What is Love? (Shhh, Haddaway…)

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Drawing Mark left on my desk, Ottawa, May 2017

It took me 34 years to realize love is a weird feeling—it’s difficult to define it and express it.

I love Feng. I love Mark. But I’m not sure I always get the message across.

With Feng, it’s a bit easier. He is a rational adult—most of the time, at least—and he understands when I do something for him, for us, when I acknowledge needs and respect choices. We built a common history and we supported each other through ups and downs. We have the occasional screaming match and many disagreements but he can decipher the subtle ways I show I care. I think he knows I love him. I hope he does.

Of course, once again, we had to bridge a culture gap because we were taught to express our feelings differently. Chinese aren’t very demonstrative—much less than French, anyway, where cheek kissing is the normal way to greet people you aren’t even in love with. I grew up in a household where we hugged, kissed, called each other “chéri(e)” for absolutely no reason. Feng doesn’t have a pet name and his mum tend to yell out his full name to get his attention. I have yet to see his parents touching each other. I think I didn’t always understand the way Feng was showing his love. To him, “sweet nothings” are just words—anyone can say “I love you,” it doesn’t mean it’s true. He’d rather walk the walk than talk the talk.

As a child, I never doubted that my parents loved each other and loved me, even though I was secretly convinced they liked my younger sister best (I still claim that’s the case). Regardless, I knew I was a wanted child and despite occasional arguments regarding my inability to score 100% in math and other family matters often involving my sister (why did they always take her side?!), I felt loved. I still do.

Now, as a mother, it’s my time to show Mark my unconditional love. However, it’s not as easy as it seems.

First, love is a complex feeling. Mark was a wanted baby yet I didn’t enjoy every second of being pregnant—honestly, I liked a few minutes of it here and there over nine months, which isn’t a whole lot. I liked the baby, just not the baby being inside me. Pregnancy is sold as the highlight of every woman’s existence so I felt like a complete failure and I still carry guilt for this to this day.

Was it love at first sight once he came out? Yes. Honestly. I was amazed at how perfect he was, how exhilarating it felt to hold him, the result of half Feng and half me. I remember saying, “we made him, isn’t it crazy?” as I was being stitched up in the delivery room.

I still loved him through the sleepless nights, the long, boring hours and the thousands of daily tasks we had to perform to keep him happy. Yet some days, if you’d had showed up at the door and looked sane enough, I would have handed him over to you. I remember bargaining with newborn Mark in the middle of the night. “I see, I see, you’re hungry … how about that, I feed you and then you let me sleep, please? Okay, please?” A word of advice to new parents—don’t bother with this hack, it works about as well as telling teens to not think about sex.

There is no on/off switch on love. I never stop loving Mark—in fact, my love grows stronger every day as I see him becoming his own person. But it’s also possible to love someone and be extremely mad at him at the same time—I’m sure you hate your significant other once in a while, right? Well, the same applies with kids. They can be insensitive, merciless, exhausting little bastards. At least, mine can be. Now, how do I explain Mark that yes, sometimes I get mad but I still love him? Worse, how do I explain that my super not cool rules usually have one goal—keeping him alive, healthy and making him a better person?

I think about Mark all the time. I care about him—I buy his favourite foods, read books, teach stuff, answer questions. But of course, for Mark, this is not love, this is just me being a mother and doing my job. To him, “true love” would more toys, more candies and watching Game of Thrones.

As a baby and a toddler, Mark craved physical contact. I could never put him down, he had to be held all the time. These days, he isn’t very cuddly and he isn’t one of these kids who claims “my mommy is the most beautiful”—I know I lost the fight to Elsa from Frozen. I don’t hug him much, I respect these new boundaries although sometime, deep down, I wish we’d be one again, like when I carried him in the baby wrap.

I didn’t have a kid to feel loved and appreciated as a person. That’s an unreasonable burden to impose on a child we chose to bring into the world. However, I did develop unconditional love for the little human being we created. I hope he understands how much I love him—but no, Mark, despite your lovely drawing, I’m not letting you practise unlocking my cellphone, you gonna brick it. Sorry. Love you, though.


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. It was an interesting exercice to read your article while having this f Haddaway song stuck in my head. That said, that is such a moving article… almost a love letter to Mark.

    • Funny how we all remember this song even though it was a shitty hit in 1993 (!). I wasn’t even old enough for teen music back then!

  2. It’s funny bcse for us it’s the other way round. We never had pet names, cuddles or said I love you in my family. In fact, I remember distinctively telling my best friend I would never want to cuddle with a BF before I met my Scotsman.
    But he on the other hand always come up with cute nicknames, is cuddly and I think sometimes feels I don’t love him bcse despite the fact that I have come a long way with showing affection I can still be a bit “cold” I guess. And we both show our love in different ways in daily life.
    As for Mark I’m sure he knows how much you love him! I’ve always thought that the role of a parent was to provide love and affection, but also to provide a safe haven where a kid can experiment and push boundaries safely. Not just to be a “best friend”. Not that I’m an expert, and I know ideas and practice are quite different!
    And I think the more we love pple the more they can irritate us. And kids can have a very special and trying way of irritating us 😉 😛

    • Did he have a happy childhood? Just curious 🙂 I know you have a good relationship (…I think?) with your mother-in-law, so he is in touch with his family, that much I know!

      I have to admit pet names don’t work well with Chinese names or very short names. But now that I think about it… yeah, we do have pet names, just not so much for Mark. Weird. I guess I like his name, after all, we picked it!

      • Yes I have a great relationship with her 🙂 It was mostly happy buthe lost his dad when he was really young.
        I think the main difference is that his was loving, caring and fun.
        He has nicknames for me that have nothing to do with my name haha “tulip” at one point, “Black barbie”, “China” or “Africa” for my butt etc.
        I’ve never had a nickname for my name, wish I had bcse pple here really struggle with it! Mark is such a good name that way, it works in both English and French (not sure about Chinese though?)
        And I have nicknames for my dog… (Yes, I’m officially a crazy dog lady, not my fault he’s so darn adorable)

        • Oh, I love your pet names! Black Barbie is awesome 😆 Totally something someone who loves you can use (without getting slapped!)

          Now I”m dying to know what your nicknames are for doggie!

          • Hhaha I think the best one he came up for me was “cookie penis”, penis pronounced the French way with an accent. He hasn’t used it in a few year but definitely not something to be said in public haha
            Since you asked, it’s more based around his name: Fredster, Fredwina, pupidou, pupscicle and chupachup
            [Red face emoji]

  3. I have a theory about this: showing your love for your kids…depends on the kid. Ground breaking, I know!

    I find my youngest needs a lot of cuddles and hugs and kisses. If she is feeling sad or upset, I can make her feel safe and happy by just spending a few minutes on the couch with her, hugging it out.

    My middle daughter doesn’t want me to touch her EVER. But when she is feeling left out, she just wants to DO something with me. I’ll ask her to come along on an errand or we’ll just sit next to each other reading or we’ll bake some cookies together. It’s the shared experience that she needs to feel loved.

    My son likes to be coddled. When he’s feeling stressed out or that we are mad at him, I can always make him feel better by making a fuss over him. Guide him to the couch, bring him his favourite book and stuffie, fix his snack for him while he waits like a prince. Trust me, he doesn’t get this treatment every day!, but it’s times like that that make him really feel loved and special.

    • It’s so funny how siblings can have a complete different personality. There is really no formula for being a parent, is there! Do you find their personalities change a lot with time?

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