Why Real Love Is Not a Feeling

The feeling of love is about oneself—how we feel about a person or how a person makes us feel is completely about us, not the other person. And that’s not love—not real love. Real love is about the other person and how we treat the other person, how we act towards him or her, how we choose to show up moment to moment in our relationship with that person—whether we do so with love, honesty, courage, openness, warmth, gratitude, appreciation, care, concern, an open heart; or whether we show up petty, resentful, moody, bitchy, depleted, unmotivated, dishonest, fearful, unopen, closed off, armored up, resistant, impenetrable, and vent ourselves on that person.

The moment a relationship becomes more about how another person makes us feel rather than the type of person we are to the other person, we doom the relationship, because how we feel about another person is completely about us, not them. It’s how we treat another and act towards him or her that shows whether we actually really truly Love and value the person or not.

From “The Art of Loving,” by Erich Fromm—

If two people who have been strangers—as all of us are—suddenly let the wall between them break down, and feel close, feel one, this moment of oneness is one of the most exhilarating, most exciting experiences in life. It is all the more wonderful and miraculous for person who have been shut off, isolated, without love. This miracle of sudden intimacy is often facilitated if it is combined with, or initiated by, sexual attraction and consummation. However, this type of love is by its very nature not lasting. As the two persons become better acquainted and more familiar to each other, their intimacy loses more and more its miraculous character, until their antagonism, their disappointments, their mutual boredom kill whatever is left of the initial excitement. Yet, in the beginning they do not know all this: in fact, they take the intensity of the infatuation, this being ‘crazy’ about each other, for proof of the intensity of their love, while it may only prove the degree of their preceding loneliness.

This experience of sudden intimacy is by its very nature very short-lived. After the stranger has become an intimately known person there are no more barriers to be overcome, there is no more sudden closeness to be had. The ‘loved’ person becomes as well known as oneself.

Or, perhaps it might be better stated, as *little known* as oneself. And valued even less.

If there were more depth in the experience of the other person, if one could experience more of the infiniteness of his personality, and the other person would never be so familiar—the miracle of overcoming the barriers might occur every day anew. But for most people their own person, as well as others, is soon explored and soon exhausted. And the result is that one soon seeks love from a new person, a new stranger. And again the stranger is transformed into an ‘intimate’ person, and again the experience of falling in love is exhilarating and intense, and again it slowly becomes less and less intense, and ends in the wish for a new conquest, a new love—always with the illusion that *this* new love will be different from the earlier ones. (pp. 4, 48-49; my abridgement and adaptation)


And from “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck—

The experience of falling in love is invariably temporary. The essence of the phenomenon of falling in love is a sudden collapse of a section of an individual’s ego boundaries, permitting one to merge his or her identity with that of another person. The sudden release of oneself from oneself, the explosive pouring out of oneself into the beloved, and the dramatic surcease of loneliness accompanying this collapse of ego boundaries is experienced by most of us as ecstatic. We and our beloved are one! Loneliness is no more!

The experience of merging with the loved one has its echoes from the time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy. Along with the merging we also re-experience the sense of omnipotence which we had to give up in our journey out of childhood. All things seem possible! United with our beloved we feel we can conquer all obstacles. We believe that the strength of our love will cause the forces of opposition to melt away. The unreality of these feelings when we have fallen in love is essentially the same as the unreality of the two-year-old who feels itself to be with power unlimited.

Just as reality intrudes upon the two-year-old’s fantasy of omnipotence so does reality intrude upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, individual will reasserts itself. He wants to have sex, she doesn’t. She wants to go to the movies, he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank, she wants a dishwasher. She wants to talk about her job, he wants to talk about his. She doesn’t like his friends, he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begin to come to the sickening realization that they are not one with the beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from their own. One by one, gradually or suddenly, the ego boundaries snap back into place; gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals.

At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.

By my use of the word “real” I am implying that the perception that we are loving when we fall in love is a false perception—that our subjective sense of being loving is an illusion. Real love does not have its roots in a feeling of love. To the contrary, real love often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking, when we act lovingly despite the fact that we don’t particularly feel loving or particularly even feel like we like the person at the moment. (pp. 84, 87-88; my abridgement and adaptation)


About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in Courage, Differentiation, Erich Fromm, Love, Love is Not a Feeling, M. Scott Peck, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to Why Real Love Is Not a Feeling

  1. claudia says:

    Great post!! Thank you for sharing

  2. What a wonderful perspective on love, and loving. It has resonated powerfully with me, as I have spent a lot of time thinking about my relationship with my beloved in recent months, and delighting in feeling increasingly fully in love over the past year, after 8 years of marriage. Loving is easy when feeling in love; in between there is hard work to be done…

    • John says:

      Thank you, Laurel, for your comment and for taking the time to read my blog. And I am glad that you have found something here that resonates with you! 🙂

      To my mind, it’s a big thing to “get” in life–how our actions impact how we feel. We seem to be hard-wired the other way around–that we need to feel something first before we can act a certain way. But what freedom! what liberation! in learning that the other way around often works, and works even better! It’s such a great way to get “unstuck” and to turn things around. Especially when you have a partner who all in all is a pretty decent human being. To have it within our own powers to just start acting more generously and lovingly and decently toward the other person, and in all likelihood that will more than turn everything around and make things better than ever! What freedom! What an exciting possibility!

      Again, thank you for your kind words Laurel. I wish you and your beloved as much warmth and happiness as possible in this world!

      Kindest regards,


  3. Stu says:

    Excellent post – I’m a huge fan of M. Scott Peck. His writings helped me to understand that real love doesn’t ask what can I get from this person but rather what can I give to this person (in any given situation). Thanks for the reminder. Stu 🙂

    • John says:

      A very belated thank you for reading and commenting, Stu. And a most excellent point you make. Real love is about giving and the quality (goodness, judiciousness, compassionateness, kindness, warmth) of what we’re giving.
      Kindest regards, and congrats on your book!

  4. Matthew says:

    thanks for sharing this special article. i’m hoping it will play a part in saving my sisters family. she has 2 young boys and has been in a relationship for 7yrs with a kind & giving man who was sadly working on and off in the mines. long story short they drifted apart and she has become emotionally involved with someone else and is now convinced she loves this man. her partner has now quit his job in the mines to try save their relationship but sadly she is finding it hard to reconnect with him. lets see if your article can strike a cord with her…thanks again

    • John says:

      A belated thank you, Matthew, for reading, commenting, and sharing your sister’s story.

      How have things evolved in the few months since you posted your comment? Has the article helped?

      When a person is having an emotional affair, it’s tough for much reason or judiciousness/perspective to make it through. Emotional affairs usually thrive on the absence of said things–the people involved are acting out on emotions (or one person is taking advantage of the other person’s emotional unfulfilledness), being led by their emotions, making decisions based on their feelings and not their principles.

      Having said that, Peck’s words especially have a lot of potency in terms of their wisdom and insight. So “The Road Less Traveled” is always a great place to start; as would be “Passionate Marriage” and “The 5 Love Languages.” The wisdom in these books may have a chance of making it through all of the emotion in the situation.

      Best wishes to you, your sister, her 2 boys, and her husband; and kindest regards,


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  6. Dr Joseph Bray says:

    Lovely post John. I reflagged it; hope you don’t mind.

    • John says:

      Thank you for reading and for reposting! I’m delighted that you did! The goal is to spread the idea that real love is much more than just a feeling or strong emotion.

      Kindest regards, Joe,


  7. STAR says:

    Thank you John this is so helpful. I have always assumed this but due to my stubbornness I believed to the contrary; and entertained the believe because of not wanting to be injustice to my partner by not giving myself ‘fully emotionally’; the media’s influence is the main contributor of this misinformation in my opinion. This revelation can change the world maybe by speeding up the process of spiritual evolution (allowing us to get closer to God, because emotions are based in the digestive system/ primary mind, this can free up how we think without feeling mentally blocked) and it can help so many people who are in controlling and manipulative relationships, to realise that you do not have to be in a mental prison due to your emotions. Powerlessness can be alleviated.
    Thank you again

    • John says:

      Thank you, Star, for reading and for commenting. Developing our perception, thinking (critical thinking), judgment, discernment, perspective, are all very worthy and worthwhile things to do. As the Buddha said, we are what we think; the quality of our lives and the love we give is only as good as the quality of our thinking/discernment/wisdom/insight/perspective. And it takes a lot of concerted effort and inner work and study (and reading good books) to do this, and to get to a place where we aren’t ruled by our emotions and our reactions, but where our thinking and good judgment have their fair say.

      Thank you again, Star, for reading and commenting.

      Kindest regards,


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  9. John….this a wonderful, deep, and very real exploration of love. Thank you so much. Lots to digest and share here. Jonathan

  10. Marriage is a covenant because love is a daily decision, a commitment to the union as more than the sum of its parts, an understanding that such union is impossible without God’s power and grace. In this life, we are capable of real love when we accept and channel divine love, and drive out all fear.

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  12. Meg says:

    I agree! From me: “Feelings are like the weather – they come and go as they please regardless of what you’re expecting.” Feelings can’t be depended on, and shouldn’t be a deciding factor. Love is a presence, it’s a way of being. One can choose to love even if one “doesn’t feel like it”. I think I “feel” a blog post coming on 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

    • John says:

      Thank you for reading and for commenting, Meg. I appreciate it 🙂

      And, I agree with what you wrote regarding feelings–they are to be listened to, paid attention to, but not taken as gospel or dogma. They are a source of information–no more and no less–and as such need to be thought about and considered, not just acted out on.

      So much of what I write about and share on this site is ultimately about “character development” or developing one’s core self, which to my mind includes developing one’s conscience, developing one’s basic goodness–i.e., developing character traits and behaviors that are associated with certain virtues (patience, kindness, compassion, understanding, warmth, courage, resilience, endurance, self-control, perspective, self-awareness), and developing one’s capacity to think critically and deeply. Love–the real stuff–requires so much depth, so much core self, so much maturity, so much wisdom. To the extent that we lack these qualities and characteristics, our love will either not be love but something else (concealed egoism, exploitation, using of another), or will falter under stress and or temptation.

      Best wishes in your upcoming blog post–it’s nice to have something I wrote in any way inspire a person. Thanks again for reading and for commenting, Meg.

      Kindest regards,


      • Meg says:

        The one thing I think of that you don’t list here is vulnerability. It takes great vulnerability to accept the love we deserve – so many people cringe at the thought of being vulnerable because they equate it to being hurt, but at its essence, vulnerability is being open – open to whatever life brings and sometimes it may hurt.

        And I agree that development is very important – I’ve dedicated my life to it! My own training and development as well as others. What are we if we’re not always searching for and fulfilling on our best selves?


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