Have you ever crossed a bridge and seen the sides covered in tiny padlocks? These little “lovelocks” are a global phenomenon, and they can be found on bridges in large cities all over the world. You can also find them on fences, sculptures, lampposts, etc. Nowadays, pretty much anything that will sustain a lock is fair game.
Some of the locks have initials, names, or hearts carved into them, and they are latched there by couples to symbolize their love and commitment to each other. Then, the key is thrown away to represent their unbreakable bond; a padlock that will remain locked forever.
The Lovelock Tradition
The tradition of lovelocks is thought to have originated in the early 1900s in Serbia, where an unfortunate young woman, Nada, lost her lover. He went to war in Greece and fell in love with another woman, leaving Nada to die of heartbreak. As a result, the women in the town started protecting their love by inscribing their names and the names of their loved ones on locks and fastening them to the bridge where Nada would meet with her lover. The tradition has since become a trend in countries all over the world.
One of the most famous lovelock destinations is located in Paris: the Pont des Arts bridge. The Parisian tradition started around 2008 shortly after it gained popularity in Italy, where it was made fashionable by the Italian film I Want You. Subsequently, 6 years later in 2014, part of the Pont des Arts collapsed under the weight of over 700,000 padlocks.
The damaged structure was rebuilt with glass panels, leaving no way to attach locks. City officials came up with other creative (non-damaging) ways for couples to express their devotion, such as taking selfies and posting them with the hashtag #lovewithoutlocks. Lovers still travel from all over to see the bridge and pledge their love to each other.
The idea of a lovelocked bridge in Paris is romantic. But when I was there going through a marital separation, I developed a distaste for the practice. The locks seemed like a superficial way to show love, and I couldn’t help but see them as a symbol of broken promises. I also thought about the weight of the locks, both figuratively and literally.
The “I Love You” Wall
I didn’t pay a visit to the Pont des Arts, but I visited the Wall of Love, also known as the “I Love You” Wall, which features the phrase in over 300 different languages. The wall is located in Paris’s Jehan-Rictus Square and was created by the artist Frédéric Baron. The “I Love You” Wall is where my cynical thinking started.
The area was crawling with street merchants selling lovelocks, their cries of “A lock for your love!” screeching in my ears.
Fed up with being hassled to buy a 20-euro lock (the sort a 10-year-old girl might use for protecting secrets in her diary), I imagined various scenarios in which I would respond to the next merchant with feigned earnestness: “Do I get a refund if he breaks up with me?” “Do you have divorce ones? And those would be half-priced, right?” “Will it work on a stranger, or do they have to already be in a relationship with me?” “Is there a limit on how many I can use at once?”
I would pick away at the symbolism and absurdity of the lovelock, all to entertain myself.
Love-mocks, Love-blocks, Love-shocks
Although truly, what happens when a “lovelocked” couple breaks up, a relationship ends, or a once-happy marriage falls apart? For example, does Mary “cheated-on-by-her-now-ex-husband” Smith think about their traitorous lovelock somewhere out there, once a metaphor for love, now symbolic of what could have been or perhaps just a symbol of grief? The lovelock tradition is seen as a romantic gesture, but for some, the lovelock becomes a reminder of a lost love, a source of pain or sadness.
And how many of the lovelocks out there are representative not of love but failed relationships, abusive partnerships, or broken hearts? The stats aren’t great. More than 85% of dating relationships lead to breakups and most daters feel like their dating lives aren’t going well or that it’s hard to find people to date. The average length of a relationship is less than 3 years. The average marriage lasts approximately 8 years, and nearly half of first marriages end in divorce with even higher divorce rates for second and third marriages.
What’s more, who’s to say that the people who stay together are in a healthy partnership? 1 in 4 women experience sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner. In fact, every minute that goes by, 20 people on average are physically abused by a partner in the United States.
So really, how many of those locks represent love? It’s not romantic; it’s tragic.
And then, think about all the lovelocks that were removed to prevent structural damage, as was the fate of hundreds of padlocks at Pont des Arts. Or, what if your lock was one of the padlocks that led to structural collapse. What does that symbolize? That love is a destructive force or one that isn’t meant to last?
Finally, I thought about the dark side of the “forever locked” concept. By throwing away the key, couples are essentially locking themselves into the relationship. This could be a dangerous thing, as people and relationships change over time. Should love be viewed in such finite terms?
Love is not a lock. In fact, there’s nothing less romantic than thinking about a relationship as a prison. True love is given freely, no strings (or locks) attached, and it’s not binding. Not only that, but the lock concept limits the potential of love by viewing it as an object. Love is not a thing, but an experience that is shared. It can’t be forced or coerced; it’s something we choose.
This is when the realization came that a lovelock may still have a beautiful purpose, for while some loves are temporary, there is a type of love that should be the “forever” sort. Self-love should be protected and nurtured at all costs. No matter what happens in life, as long as you’re living, it’s worth investing in yourself. Besides that, self-love is the foundation of all other relationships.
“To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”
After my epiphany, I was inspired to remake the lovelock concept in a way that would promote self-love. Here are five fun and creative ways you can embrace self-love with a lovelock:
1. Keep the key
Buy a lock and decorate it with your own personal touch or have it engraved to your liking. When you travel to a meaningful place, attach your lock to something that will last, perhaps a landmark or a bridge. But keep the key.
The key is a symbol of your power. It’s a reminder that you hold the key to your happiness and fate. You can choose to dwell on your mistakes or to forgive yourself, learn, and move forward. It’s up to you.
The key is a symbol of your worth. The key can also remind you that no one can make you feel bad about yourself unless you let them. You hold the key to your sense of self and your self-worth. Keep the key close, wear it as a necklace, or put it somewhere safe as a daily reminder that you are in control of your life. Let it remind you that you are worthy of love and respect.
2. Keep the lock too
Another option is to keep both lock and key. This is a more sustainable way to participate in a self-lovelock tradition, and it has a deeper symbolic meaning.
The lock represents your self-love, while the key represents your commitment to it. By keeping both, you are reminding yourself that you are worthy of love and that you are committed to loving yourself unconditionally.
Once again, you can wear as jewelry or keep in a safe place that you can see as a daily reminder. Let it remind you of your commitment to self-love and of the importance of loving yourself first.
3. Create your own self-love tradition
Find a special place that you can visit regularly to reaffirm your commitment to self-care. Perhaps it’s somewhere in nature, a place that brings you peace, a spot that holds fond memories, or even a place you’ve created specifically for this purpose.
Once a year, attach a new lock to this place as a symbol of your ongoing journey of self-love. You can do this alone or with a loved one, as long as the experience is meaningful to you.
Be sure to choose a place that is likely to remain accessible to you for years to come. This way, you can return to whenever you need a reminder of your commitment to self-care.
4. Give lovelocks freely
When you practice self-compassion, you’re better prepared to meet the challenges of life, knowing that you can count on yourself. Your capacity to love others actually increases. By choosing to love yourself unconditionally, you’ll have more compassion for those around you.
Lovelocks are symbols of self-love. When you see someone who is struggling, offer them a lovelock as a gesture of kindness and support. Share about the concept of a self-lovelock and how it can serve as a daily reminder to slow down, attend to needs, and practice self-compassion. Let them know that they are not alone.
5. Share the self-love message with others
Leave a self-lovelock on a bridge or other structure where lovelocks are common. This is a great way to spread the message of self-love and to inspire others to embrace their own worth.
Personalize your lock with a message about self-love. You can write or engrave your lock with a quote, a mantra, or simply the words “self-love.”
Leave the key in the lock or even leave an extra lock so that others can take it if they need it. This is kind gesture showing that you are willing to share your love with others.
Your self-lovelock will be a reminder to others that they are worthy of love and happiness. It will serve as an inspiration to all who see it.
To close, I’m not actually against the idea of lovelocks. They can be a fun and cute gesture, but they are ultimately just that: a gesture. They can be easily broken or lost and they’re not a guarentee of love or committment.
I believe that the self-lovelock is different; it’s a powerful symbol of self-compassion and healing. It is a reminder that you are worthy of love, and it can be a source of motivation when we are struggling.
I think there should be a Wall of Self-Love. This would be a place of inspiration where people could share their self-affirmations, messages of support, and mantras that have helped them through tough times. It would serve as a powerful reminder that it is not selfish to care for yourself, and that you should be proud to share this message with others.