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How Bell Hooks Restructured My Mindset Around Love

Jul 8, 2024

I’ve heard you mention a lot about Bell Hooks’ book All About Love and restructuring the mindset around love.

Can you talk more about that?

So, Bell Hooks is a really fantastic feminist theorist who has written a lot about various aspects of the experience, particularly of being a black woman in America and one of her books All About Love is having a bit of a moment.

It’s not a new book but interestingly, there’s a TikTok account that goes and visits men’s bedrooms in New York City and like rates them and treats it like a home renovation show and in at least two of the separate videos, the men had the book All About Love in their room and these were like disaster rooms.

They were rooms with like car parts sitting in the bedroom, like very strange things.

So All About Love has become a little bit more popular lately.

I think a lot of people are talking about it.

One of the key kind of like – the key main points of All About Love from my understanding of it is that love is not a noun.

Love is a verb.

Love is not this feeling that happens to us that we are powerless over.

It is not an emotion we experience.

Love is better understood as something that we do, something that we are responsible for doing if we say that we feel love and part of that from her perspective is about bringing more responsibility to the way that we approach love.

If love is this thing I’m powerless over, it happens to me.

There’s nothing I can do.

I’m in love.

Oh my goodness!

I don’t actually have any responsibilities to the person with whom I say I’m in love.

I don’t have any responsibilities to myself.

It’s just this disempowered state where things happen to me and I can’t do anything about it.

Bell Hooks instead talks about how love is a way that we are responsible to and for each other, that we are accountable for how we show up with each other, that we must show in our actions the love we profess to feel.

Otherwise it is meaningless and one of the kind of related points to that is that abuse and love cannot coexist.

You cannot simultaneously love someone and abuse them because if you are abusing them, you are not loving them, if you think of love as a verb, right?

That’s deeply upsetting for a lot of people because I think a lot of us who have experienced relational abuse whether that’s within a family or a romantic relationship or friendship, whatever it is, we want to hold on to this idea that like well, but they loved us.

They just were very bad at loving us.

When this idea that you cannot say that you love someone if you are abusing them, I think can feel like a loss.

I would argue and I think Bell Hooks would argue that instead it is about us coming into a space of acceptance of the reality that exists, right?

If I love someone, if I really love them and I am showing that through my actions and my behaviors and I am abusing them, those two cannot happen at the same time because there is nothing less loving than abuse.

Another important concept she talks about is the difference between love or loving and cathecting.

So cathecting is a term I believe from psychoanalytic theory and cathecting is that like pull you feel towards someone that a lot of us learn to call love.

That when you feel that like oh, I want to be with them, I want to be closer, I feel drawn to them, that is cathecting and cathecting is easy.

Cathecting is easy because we bear no responsibility for it.

We’re helpless against it.

It is something that makes us feel good about ourselves for having it, that like allows us to maintain this image of the other person as like perfect and beautiful and amazing without having to do the real hard work of showing up in that relationship, being accountable, performing love in a way that is active and meaningful.

So, again kind of the central core of this book is that when we talk about love, a lot of how we talk about love, particularly in like American culture is this way of saying it is like this feeling that you feel and it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you have the feeling.

If you feel it in your heart, even if you treat someone terribly, you can still love them where instead she’s talking about how in order to really love someone, we have to show it through our actions and that means a lot of different things.

That means being willing to move through conflict with them in a way that is loving.

It means setting boundaries with them.

It means being accountable when you mess up.

It means being responsible for what you do.

It means holding them accountable when they hurt you.

It means that we have to be living in a way that reflects the thing that we say we feel inside and I think particularly these days there’s a lot of focus on kind of moving towards ideological purity and like this way of kind of going to extremes about things of like either I agree with everything you do or I have to never talk to you again or you do this one thing and I can never speak with you and love instead in her framing is about ways that we instead wrestle with moving through those kinds of conflicts, moving through those kinds of disagreements, moving through the ways that we sometimes feel each other and that doesn’t mean we always have to.

That doesn’t mean you can never like set a boundary or step away from someone.

What it means is that if we love someone, we can’t treat them as disposable.

We can’t walk away from them as though none of that matters.

It's a really fantastic book.

I strongly recommend everybody buy it and read it.

It’s the kind of book that I intend to read over and over again because I think that there is just so much in there.

It is so dense in the ways that it helps kind of unpack what love is and make you think about where have you actually been loving in your relationships.

I’ve had a lot of relationships where what I felt was something I described as love and the ways that I was behaving didn’t align with that.

I was behaving poorly towards them.

I was letting them behave poorly towards me.

I was not setting my own boundaries.

I was people-pleasing.

I was taking advantage of them if they had less boundaries, right?

I think that most of us have had a variety of connections where we did not live up to that standard of making love as an action, as a verb, something that we have to be accountable to for ourselves over and over again every day.

So I think it’s a really beautiful book to read if you’re wanting to think about what love is for you and how you want love to look in your life.

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