I’d like to initiate by talking about the standard ideas of what love is. When I began this essay project last week I started by reading through countless quotes on love. I expected a whole lot of poetic, romanticized jargon, and there was for sure plenty of that. I found it interesting that I quickly began to see that perceptions of love seem to be able to be broken down into 3 basic categories, and I also began to see themes within those categories.
Today I want to talk about category #1: Poetic Love
I’m referring to the kind of love most of us think of when we think of love. The kind of love songs are written about. The kind of love we are all “searching” for. The kind of love that we “fall” into, that we cannot live without once we obtain, and that causes suffering when “lost”. You know, love…right?
Well, as I’ve poured over words spoken about this kind of love the main theme I’ve noticed is that love is selfish. That’s right, selfish. And I can’t help but ask, is that love? Elisabeth Rohm pretty much sums up my conclusion on the subject when she says, “When you fall head over heels for someone, you’re not falling in love with who they are as a person; you’re falling in love with your idea of love.” And also, Alexander Smith, saying, “Love is but the discovery of ourselves in others, and the delight in the recognition.”
Background check: I have always been a sucker for love, have always been one to proclaim my love for falling in love. All my favorite songs and movies are about finding love, and losing love, and the joys and pains that come along with love. As I’ve mentioned before, I also very much tend to be afraid of love. Or, well, not of love itself, but the pain that comes along with it. I’ve had my heart broken many times, too many. Several times ago I pretty much shut down, reinforced my heart’s fortress of stone, and went into hiding. I am married… so that’s a problem. But love just hurts too bad, doesn’t it? I’ve felt like opening myself up to love and being hurt again would be like the fatal round, you know? How many times can one heart break before it’s totally irreparable?
I realize now that these feelings are all incredibly selfish. As is the common feeling of jealousy we experience in love. An ex of mine used to like to quote someone who once said something to the effect of, “Every married man should be a jealous man.” I totally bought into that, I think a lot of us do. I mean, if we love this person and think so much of them of course we realize that others might be attracted to them as well, and because they’re so great if we were to lose them that would just be too much to bear.
“Jealousy contains more of self-love than of love.” ~Francois de La Rochefoucauld
I’m appreciating the truth in this. I sat down with myself to ponder instances when I’ve felt jealously (which took some time, there have been many). What was it that was really concerning me? You’ll find I like to ask myself questions… and digress… So, what is this jealousy? I can’t help but feel like what it is for me is the fear of losing a person. So now I ask myself, what does that have to do with love? Ummm… actually, it has nothing at all to do with love. All it really has to do with is my concern for myself (cue lightbulb). What I’m really fighting for is to not be hurt. In no way does that have anything to do with my love for the other person. I’m afraid of facing rejection, of feeling like I wasn’t good enough, of feeling unattractive, of being alone. There is absolutely not a hint of real love in this, not for the other person, and not even for myself. If I loved myself, I would have no need to worry about these things. Not only that, but I would see the destructiveness of it and not allow myself to accept such self-abuse. If I really loved myself, that would be enough. If he left me, I would be okay. Loving myself would even open up the possibility of truly loving him. If I loved him, wouldn’t I see him as independent from me and on his own journey through life? Wouldn’t I realize he is not a possession? I can’t “lose” him because I never owned him in the first place. And really, if I truly, purely, completely loved him, wouldn’t I want what’s best for him, even if that isn’t me?
“He that is jealous is not in love.” ~Saint Augustine
I’ve come to realize these things and SO much more, which I will share in essays to come. This enlightenment has come with so many emotions. Mostly, I’m excited by it. But it’s also not an easy thing to face the truth about myself. The truth is I had no idea what love is, and I’m only just beginning to find out. The truth is, I’ve been selfish and inwardly focused. Perhaps the most painful truth is, that my selfishness and misunderstanding of love has inflicted an incredible amount of pain on the very people I proclaimed to love. I’m sure to some extent this is merely part of the human experience. We didn’t come here to be perfect, we came here to learn and to grow, and if we are doing that we are, is essence, perfect. I doubt any of us will ever experience loving perfectly as a constant in our lives. Sure, we can learn how to do it and get better and better at it, but I think we will always have times when we regress from our integrity, so to speak, and indulge in our humanness. That’s totally okay, we learn each time. We get back up and try and again and we increase in strength and in understanding. That’s what it’s all about, and embracing this is probably the best start to self-love we can get, which is a prerequisite for loving anyone else.