What is love? (5 ways we screw it up)
If you clicked on this post hoping for an insightful critique of the early 90’s hit song by Haddaway I am sorry to disappoint you. This is a post about the ways we screw up ourselves and those around us by misunderstanding love. Here’s ten ways it happens.
1. We reduce it to feelings. How can people “fall out of love” with each other? If you fall in love wouldn’t getting out of it require climbing? Feeling and emotion are certainly a part of love, but real love includes commitment as well. We understand this with children but often jettison that understanding when it comes to adults (whether they be significant others or friends). When your two-year old pees on the floor and tells you he doesn’t like you, you don’t stop loving him. You probably don’t feel the emotion of love at that moment, but your love for him runs deeper than that emotion. Yet when “the spark” goes out of a marriage that sense of commitment is nowhere to be found.
2. We make permissiveness a requirement of love. I was listening to a radio show today where they were accusing parents of emotional abuse. What had these horrible people done? They told their young son that if he didn’t stop getting sent to the principal at school they were going to cut his hair (something he loved). He kept at it and they followed through. Their son cried and was upset about the punishment–this was defined as emotional abuse. Real love cares enough about a person not to let them continue in destructive behavior. Whether this is disciplining a child or doing an intervention (0r something more mild) love cares way to much to say, “just do whatever you want because I love you.” We make permissiveness=love and it does not.
3. We are selfish. Sometimes we judge the level of love in a relationship by how well a person is meeting our needs. Love starts with caring for the other, unconditionally (don’t confuse this with being unconditionally permissive), and hopes to see mutual love grow. When we display behaviors associated with love in order to receive something back we are working a transaction, not growing in love.
4. We settle for substitutes. Sex is not love. Gifts are not love. Living in the same house as someone is not love. Saying “I love you” is not love. All these things can be wonderful parts of love, but love is work and we don’t like work. We like things that come easy–things that feel good. Real love will hurt sometimes. Real love is giving of ourselves for the good of others–through good times and bad–when we feel like it and when we do it just because we’ve committed to. People confuse all kinds of things for love, which can lead to never experiencing the real thing.
5. We don’t have source. If you have a gallon jug of water and are giving people drinks who are thirsty, at some point you will run out. Unless you have a source that can replenish that jug you will quickly be unable to give people water. Love is the same. If we don’t have a source for love that can replenish our stores we will run out and have none to offer. I’ve only found one such source.