One of the things that we as a culture have forgotten (did we ever really know it? Has any culture every really known it?) is that love is much more than just a feeling. Love is equally, if not more so, also a virtue—a collection of several virtues.
It’s not enough—in fact it’s never enough—to just feel love for one’s partner; one also has to be able to act consistently with love towards one’s partner, even when—especially when—the feeling is absent or waning. That’s what demonstrates our love and proves that it’s real, that all of our “I love you”s are truly worth something and not just counterfeit or bad checks written by a lost soul or a morally bankrupt person.
And to be able to be a truly loving person requires that we do some serious inner work and personal growth.
There are a lot of people who claim to be spiritual, who claim to be doing inner work, who claim to be spiritual seekers, et cetera, but it doesn’t really seem to show up in their daily lives, it doesn’t seem to impact their capacity to love and be loved. Their inner work just doesn’t seem to be helping them become a “better” person, doesn’t seem to be helping them to become more genuinely loving and virtuous and courageous. And so likely their inner work is false; it’s self-indulgent, essentially just another way of indulging their narcissism and their neurosis (their avoidant tendencies; their fears and lack of perspective; their want to think of themselves as something—spiritual, “love & light”—independent of how they are behaving and how they are actually living).
In the final analysis, real inner growth is about learning how to become a more genuinely loving person. Which on the one hand means learning how to get past our walls and neuroses and issues—our blocks to love. But it also, on the other hand, means cultivating the virtues and traits and capacities that will allow us to be a truly more loving (and open and generous and giving) person.
Love is not just a feeling, it’s not just about chemistry and connection; it’s about what we do with that connection, how we honor it or whether we dishonor it. Two people can meet, be brought together in this crazy world, have all of the rush and intoxication of automatic or romantic love and infatuation (limerance)— have all the external raw materials necessary—but if one or both of these people are not also genuinely loving people, then the relationship will sooner or later, and more likely sooner than later, go badly, fall apart, crash on the shore. Their immaturities and childishness and neuroticness will get the best of them and destroy the relationship and all the chemistry they found. They will end up making a hell out of something that could have been very heavenly—very warm and nurturing and loving and generous and real.
On the other hand, bring two people together who have done some real inner work and have become much more loving and decent people, and that changes everything. They are capable of making and helping sustain a heaven out of heaven, instead of it deteriorating into something hellish. They are capable of actually loving the other person, extending themselves, facing and confronting themselves, living with perspective and in accordance with what ultimately matters in life. Even if a relationship or a connection was only good to begin with, two truly decent and loving people can make something heavenly and profound and beautiful out of that. But even if a connection is off-the-charts wonderful and extraordinary to begin with, if one or both people are not loving, they—because of who they are inside—will cripple and kill the relationship.
Whenever we meet someone we’re really interested in and attracted to and feel resonance or a connection with, what ultimately becomes of that connection will depend on who the two people are inside—their character, their conscience, their level of moral and self-development, their level of emotional maturity (differentiation), how much perspective they have (are they integrating their own and others’ mortality into their daily lives and decision-making), what values and virtues and principles and ideals they live by and are trying to more and more embody.
St. Paul had it right when, in First Corinthians, he tied love—our capacity to love—to the virtues, making our capacity to love a question of—and a reflection of—how virtuous and morally well-developed we are. If our love is also not—if we are not also not—patient, kind, forbearing, forgiving, resilient, humble, generous, appreciative, dedicated to truth, and so on, then we are not a truly loving human being, and all of our “I love you”s are nothing more than soon to be shown to be empty vacant over-promises.
Just look at the passage and read between the lines at the virtues St. Paul is speaking of:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not inflated. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered or quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury. Love does not delight over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, perseveres through all things. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
How many of these things are you? How many of these things—these qualities, these virtues—am I and do I embody so much so that they have become traits in me—character traits in me? Am I patient? Am I kind? Am I always kind? Am I envious? Do I boast and brag and run on narcissistic pride and self-aggrandizement? Am I rude? Am I self-centered and self-seeking? Am I resentful? Can I forgive or do I sandbag and hold on to my injuries and use them as leverage and excuses? Am I fiercely dedicated to the truth? How well do I bear another’s shortcomings and character flaws and neuroticness? How well do I bear her mental illness (if that’s what it is and what I’m faced with)? How well do I bear her Borderline or Bi-Polar Personality Disorder, her borderline or antisocial tendencies or avoidant tendencies, her tendency to run away and hide or wall up? How persevering am I? How well do I walk the extra mile or two or three or more? How well am I imitating Jesus or Buddha and or living from what’s best in me?
These are the questions that can change everything in life for us—asking these questions, living these questions, trying more and more to become living examples or embodiments of these virtues. For these virtues, when they become stable character traits in us, are what make us more genuinely loving human beings. Not that we’ve found someone to love, but that we are actually capable of loving another, this is something that we’ve forgotten the importance of nowadays. It doesn’t matter who we find and how much chemistry is gifted us if deep down beneath it all we are not a genuinely decent and loving person. In our quest for happiness and love, we’ve forgotten the importance of becoming more loving and the real self-development required if we are to become better able to actually love another. Unless we are patient, understanding (as in seeking first to understand), kind, compassionate, honest, self-aware, able to self-confront (face ourselves), dedicated to truth more than our own comfort, deal maturely with our own reactivity, courageous, able to admit when we’re wrong or when we’ve acted from what’s less than best in us (meaning what’s worst and weakest and most neurotic in us), able to override our “feelings” when they’re unloving or distorted and not act (out) on them—unless we can learn to do all of these things, or at least try really really hard to embody all of these things, and keep trying, keep picking ourselves up and dusting ourselves off and trying to live these virtues—we will not be able to truly love or be loved.
And that would be very sad, because to me it would seem that it is a waste of this life to pass through this world without having learned how to love and how to be the most loving person we can be. If we’re not living for this, then what are we living for? If this isn’t what will matter in the end, or when we get the cancer diagnosis, or when the plane is going down, then what will?
First Corinthians 13: 4-7 (realtruelove.wordpress.com)