Her Campus Logo Her Campus Logo

On Love: My Reading Of Bell Hooks’ ‘All About Love’

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

I started reading bell hooks’ All About Love just in time for Valentine’s Day. I hoped the perspective in the book would help me to better cope with the day and not just because I’m single. Valentine’s Day marks the first anniversary of what I consider the start of the worst year of my life. Yes, it was because I saw that my ex — with whom I was never officially with, but I consider to be my first love — had posted for his girlfriend. Of course, the state of my life depended on a former romantic relationship with a man, and declined due to his rejection. I am not unique in having this experience; that is what society is told under patriarchy. 

Why did this relationship have such a strong effect on me? Why is love an integral pillar of people’s well-being? I was aware of bell hooks’ notoriety in feminist literature and wanted to know how she went about the subject. My surprise was that the focus was not on romantic love at all. All About Love sheds light on clarifying the concept of love and explaining how it is essential for everyone to experience love regardless of race, class, or sexual identity.

Love Is an action

Asking anyone what love is will get you a mixed bag of responses. Some will say it differs for everyone on account of love languages, some will say love does not exist or matter. hooks opens the novel by establishing that we as a culture, if we want to better understand love, must agree on a definition. A standard dictionary will say that love is based on “deep affection.” In reality, there is much more dimension to love than what hooks names “cathexis.” Cathexis is a strong feeling of investment in a person or object. This feeling of obligation is not love. hooks does not define love as a feeling at all. A feeling is a noun, love is a verb. Love is an action with intention and should be taught as such. She builds her novel from the definition given by M. Scott Peck in The Road Less Traveled.

“Love is an act of will…We do not have to love. We choose love.”

M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

The novel builds its ideas from the tenant of love as an action with intention, conscious effort, trust, respect, and honesty.

On situation-ships

What inspired me to write this piece was the shock I felt in reading a quote included in the book from Harold Kushner’s When All You’ve Ever Wanted Isn’t Enough.

“…we may be raising a generation of young people who will grow up afraid of love…because they will have seen how much it hurts to take the risk of loving and have it not work out. I am afraid they will grow up looking for intimacy without risk…They will be so fearful of the pain of disappointment that they will forego the possibilities of love and joy.”

Kushner’s self-help novel was originally published in 1986, well before social media and digital technology had transformed every young person’s life. Today people, especially members of Gen Z, are willing to give themselves up to a relationship less and less, vying for a relationship of no risk all reward. 

Social media has created more distant relationships between people. Knowing that social media does not reflect real life but feeling left out regardless is confusing. In my experience, social media has increased my own feelings of lovelessness by heightening my awareness of not having enough friends, fun, or love in my life. It looks like everyone has it so easy, so why am I the only one who has to take risks? It’s taken a long time for me to internalize the fact that I don’t see their risks, or if they even risk anything at all, and only show surface-level intimacy. Situation-ships are an advent of the trend of wanting no risk for rewards. No emotional intimacy means there is nothing to lose at the end of the relationship or risk during its pursuit. Of course, risk is scary, but is it worth it to be comfortable with what is essentially empty fulfillment?

On Self-Love

Over winter break, I spent a lot of time in therapy to prepare for the upcoming spring semester. The feelings of lovelessness I harbored had become unbearable. I didn’t think I could ever open myself up to good experiences due to fear that they would hurt me as my past had. These feelings of lovelessness were not purely from the failed romance I mentioned. I felt it in the friendships I abandoned by transferring schools and in my family relationships talking with my sister about the struggles we had growing up. Everything felt like love bounced right off of me. What my therapist had said, and what I will never forget, is that I was closing myself off to the world. “My window was closed” was the metaphor she used. The love wasn’t bouncing off me, there was no opening to let love in. There was also no way for the love I could give to come out. I was stagnating in my fear of vulnerability, of being hurt, and self-loathing. 

All About Love (and my therapist) share that love, attention, and care are all things I can give myself. The cliché “If you can’t love yourself how can you love anyone else” hooks insists has more truth than we know. There is absolutely no external relationship that will do more for our self-esteem than the relationship we have with ourselves. What hooks says was integral to her development of self-love was stating positive affirmations throughout her day. To be honest, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of affirming myself. I try to practice self-love by staying grounded in the present moment, not living in the past or the future by anticipating or reliving anxiety-inducing thoughts. I am learning that I am allowed to just be and, in a way, that is my affirmation. No one but myself can give me that love which I can then continue to show to those I care deeply for. 

Rupauls Drag Race Gif By RealitytvGIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Overall as a woman, being active about loving myself rejects the ideals of patriarchy and capitalism. They preach I need external validation or a product to find personal fulfillment. Love not being free to us as women and consumers prevents us from standing on our own against domination. The practice of love is not a commodity and cannot be bought. We as a generation must relearn to trust others and live in a way that is not closed off to hope and love. How we act shapes the world and the world in turn shapes us, they will never be separate. All About Love has reminded me that there is importance in caring for myself and others and that there is more to love and life beyond the rhetoric we are given through culture.

Lia Gilmore is a writer for Her Campus at the UCONN chapter. Lia is a junior undergraduate physics major and astrophysics minor at the University of Connecticut. She wants to become an astrophysicist and study black holes and stellar formation. Before coming to UConn, Lia started her undergraduate journey at a different institution and has insight into the transfer experience. Lia is deeply interested in feminism and looks forward to studying it further and expressing those ideas in an organization built for college women. Outside of academics, Lia loves to crochet, watch YouTube, and read in her spare time. Lia is from Long Island, New York where she enjoys the company of her family and Sato dog Ollie. Lia would describe herself in one word as determined and she will not hesitate to tell you a very long story of a time she beat the odds. Lia looks forward to contributing to such an important database of college women's voices and experiences. Lia writing interests include feminism, pop culture, science, opinion, and advice articles based on experience and research through an easy-to-read lens. Lia is hoping to start undergraduate research this semester and wants to gain more experience in journalistic writing before devoting her life to academic papers.