book review: Whatever . . . Love is Love

love is love

Whatever . . . Love is Love By Maria Bello.
Dey Street Books| May 12, 2015|256 pages |$25.99| ISBN: 978-0-062351838

Rating: ****/5*

Actress and activist Maria Bello is known for her roles on ER and in films like Coyote Ugly and A History of Violence. She wrote a much lauded and popular Modern Love essay for the New York Times entitled “Coming Out as a Modern Family.” Bello wanted to share her disdain for labels and illuminate how her perhaps unusual family situation works. She’d fallen in love with a female best friend yet remained close with her 12-year-old son Jackson’s father. While struggling from a parasitic infection after a trip to Haiti, Bello started reading her journals and decided she thoroughly need to tell her story.

“In the summer of 2013, while I struggled in the hospital, I realized that waiting to do something isn’t always an option. In a moment, everything could end, and my stories would be lost—stories of love, partnership, miracles, and madness that filled the hundreds of notebooks beneath my bed. During my months of recovery, I read through each one of my trusted journals, collections of my thoughts since I was a teenager.”

In Whatever . . . Love is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves, Bello ponders many aspects of her life. She shares intimate details about failed affairs, insecurities, challenges growing up with an alcoholic bipolar father and her own bipolar diagnosis. She shares stories and thoughts on being labeled a humanitarian, a feminist, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an actress and a lover. In her memoir Bello answers questions such as am I a partner; am I perfect; am I a good mom; am I a humanitarian; am I a feminist; am I a writer. This is how she shares her stories and shares herself with the reader. She lives life on her own terms. While Hollywood and acting situations constantly change and flow, Bello strives to remain in the moment and be appreciative. She possesses a beautiful spirit and attitude. It’s an enlightening read that’s honest, smart and thoughtful.

On labels:

“Traditional labels just don’t seem to fit anymore. These labels are limiting the possibility for people to question more and become who they are meant to be. By asking questions and challenging our own beliefs, I feel we can update all of our outdated labels and realize that labels need to evolve just like people do.”

On the term partner:

“I have never understood the distinction of a ‘primary’ partner. Does that imply that we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? To me, a partner is someone you rely on in your life—for help, companionship, mutual respect, and support.”

On sex vs. love:

“To me, sexual desire and love are two different things. That certainly doesn’t mean that people inside of long-term committed relationships don’t have great sex. I know some who do. But not many, if I’m honest.”

Maria Bello has struggled with the sex/love connection like many women:

“I felt rejected. I knew he just wanted sex and what I really wanted was sex and love.”

She’s done humanitarian work in Nicaragua, many countries in Africa and Haiti. After the Haiti earthquake Bello returned to help: “Those of us who went in those days after the quake all experienced a deep despair, and an incredible joy, feelings that would bond us together for life. In those first few months after the earthquake, I saw the best and worst of what human beings, nature, and I are capable of. I saw moments of grace that I won’t ever forget. We were all challenged by what we experienced. When I left Haiti for the first time after the earthquake, all I could think of was returning.”

She expresses what many with mental illness feel and for an actress, celebrity, public figure to discuss mental illness so openly and bravely is wonderful for the rest of us who also grapple with mental illness every day: “I cried because no one would ever want me, because I was too messed up. And now, everyone knew. They knew that my father was sick in his head and that I was just like him.” And another reality: “Now and again over the years I’ve had to adjust my meds, just like my dad and others I know who have this or similar illnesses. I am dutiful about taking my pills every day. But once every couple of years, if I am triggered in some way or the medicine stops working, I find I’m not quite myself. I know it’s time to go back to the doctor. And I do. I know that without medication I would end up suicidal and eventually dead.”

On feminism:

“For me, calling someone a feminist is one of the highest compliments I can pay a woman, or a man, for that matter. It’s a label I give myself and I wholeheartedly accept others giving it to me.”

On being herself:

“I am already whole—just complicated, wounded, loving, difficult, and kind. I have finally discovered the joy that comes from hitting bottom and pushing oneself up to the top again.”

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Dey Street Books.

Whatever…Love Is Love: Questioning the Labels We Give Ourselves

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