One of the greatest challenges in life has been in continuing to offer absolute unconditional love to others completely independently of whether I feel they love me in return or whether they are acting lovable. And this isn’t because it’s difficult for me to love. Actually, in terms of romantic relationships, it’s been quite the opposite. Some would say I have always “loved” too easily.
However, a distinction needs to be made between the kind of love one feels and the kind of love that should be expressed.
Love as a feeling…
Historically, the kind of love I have felt or “fell into”, has happened much too easily and been influenced by whether the object of my affection actively expressed love back to me in a way that I understood.
For example, I have always responded positively to verbal affirmations and declarations of affection. So, if someone told me he thought I was fascinating, talented, or even (gasp) that he was in love with me, my dopamine levels would shift into hyperdrive, especially if the compliment was accompanied by a creative gift like poetry or music! If a boy reached for my hand, hugged me, or grazed the small of my back with his hand, my hormones and neurotransmitters would blend together in one giant, dangerous love cocktail, and I was a goner.
If my romantic past could be spooned into a petri dish and seen beneath a microscope, a disturbing pattern would come into view. All my perceptions about the loving relationships I had were initiated and grown based on how that person made me feel about myself. They made me feel loved, pretty, smart, sexy, valuable. Being with them made me feel better about myself because of what THEY told me. And if they made me feel good about myself, that certainly must be love, right?
As basic and immature as that sounds, that doesn’t mean that a genuine love could not inevitably grow from there. As more time is spent with that person, the relationship could (and should) become based on more significant things. Quite often, unforeseen circumstances force that to happen. And, if both partners are looking at the bigger picture, they may be able to successfully give and express love, even through the hard times.
As a young adult woman looking for a potential life mate, I may have appreciated someone because he was creative, stable, a hard worker, kind to others, or was great with kids. And, upon initial consideration, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with valuing someone who expresses these positive traits. Could it be possible that my appreciation of these traits made my love for him grow, simply because I could see they would benefit me in some way.
The values of stability and hard work benefited me because it showed that this man could be a potential mate who could provide for me. Being great with kids was beneficial because this translated to being a good dad to my future children. Creativity benefitted me because it provided me with entertainment or depth of conversation. HIs kindness to others might benefit me because it increased my circle of friends.
Though it makes complete sense to look for a compatible and mutually beneficial life partner, the commitment to love someone extends far beyond the feelings of love, and whether or not that person provides some benefit to you. Love, in its purest form, should extend from myself, out to all of humanity, though it may not always be expressed or reciprocated.
Ultimately, it is in insecurity that we demand to be loved, that we look to bond with those who will validate us. When people are not successfully communicating that they love us, then we are constantly looking for signs and basing the weight of their love for us on whether they have successfully completed a set of tasks about which they are completely unaware.
*He says, “I love you”.
*She cooks for me.
*He wrote me a love letter and brought me flowers.
*Every time I walk through the room half naked, he can’t keep his hands off me. (Really? This is a no brainer and shouldn’t even be on this list!)
*She compliments me and brags about me to her friends.
*She sacrifices time with her friends to spend it with me.
*I have his exclusive attention, even when other women are around.
*She introduced me to her family.
*She let me sleep in when the baby was sick.
*He made me breakfast in bed.
Do you see how every item on this checklist either contains the word “I” or “me”? This is merely a checklist designed to see if this person makes me feel ok with myself. If he does 7 out of 10 of these items, I must be valuable to him.
I recently saw a video featuring Rabbi Abraham Twerski, where he discussed the difference between selfish love and true love.
“‘Young man. Why are you eating that fish?’ The young man says, ‘Because I love fish.’ The teacher says, ‘Oh. You love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’ He says, ‘Don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and because the fish tastes good to you; therefore, you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.’”
The Rabbi defines this kind of love as “fish love”. This is the kind of love where you are just projecting your love upon someone because you see in front of you, a person who can meet your physical and emotional needs. He or she simply becomes a vehicle for your own fulfillment and goals.
It doesn’t matter whether the expression of love is through words, actions, gifts, quality time, or acts of service. Not any one of these things, in and of themselves are good indicators of the permanency and legitimacy of one’s love for another.
I am going to step out on a limb and state that, in your life walk, you shouldn’t be so concerned about whether someone loves you, because this is “fish love”. Our highest goal should be to express an external love, completely independent of whether one reciprocates. Appreciate the beauty in people and give love to them without concern for what they can do for us.
I need to do better. It has been a constant challenge for me to find my security and confidence independent of any other person’s opinions. The good news is I am doing a heck of a lot better with this as I get older and have the eyes to see and value my own gifts. Only when I find my own security, will I truly be able to love someone else without any expectation of receiving anything in return. I am not sure whether that is a good thing or not, especially if you have chosen to be in a situation where people take advantage of your unconditional loving nature, but I would like to be able to say that is a worthy goal to achieve.