the situation, disgust could be spared if the first time when a man said, "I love you" we followed that up, "Wait. What kind are we talking about here? You love me like you wanna get some, you love me like a friend, you love me like you love people at your church, or you love me like you dig me but have no intentions on ever committing to me?"

Unfortunately, love is used so loosely that a lot of us assume that the way we view it is the way someone else does. If there's a word you should never move on based on assumptions, love would have to be it.

The Definition of "In Love"

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A while back, I penned an article on this site entitled "5 Signs That You're In Love (All By Yourself)." I've been there, which is why I wrote it. But to tell you the truth, life, research, and maturity have all taught me that being in love alone is kind of impossible to do.

Here's why I say that. Whenever we're sharing the fact that we're in love with someone, what do we usually say? "I'm IN love WITH so-and-so." The word "in" means to be in a place, position, or type of relationship. The word "with" means to be accompanied by.

So tell me something. If being in love with an individual means, by definition, that you are in a position and kind of relationship where they are accompanying you in the same kind of love you have for them, how can you possibly be in love with someone…alone?

I can't tell you the number of single women I've talked to who find themselves being straight-up pissed all because they are in love with a man who isn't in love with them. But when it comes to being in love, if he's not right there with you, in love is not what you are. You may love him a lot, but in love? Highly doubtful.

Believe you me, I could go on and on with a topic like this but, hopefully, this provided a bit of a blueprint as you're figuring out the whole like-love-in love thing in your own life.

Like looks and lives a certain way. Love looks and lives a certain way. In love sho 'nuf looks and lives a certain way. Look for the clear signs of what you're dealing with first and then — for the sake of your mind, body and spirit — move accordingly.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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