Why Do We Love? Is it for our own sake or the sake of the one we are loving?
[W]e don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever, we love them because loving them changes us, makes us better, healthier, kinder, real-er . . . stronger in the right ways and weaker in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die- they leave us better. So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us, changes us. And that’s what we’re here to do. God sends us here to learn how to be better lovers, and to learn how to be loved. . . . – Glennon Melton, from Momastery.com (http://momastery.com/blog/2011/09/29/take-two-or-got-an-hour-2/)
That’s not why we love. It is one of the benefits to ourselves from loving, but it’s not why we love—to exercise our own souls, to strengthen and improve ourselves. That’s one-sided, narcissistic.
But, if when we love, this is our actual intent towards the other as well—to truly help and support what is best in the other person and to help nurture its (what’s best in them) growth—then we are indeed actually Loving.
But if we’re only deriving some “benefit” from our “love” in terms of becoming “stronger,” “better,” “kinder,” “real-er,” and at the same time we’re hurting others, leaving a trail of broken relationships and broken hearts and lives, if we’re lying to others, manipulating them, deceiving them, going back on our word, et cetera, all in the name of some vague sense of love that the above quote can also be read as espousing, then we’re not actually loving others, or ourselves. We’re setting fire to the world! And we’re only strengthening our narcissism, our one-sidedness—our one-sided “my benefit at your expense” approach to life. If our love is this one-sided, then it’s not love, because it’s not about the other person, the other person isn’t becoming more and more real to us. When we love another, not only do we become more real (more clearly visible) to ourselves and to the other person, the person we are loving becomes more and more real to us—in the sense that he or she becomes more unique, irreplaceable, integral to us. And that’s why real love is so terrifying, because it means letting someone in so deeply and acknowledging how much it would hurt to have this person ripped away from us by death or even if they were to leave us of their own volition.
But if our “love” is one-sided and only making us more real to ourselves, then it’s not love but an exercise in narcissism.
“Love seeks one thing only—the good of the one loved. It leaves all the other secondary effects to take care of themselves. To love another is to will what is really good for him or her. And such love must be based on truth. A love that sees no distinction between good and evil, but loves blindly and merely for the sake (feeling) of loving, is hatred, rather than love. To love blindly in this way is to love selfishly, because the goal of such love is not the real advantage of the beloved but only the exercise of our own heart and soul. Love cannot be love unless it seeks the good of the one loved. But since (blind) love cares nothing for the truth and never considers that it may go astray, it proves itself to be selfish and self-indulgent. It is not interested in the truth, but only in itself. It proclaims itself content with the exercise of love for its own sake, without any consideration of the good or bad effects of loving. It is clear, then, that to love others well we must first love the truth.” – Thomas Merton, “No Man Is an Island,” pp. 5-6 (my abridgment).
Yet this is the sad state of so many relationships . . . People “loving” ultimately for their own advantage and not for the good and betterment of the beloved. People telling (lying to) themselves and each other that it’s not just about themselves and that the other person is *real* as well. —We may tell ourselves and the other person that we love them and that they’re real to us, but in reality they’re not; our relationship is just about ourselves (and about our own feelings); the other person isn’t really real, doesn’t truly exist for us as a real person, as a person whose growth and happiness we care about just as much as our own.
But when Love is real, it’s not just about us, it’s about the other person as well. And the excerpt from Melton is missing that essential component—that when we love, the other person also becomes more real to us, and we want their good, health, improvement, happiness, well-being, strengthening, fulfillment, as much as our own.
When we get to this point—where we care that deeply for another—then we invariably routinely do two things that demonstrate this (because by demonstrating it, we make our love real and not just in words only; and we also make ourselves and the other person more real as well*): we extend ourselves—past our limitations, comfort zone, maladaptive patterns. And we sacrifice ourselves—we sacrifice those parts of ourselves that truly need to be given up and outgrown**. And we sacrifice ourselves in terms of actually doing the work and putting out the effort—talk is cheap, it’s behavior that counts and that ultimately makes us into who we are.
We are what we do—not what we think about and think of ourselves; we are not our self-image, which often is more of a fantasy and a photoshopped version of ourselves than realistic; we are what we do—we are those intentions that actually get translated into behaviors/actions.
Real love costs, it takes effort, work heroic self-overcoming of what’s worst and weakest (in a bad sense) in ourselves; love is about nurturing our own and another’s growth and happiness and goodness. It’s not a one-sided endeavor; it’s not all about us and what we get out of it. If your love of another person and yourself isn’t helping you to face yourself more clearly and objectively, if it isn’t helping you to become a truly better person capable of doing what is good and right and nurturing and trustworthy, then it’s not really Love. Plain and simple.
One of the paramount proofs of our Love—of our ability to Love—is our truthfulness. The more we lie (the more often and the easier we lie), the less we Love. The more we struggle to be true and to tell the truth to our partner and our self and to live honestly and nobly and openly (transparently, integratedly), then the more we Love.
All of which means when we love, we are able and willing to look at ourselves most of all, and to do so fairly and objectively—we are able to look at ourselves without bias and favoritism and self-protectiveness and buffers/softeners. We are able to look at ourselves the same way we look at others, the same way we look at distant things—things we’re not attached to, things that we’re not biased towards.
And the learning of such a way of looking at ourselves is exceedingly difficult. But it is one of the truest fruits, the surest proofs of our learning how to more genuinely Love.
“Love” – Czeslaw Milosz
Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart,
Without knowing it, from various ills—
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
And such looking is what heals the heart from various ills because such a way of looking at ourselves is what allows us to see our own maladaptive patterns and issues, our own projections, and our own behaviors much more clearly and realistically/truthfully. And such a way of seeing is what allows us to confront our own narcissism, inferiority, inadequacy, shame, et cetera. It’s what allows us to see the plank / wooden beam in our own eye and not just the planks or specks in others’ eyes.
And such seeing is what allows us to be the change we wish to see in the world—to be the change, to will the transformation.
~> Here’s an exercise. Take a piece of paper and write on it looking at yourself the way one looks at distant things. Describe yourself and your actions the way others would—unbiased others, and not family or members of your mutual admiration society. Look at yourself the way someone far away and who doesn’t know you would look at you and your actions. Look at yourself the way an objective third party or a reliable narrator or an arbitrator or judge would look at you. Give up your pet self-exonerating theories of why you do what you do and look at yourself with a more critical and discerning and clearer eye. Look at yourself the way an adversary would look at you—what would he or she say about you and why (not “why” as in their motivations, but why in terms of explaining your own hidden reasons for doing what you’re doing). <~
When you’re willing to face and deal with the worst in yourself—your fears, weaknesses, trust issues, maladaptive patterns, past hurts and wounds—then you’re ready for a *real* relationship.
And this self-confronting can’t be done on the cheap. It requires a tremendous amount of self-honesty, and a willingness to get outside of oneself and view oneself and one’s actions and patterns from a neutral point of view, from a bird’s-eye or objective point of view, from the point of view of an objective third party or a reliable and trustworthy narrator. —Which is something incredibly difficult for us to do—for us to free ourselves from (transcend) our habitual and ingrained ways of thinking—of buffering ourselves from painful truths and from self-knowledge that makes us feel ashamed, inadequate, undone.
“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Einstein (attributed to Einstein)
Learning to look at ourselves the way one looks at distant things in not natural for us; it is not the level or type of thinking that has created our problems, unhappiness, maladaptive patterns, narcissism. A more objective and unbiased way of thinking about ourselves and looking at ourselves is needed—a way where we look at ourselves the way we look at distant things. For we are only one thing among many, and whoever sees himself in this way heals his heart from many ills.
We don’t love people and animals because we will have them forever, we love them because loving them changes us—and them, makes us both better, healthier, kinder, more real, stronger in the right ways and weaker and softer in the right ways. Even if animals and people leave, even if they die—they leave us better if they have loved us and we have truly loved them. So we keep loving, even though we might lose, because loving teaches us both, changes us both, betters us both. And that’s what we’re here to do—to grow in love. God sends us here to learn how to be better lovers, and to learn better how to love and be loved, to go the extra mile, to be more resilient, forgiving, open, and less angry, selfish, petty.***
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* “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” – 1 John 3:18 (NLT)
“Little children, let us not love in word and speech, but in deed and truth.” – 1 John 3:18 NAB
** “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became an adult, I put away childish things.” – 1 Corinthians 13:11
*** 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