Love… Actually

Something in recognition of Valentines Day

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Love… Actually

Love is an action word. It’s not something that “happens” to us, but a choice we make.

— Eddie

By Edward-Yemil Rosario

Okay, so when I start quoting myself, things are really getting out of hand.

My observation is that many people mistake that all-too-familiar and intoxicating initial “chemical” reaction for true love. Let’s get this straight: “love at first sight,” or that quality men and women like to call “chemistry,” is just that — a chemical reaction presented to us by evolutionary adaptation in order to ensure that we attract one another and therefore the survival of the species.

In fact, this chemical has been identified and it can stay in the system anywhere from six months to two years. The irony is this: the chemical is generated by our own internal system. The effect eventually begins to fade, however. While I will not deny that we experience this chemical reaction as something powerful and meaningful, I don’t believe this is real love. This is an attraction on a primal/ instinctual level: powerful and exhilarating but not the real thing.

The kind of love we feel when we “fall” in love is not empowering or unconditional love. In fact, it is based on need and powerlessness. Just think of the language we use to describe this feeling of falling in love: “Falling head over heels”; “being swept away”; “Going crazy over you.” There are many more such phrases, but they all seem to indicate a state of being ungrounded, as if a force outside of ourselves has taken away our reason and sanity. It’s no wonder a popular song famously claimed, “love sucks… ”

Any relationship that begins with a need for another person’s love is doomed to fail as long as it stays on that track.

One psychologist, Eric Fromm, called this form of love, “immature love.” In his book, The Art of Loving, Fromm says, “Immature love dictates that ‘I love you because I need you,’ while mature love states, ‘I need you because I love you.’”

He goes on to define mature love:

“Mature love implies care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge… It is an active striving for growth and happiness of the loved person, rooted in one’s own capacity to love.” Note that it says nothing here about conditions, bartering, seeking, or expectations. This definition of love focuses solely on caring for the other person.

When need is the only thing you bring to the table — when we see ourselves as dependent on other people as the source of the love that we need — we are weakened. We experience ourselves as apart from (ego-based) and needy. And, sure enough, someone at sometime will not meet our needs in the manner we desire and we will experience disappointment and suffering.

It is at this point that we will resort to seduction, manipulation, control, aggression, or even murder. If you don’t believe me, just note that a significant portion of homicides are crimes of passion.

That we tend to perceive love as a scarce commodity is a major source of jealousy. The notion of love as something rare that can be given and received will always make people unhappy. By believing that love exists outside of ourselves, we give the power of our happiness over to another and we experience ourselves as at their mercy.

I think this form of thinking/ living is a sure recipe for misery. Eventually, when one relationship after another fails in delivering this elusive happiness, we still believe that the only solution is to fall in love with someone else. In all my years of studying and working as a healer, the best definition of insanity I have come across is “doing the same actions and expecting different results.” The cycle of suffering continues.

I have a friend, for example, who goes through several distinct stages when she enters a relationship. You can almost predict them. During the first stage (usually short-lived), the object of her love can do no wrong: he is “Mr. Perfect.” The way her lover speaks, acts, and thinks is beyond reproach and hence he is “The One.”

Eventually, as the pink cloud of this stage dissipates, she begins to find fault with him: he’s not attentive enough, or he has certain mannerisms or habits that are annoying, he doesn’t listen to her, or is insensitive. He has habits that need to be changed. The list goes on.

Finally, during the last stage, she will hold you hostage over the telephone for hours (if you allow her) complaining about how this person is making her miserable. Not only will she express anxiety and depression, but she will also experience an array of physical symptoms, such as headaches and fatigue, that are debilitating. This from a highly intelligent, formally educated, and successful, otherwise independent, woman.

My friend is not that much different from many of us. We tend to believe that if only the other person would get it “right” (translation: meet our needs), we would be happier. My friend will go into detail about all the character defects of her lover and believes that they are the reason for her unhappiness. I wouldn’t be surprised if her lovers had similar thoughts about her.

One in two marriages end up in divorce and about 30-35% of the marriages that stay intact are reported as unsatisfactory by the participants.

Think about that for a moment… The vast majority of relationships fail to meet the needs of those involved.

I think the cause for this is that people are certain that their unhappiness (or potential happiness) depends on the behavior of the other person, and that many are convinced that the other is at fault when this happiness fails to materialize.

I had a spiritual teacher who called this state of being the “If Only Mind”: “if only” he became more attentive and less critical of her, she would be happy and the relationship can be saved. “If only” she weren’t so needy and became more independent, then he wouldn’t feel so suffocated and would want to spend more time with her.

It’s the same type of thinking that happens in other areas of our lives, especially when we want to try something new: “If only I had more time and weren’t so stressed, I could really get into that exercise program”; “If only my boss wasn’t so domineering, I would excel at my job.”

The point is that this state of mind, the “If Only” state of mind, traps us in a vicious cycle, guaranteeing that we stay imprisoned in a world of reacting to the behaviors and thoughts of other people.

Does this sound familiar?

Have you caught yourself believing that your happiness seems dependent upon someone else’s behavior, thinking that if only they did what is expected of them, then we would be happy? I know that if I were honest enough, I would admit to thinking this way, though I do it less, or am more conscious of this tendency, these days.

The person we blame for causing our unhappiness can be a mate, parent, or child. However, it could also be a boss, an obnoxious store clerk, or even a rude and thoughtless driver (ever hear of “road rage”?). In fact, our happiness most often seems dependent on everyone we interact with on any given day. My former office mate’s happiness sometimes was dependent on the weather, or the level of noise.

In essence, we experience ourselves as at the effect of others, not in charge of our own reactions and moods. Consequently, we tend to blame others for our unhappiness. But the fact is that people rarely do what we expect them to do. In fact, if you talk to “them,” they will have the same exact complaint about you — if only you did what they expected you to do, then they could be happy, and then they would make you happy as well.

Anyway, what happens is that when we conclude that our partner is not going to wise up, we exchange that person for another, and the cycle repeats.

Hmmm…

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization

9 Comments on “Love… Actually”

  1. now I am depressed, and it is all your fault .. at least I know who to blame … so no one can be happy and in love ?? While I don’t doubt the research, I hate the idea that something like “love” can be outlined like it isn’t really something of importance … I know the only person who can make me happy is myself .. but I am never happy alone .. so I take less happiness for the company .. after all, Celine Dion wouldn’t have a career if what you said was true ..

  2. Here is what i’ve observed about unconditional love; i’ve known many advocates of it but it was clearly a message of “do as i say, not as i do.”
    You were to accept the worst in the person; habitual drinking, lying, cheating, squandering money, but you were not to behave the same. After all, the “reason” this would be partner had for the attraction was because you were “different”.

    This delivers dual messages. One, that though the partner asked that no conditions are to be implied, s/he in fact, has conditions. The partner has developed reasons for relationships above and beyond the request for unconditional love. Two, relationships evolve. As you pointed out, a person can and will love quite unconditionally as long as the chemicals are zapping back and forth, but in the end, there have to be good reasons for a couple to stay together long after that first explosion of neuron impulses shocked their pheromones into action.

    The evolving mind doesn’t really put a stipulation on loving unconditionally; only on who would make an agreeable life-time partner. The middle years are a crucial time. Many people battle through their middle years, unsettled by past deeds and misconducts toward each other, yet still holding on to the warmth and familiarity of their relationship toward each other. They grow accustomed to each others ways. As they face their elderly years, they are glad they have someone they can grow old with and share in memories. Often times, when one of these elderly partners die, the other dies within a year or two afterward.

    Often, the middle age years become the last resort for satisfying relationships. Having raised their children and with no more real internal drives to keep them together, they begin looking at outside relationships or alternate life styles as the true road to happiness. These are the ones who are stuck in the failures of their own fantasies. They had shoved aside their grudges toward each other in their illusive unconditional love, and now find themselves with no love at all. Usually, these are people who have failed to love themselves enough to accept the love of another. They cling to their vices as reasons why nobody love’s them, instead of recognizing that these are the tools of their own self-destructive impulses. They are looking for dependent/ co-dependent relationships to satisfy their cravings for love.

    The evolving mind doesn’t crave dependent/ co-dependent relationships. It craves the company of similar interests, of personality compatibility, of common goals. It draws upon its own resources as well as the resources of long term friendships and mutual understandings. The evolving mind seeks awareness and is happy when that symphony of synapse takes place and communication develops.

    Communications could be a whole article in itself, which i’m sure you’ve contemplated as well, so i’ll quit usurping your thread. Overall, i’m very much in agreement with what you said, just thought i’d add a little of my own perspective.

  3. I spent my entire youth writing about love, what love was, and what people thought it was. By the time I hit my 30s I was tired of it. But yes, I agree with most of what you write, E. I do think love exists, but that people make their own love story. It’s basically what we do as writers…we take the real, the unromantic and the drudgery of life and make it into magic. People deserve this happiness and I have mine. But ideas about one true love, predestination, chemistry, “you just know” and all that other crap is just going to fuck up some idealist out there forever. Er, not that I speak from experience.

  4. Karla: Love is unconditional, but we live in a world of conditions. IOW, love is perfect, but we live in an imperfect world. I hear this from clients all the time. LOL

    Many people really don’t understand the difference between being accepting, or being non-judgmental, to accepting ABUSE. This is especially true when dysfunctional relationship patterns (addiction, poor impulse control, narcissism, etc.)that run counter to our values.

    IN FACT, unconditional love dictates that you don’t allow the parts that destroy or undermine love’s essence. For example, allowing an addict to continue to destroy his or herself in the name of love, is exactly the opposite of love. At least it is for me. there comes a time when one has to say, “I love you, but I’m going to love you from afar.”

    and yeah, communication is a whole other book, but I believe that if your heart is in tune with its natural habitat (love) that communication flows — or flows more easily.

  5. Rich: Those love songs perpetuate the myth, that’s why Celine has a career. LOL

    Let me out it this way: how can a person offer love if they have no love for themselves? It’s the same with forgiveness. You response, however, makes a crucial point: some people could mistake my message to mean that it’s ALL about the individual, but it isn’t.

  6. Mitchell: LOL! I first wrote this for a forum on a singles site I used to frequent. I got a lot of angry mail! It’s sorta like when people find out there’s no Santa Claus…

  7. There were any number of men I was in love with when I was younger. It was fun to play. It was cotton candy. And probably a good idea; I got it out of my system. When I went looking for a life partner, I looked for someone I liked. Does he make me happy? I am happy a lot in his presence. He seems happy in mine. I have been living with him for 36 years and the relationship is still a puzzle to me sometimes. But I like it and try not to over-analyze it.

  8. Benni: the proof is ion the pudding! I’ve never been good at consistency, but I would gather that real commitment and genuine love doesn’t come in a drug.

    thanks for your succinct, but wise comment.

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