Love. . .explored further
Love that has need and want as its foundation is only a corruption of the very thing that it is pretending to be. Why? In order for love to begin forming, we must be able to transcend ourselves . . . to remove ourselves from the desire to gratify our own pleasures and to put the well-being of another person beyond our own. Does this thing mean that when we love we sacrifice our own happiness on behalf of another? Perhaps. For love that exists as true and complete is nearly always selfless.
The part of our beings that is rooted in our ego cannot love at all. We may think we love someone. But we really are just in love with ourselves as seen through the reflection of another person’s eyes. And because they make us feel a certain way, we tell ourselves, “I love him or her.” But, if what we feel for someone is contingent upon how they make us feel, then how have we put them before ourselves? We haven’t done so. We are acting and feeling out of a place of self-love. And while we should indeed love ourselves as the love we feel for anyone else is always mirrored by the love we have inside, we cannot decide just because someone make us feel happy, sad, beautiful, or wonderful that we therefore love that person.
Actually, it can be very dangerous to say we love someone just because of how he makes us feel or the things he says or does for us. The reason for this is that all of us mortals are deeply flawed humans. None of us is capable of making someone feel a certain way all of the time. Thus, if it is this feeling that we label “love”, does it disappear when the person fails to evoke a certain feeling in us?
To borrow the words of William Shakespeare: “Love is not love that alters when it alteration finds or bends with the remover to remove. Oh no! it is an ever-fixed mark that looks on tempests and is never shaken, It is the star to every wandering bark, Whose worth’s unknown although his height be taken.”
Let us reflect a bit upon Shakespeare’s description of love. Now, in order to convince ourselves that we have experienced love or are in love with someone now, it may be tempting to view Shakespeare’s words as being somewhat idealistic. After all, was he not a poet? And do not poets oft-times view such things as love in a too sentimental or romantic light?
Maybe. But what if Shakespeare is right? What if true love really is—or at least, should be—as steadfast as he seems to think it should be. If we have never experienced love of this kind, does this mean we have failed to ever truly love?
Of that, I am not certain. I think it is as unjust to begin judging love as it is pointless to attempt to define it. At the same time, true love is undoubtedly much rarer than any of us imagine it to be—any of us, that is, who have not experienced it. Ah, how easy it is for us to mistake need, desire, and want for love! And how quickly pettiness, resentment, expectations, and even contempt climb into that little vessel of love that we believe to be contained within our hearts. We may find ourselves wondering, “How could what was once such seemingly infinite love have become this?”
Well, like so many things, the answer is to be found within the question. The answer is, of course, that it never was “infinite love” to begin with—not that we, as finite beings, actually possess the capacity to love anyone or anything “infinitely”. We are only able to strive in that direction and sigh in frustration when we find ourselves unable to live up to our own expectations in this regard.
So, as finite beings, what sort of love are we capable of? Now that isn’t something I can provide anything but a tentative answer for. Like many other things, I believe that love, if we must define it, can more easily be defined if we focus on what it is not as opposed to what it is.
However, if I, a mere mortal, must make an attempt to tell you what sort of love we are capable of (mind you, my attempt will be feeble at best as I am not infinite), I would say that most of us, unless we are completely narcissistic, are able to love to the point where we transcend ourselves. This would mean as you might have surmised, that we therefore find within ourselves the capacity to love someone else just as much—and hopefully more—than we love ourselves. But how can we give to someone else more love than we have for ourselves? After all, I did just say that the love we give another person is a reflection of the love we have inside.
Honestly, I cannot explain why it is that I feel true love should be able to put another person’s happiness before the happiness of oneself. But I nevertheless feel this to be the case. For it is only when we do this that we are able to crucify our own desires on the altar of someone else’s happiness and well-being. If it were impossible for us to do this, then what parent or husband/wife would ever be willing to give their own life for their loved one? And how would anyone ever walk away from another person when that person loved someone else rather than him?
Oftentimes in life, we know why something should be the case or even is the case. Yet we fail to be able to provide the “why” behind our belief or assertion. Does this mean, then, that our belief or assertion is invalid? I don’t think so. For if we say that we must provide evidence of everything, how could any of us ever have faith in anything or anyone, even in ourselves?
You don’t have to be the least bit religious to find truth in these words from the Bible (Hebrews 11:1), “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” I would say, looking upon faith in this light, one must conclude that once faith is seen, it ceases to be faith. Thus, love that requires proof or evidence becomes something that is not strictly love.
So, how does faith in love connect with so-called love that is really need? I would say it is because what calls itself love but is really mostly need requires specific qualities, actions, and words in order to sustain itself. Love that is primarily based in need is like a plant that must be watered daily. It is forever thirsty for the water that it is depriving itself of by nourishing itself on its own needs and wants.
You may be ready to say, “Well, this is all very fine, and your definition of love sounds positively lovely. But is it realistic to think that love needs nothing in order to give itself sustenance?” Of course, it isn’t realistic. But then, I never said it was, did I?
What I do think, however, is that the needs of love are met without effort when love is true. That is to say that they are not met because the person who those needs are being placed on feels that the other person will cease to love them if they fail to meet those needs. In true love, both persons, in transcending themselves enough to love the other person at least as much as they love themselves, treat that person as if that other person was, in fact, themselves. Now that makes sense, doesn’t it?
You wouldn’t, for instance, be cruel to yourself or try to control yourself or manipulate yourself. And, if you did, it would be quite evident that you felt a genuine lack of love for yourself. I don’t think that any of us who treat ourselves shabbily could possibly try to convince anyone that we love ourselves when we are mistreating ourselves. If we attempt to, then we are once again trapped in the cycle of self-deception.
Rather than love being created from what we say or do, you might say that you can discern whether or not love is present by the words and actions that result from what is being called “love.” I’ll turn to the incomparable Soren Kierkegaard to make my point more clearly. “Love is known by its fruit. If one makes a mistake, it must be either because one does not know the fruit or because one does not know how to discriminate rightly in particular instances.”
Kierkegaard goes on to discriminate between true love and what is just self-love under another name: “. . . one may make the mistake of calling love that which is really self-love: when one loudly protests that one cannot live without his beloved but will hear nothing about love’s task and demand, which is to deny himself and give up the self-love of erotic love.”
Now I just contradicted myself, didn’t I? I say this because if love should not be based upon need and want, then how can it demand anything? What love demands, I would say, is honesty and the ability to put another’s needs and wants before one’s own. That being said, if a man or woman who loves someone else knows how important it is to be faithful to the one he/she loves, if the man or woman in question fails to respect this need, then we must question whether or not true love on his or her part exists.
We must never attempt to use the word “love” for something that we know in the innermost recesses of our being isn’t love at all. When we do so we are not only degrading love but also we are using manipulative means to bring about a desired outcome.
Love does exist within freedom. But it also requires truth. Otherwise it might be suffocated. So, let us all be more honest with ourselves about when we love someone, lest we attach the word “love” to feelings that are not really “love” at all unless they are a product of self-love.
for Diana, who requested another article about love
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This article and all articles written at My Odyssey was written by Sascha Norris. (C) Copyright by Sascha Norris. All Rights reserved