“I love you.” “I love this.” “I love that.” Love is a crucial part of the human experience, a vital component for both a healthy mind and body. While it is universally important, love does not have one singular definition. Love can be expressed and felt in a variety of ways within our day to day lives—always multifaceted and unique in every form.
Often idealized in many cultures is the romantic love between two people; however, there is much more to a loving relationship than what is shown in fairytales and the media. Paly senior, Sophie Stier, has been in a long term relationship for a year and a half and has since learned the nuances about love. “Relationships are more than just love,” Stier said. “Just because you love someone doesn’t mean your entire life revolves around them.”
Coming into her first relationship, Stier has learned the truths about love that society does not always present. “[Love is] beautiful and wonderful, but it shows that being in love and having someone love you doesn’t solve all your problems in life,” Stier said. “I feel like people are desperate to be in a relationship, thinking that their life is going to be immensely better, but that’s not how it works.”
While a romantic relationship can be beneficial, Stier emphasizes the importance of remaining grounded and not losing sight of our goals. “I want people going into a relationship to remember to put themselves first and not make huge sacrifices that won’t benefit them,” she said. “If your partner truly loves you, they will want the best for you and wouldn’t encourage you to sacrifice something important to you for them.”
Affection is a key part of romantic relationships and there are numerous ways to express gratitude for one another apart from physical attraction. Both partners should feel heard, accepted and affirmed of their feelings. Simple acts, like being kind to their family members or listening to their day, can make all the difference. “The person you’re in love with is also your best friend, someone who makes you laugh and enjoy your time with them,” Stier said.
But relationships can also yield potentially hazardous situations, and teenagers are among the most vulnerable. Senior Isabel Armstrong is Co-President of Paly’s One Love Club, a group of students dedicated to educating people about healthy and unhealthy relationships.
“A healthy relationship is one where there is trust, respect and open communication,” senior Armstrong said. “You feel comfortable sharing how you feel and you do so often, and both parties are equally in control of the pace and direction of the relationship.”
But despite the risks, Armstrong encourages people to open up to love. “You should never let the fear stop you from being vulnerable,” she said. “If you’re always closed off you will never get to experience love in the first place.”
A type of love often overlooked is the love shared between friends and family. The people that are always there to support you are among the most important.
“Love among friends and family is all about really caring for someone, being able to have fun with them and wanting to protect them and make them happy,” Paly senior Kate Milne said. Platonic love is centered around the fundamental connections people make with each other through communication and simple acts of kindness. Unlike romantic love, platonic love is void of lust and instead focuses mostly on being a supportive figure in someone’s life. To Milne, it’s important to show and express appreciation to others. “I express my love for my friends by giving them little gifts, remembering details about things they’ve told me and telling them how much they mean to me regularly,” she said.
Having a support system is crucial for everyone. It’s especially important to be surrounded by people that are reliable, trustworthy and accepting. The mutual love shared between these individuals is what allows people to be themselves. “They [friends and family] feel like home. You would do almost anything to make them happy or keep them safe,” Milne said.
While the loving connections we build with others are essential, learning to love oneself is equally important. People often forget to show compassion to themselves, resulting in spending an inefficient time caring for their own mind and body.
There is a misconception that self-love and self-care entail unnecessary, luxurious treatment, when in reality it is much simpler than that. “Self-love is accepting your flaws, and looking out for your wellbeing both on a physical scale to taking care of yourself emotionally,” Armstrong said.
Paly junior and Social Wellness Commissioner Sabrina Chan works to promote a healthy social and emotional balance for students both on and off campus. “Self-love is the idea of being in tune with your body and your needs,” Chan said. “It’s the ability to read into yourself and understand what you’re feeling.”
Self-love, while seemingly straightforward, can be difficult to implement because it is not emphasized from a young age. “When I was in elementary school during Valentine’s Day, I remember teachers explaining different ways people show their love to another such as writing cards or gifting chocolates,” Chan said. “However, we were never taught how to love ourselves.”
Showing vulnerability, especially to yourself, can often be uncomfortable and frightening. But, the benefits of expressing self-love and accepting yourself is crucial for a balanced lifestyle. “Through self-love, you are able to understand yourself better and you might find a new interest or hobby,” Chan said. “Doing something that brings you joy is important in one’s life because we all need an outlet from the stressor of daily life.”
Mastering self love helps strengthen connections with others around them and the relationship they have with themselves. “I truly believe in the concept that you can not love another if you don’t love yourself,” Chan said. “How are you supposed to open yourself up to someone else if you are unable to open up to yourself?”
But, love is not exclusive to humans and many individuals seek love in non-human forms. This connection is most often experienced through animals who only reciprocate human kindness with love. Rachel Nehemiah, volunteer coordinator of Pets In Need Palo Alto, has had a multitude of experiences seeing the impact that animals have. “Pets bring a lot of love and happiness to people’s lives,” Nehemiah said. “A pet is a friend no matter what you’re going through in your life.”
At the Pets In Need animal shelter, Nehemiah gains an understanding of the love that a pet brings every day. “It brings me a lot of happiness seeing an animal going from a bad situation to a great one and knowing I helped make it happen,” she said. “Months and even years, later I think back on an animal from my shelter, and it still brings a smile to my face.”
Having a furry companion can teach people the strength of communicating in any sort of relationship. “Because our pets can’t speak to us, the love we receive from them is somewhat different,” Nehemiah said. “We have to learn to be better listeners and pay attention to how they feel about our actions.”
Although animals cannot express their love in obvious ways, we notice how they communicate their affections through actions. “My dog comes into my room just to sleep on the ground next to my desk where I’m working and my heart grows three sizes,” Paly senior Lori Pradhan said.
Another unique aspect to the bond we share with animals is their complete honesty and lack of judgement. “One of the best things pets give us is the chance to be ourselves,” Nehemiah said. “We sometimes get hung up on how we appear to others or what others think of us, but we don’t have to worry about that with our pets. We can be as silly and open as we want with them.” But no matter where people find love—with others, themselves or even animals—it is abundantly clear that the connections we make have long lasting effects on us.
But no matter where people find love—with others, themselves or even animals—it is abundantly clear that the connections we make have long lasting effects on us.