Reflections on a Lifetime of Love
By Stefano Barros (he/him), Senior Director at oneTILT
Over the last few years, I reflected on what it means to love someone. Now, I loved and been in love in different stages of my life — and I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’m very fortunate to feel that much more intensely, now that I’m officially a husband (hey, Maritza :)). Up until recently, I never really put much thought into why love plays such a significant part of my life. Sure, I’ve read about it in books (or song lyrics) but I haven’t done any of that oneTILT-esque reflecting, defining, or developing what love means to me specifically — until recently. So queue the camera blurring out to a dreamy sequence, and I’ll take you back to a stage in my life when love was something that I didn’t necessarily know that I felt, but it was something that I thought I did by default.
Growing up as a Cape Verdean American in the Boston area means you were always going to be surrounded by family. Think Kingdom Come, or This Christmas, or Jumping the Broom, but like… every day, and with very different music. I’ve always felt that love meant unconditionally accepting any and everyone as they are. So family members would argue about anything from Lebron vs Michael Jordan to rehashing a childhood conflict, and it could definitely get heated. But, at some point, between an hour and a week, we’d be back at it like nothing happened. That notion influenced how I engaged with friends and even acquaintances, allowing me to build a lot of room for folks to be in my life, but also, being the main deterrent of my ability or willingness to set boundaries.
Fast forward to now, and a LOT has changed, and for some reason, it’s a lot harder to lean into that universal, unconditional acceptance without at least thinking — or thinking about how I feel — in response to something that someone I love has done or said to bother or offend me. I can’t pinpoint one specific reason for this, but I do know part of it is this feeling of unending connection with people — sharing thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, or TikTok. This connection has given me a gift of being able to better understand or hear people’s perspectives, but with that gift comes having to hear some — to put it bluntly — shitty opinions. Another reason could be that I spent the last two years basically locked inside while the world turns and burns, so I’ve had time to confront the harmful or insensitive things I’ve done or said in the past.
What I hadn’t reflected on is what it means to practice that by choice. What does it mean to actually acknowledge someone for all that they are? When my partner and I agreed to be married, we understood that this meant accepting each other with all of our flaws. We also understood that if we were going to love each other for the rest of our lives, we were choosing to love each other’s families and friends as well. I had the privilege of watching our people come together from very different backgrounds, identities and experiences in the name of our union. There were exclamations, celebrations and some disagreements, but everyone respected the commitment that was being made: that we were all actively agreeing to be in community with each other. In reflecting on these moments, I’ve realized how important (and challenging) it can be to do so; to consent to being in community with each other, not in spite of one’s flaws, but accepting them. There was a shared understanding that, though we all wouldn’t be with, or see each other daily or even monthly, that we were family. I felt peace seeing a group of people who probably would never all be in the same room again, agreeing to this commitment on their own terms. As someone who leans hard into being a communitarian, this was an enormous, exciting revelation to me.
I can’t help but think about how helpful it would have been to think about that when I was younger. How could I have set boundaries with my high school friends when they crossed a line with a bad joke? What would it look like to squash a beef with a college buddy after an argument? Where would the heaviness be when I knew I had to break up with a friend at work?
Instead of wallowing in the what if, I’ve made a conscious effort and decision to continue to reflect on this feeling. As I grow and change, so does my understanding of love, acceptance and community. In the meantime, I’m going to keep feeling all the feels, and take time to connect those feels to actions that suit me and show love to myself, as well as others. I’m trying to lean into this in multiple ways, and one of my favorites has been virtually digging into my crates and making a playlist of the different songs that have made me think about or feel love in different ways. (Full disclosure, this, just like my understanding of love, will be consistently updated, so it’s best to listen on shuffle :))
Playlist here: Love Is…