Love *Is* Difficult

Love is difficult.

It is difficult to learn how to really love another person.
It is difficult to learn how to love oneself.

Loving another means caring deeply for that person, being good to that person, wanting the best for that person, not using that person (not treating that person as a means) but treating him or her as an end in themselves. Loving another means learning how to be there, be stable, be invested in, be committed to another human being.

Loving another person means learning how to be open, how to share oneself, how not to hide oneself, how to stay present, be very attentive.

It is difficult to find the “right” person.
It is just as difficult, if not even more so, to learn how to be the *right* person for a relationship.

Most people are more focused on trying to find the right person rather than become the right type of person for a relationship.

But for a relationship to really succeed and thrive, it requires that you become the right person for a relationship and that you find someone else who has also made him- or herself into the right person for a relationship.

This is the “inner work” of love. Learning how to love oneself, learning what Love is and how to Love in general, learning how to love another person specifically (taking theories and lofty / sublime ideals and applying them in the real world with all its messiness and complexity), is what makes a person the right person for a relationship. It’s what makes a person truly “relationship eligible.”

Over 50% of marriages end in divorce.
And added to that, what percentage of romantic relationships that start out full of promise and intense feeling falter and end? 90%? 95%?
How relationship-eligible are any of us in this society really?
How well do any of actually know how to love another, ourselves, people in general?

How many of us have done (much of) (any of?) the inner work of Love?

Love isn’t easy. Contrary to the widespread fairy tales about love: Love isn’t easy. It’s difficult. It truly is. If it were easy, the statistics wouldn’t be as they are. If it were easy, so many relationships would crash and burn and end in heartache and pain. If Love were easy, there would be as much broken-heartedness and aching for love as there is the world.

Yet so many people keep living and acting as if love is supposed to be easy. As if it’s really just a matter of timing and finding the perfect (or close enough) person.

It’s not. It flies in the face of reality to live and act this way—as if love is supposed to be easy.

When we start out in love, as in life, we start out as beginners, novices; we’re not naturals.  Instead our minds are filled with faulty ideas, half-truths, illusions, nonsense; perhaps we have a bit of sense, but over all we have a lot of false ideas flying around in our head.  Not to mention our moral and character development may not have proceeded much.  And not to mention, we really don’t much about ourselves yet either, so how can we really know much about another, let alone how to love her/him?  We’re ignorant, confused, under-educated, mis-educated when it comes to love.   But we’re also this way in regards to much of life.  And because we’re fairly naive and ignorant and confused, we don’t even realize this about ourselves–that we are confused, ignorant, novices, beginners in both life and in love.  And so this just adds more confusion and more faulty ideas to the mix!

This is why the vast majority of the time, the seemingly perfect person isn’t perfect. This is why so often the other person turns out to be far less than perfect. Because he or she hasn’t (yet) done the inner work of love—learning how to love themselves, learning how to love another, learning what it takes to love another.  (He or she may not even be aware of needing to do this inner work–that he or she is in fact a beginner in love and thus fairly ignorant of what it means to genuinely Love another human being, let alone oneself!)

Nor have we—we haven’t done the inner work of love.

We aren’t perfect. The other person isn’t perfect. None of us are perfect. In fact, we’re all far from it.  Hardly any of us knows much if anything about what Love actually is. Thus relationships are inevitably and predictably messy. Thus relationship after relationship that seemed to start out so perfectly—that is so full of attraction and chemistry and that seems destined for the stars—either ends badly or turns tepid.

And neither person really understands why.

And instead of trying to really understand and look at themselves and their own part in it, they usually just end up blaming the other person. She turned out to be someone different than she was in the beginning. He turned out to be someone different than he was in the beginning.

Or at best the person may question the choice they made. I didn’t choose very wisely.

But rarely do people really look at themselves. How loving was I? How well did I actually love the other person? How patient and warm and good-hearted and understanding was I?

Your vision will become clear only when you look at yourself.^

You will become wise *only* by looking at yourself as well and not just at others.

He who looks outside, dreams. He who looks inside, awakens. (Jung)

It takes a lot of time and effort and inner work to learn how to control ourselves, soothe our emotions, and think critically, widely, insightfully, deeply, kindly. It takes a lot of time to learn how listen, pay attention, pay more and more attention, to remain present, not get bored and wander off psychologically or even physically. It takes a lot of time and effort to be a good parent and still be a good partner. Change is inevitable; growing, maturing, becoming a significantly better and wiser and kinder person isn’t inevitable. It’s a choice. It’s a decision. A commitment. And it’s the inner work of Love—loving oneself, first; and then with integrity coupling up with another human being and deeply loving that flesh and blood evolving growing struggling striving deepening person.

(^ Jung wrote, “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart.”  In my opinion, “heart” is a very nebulous and imprecise word.  I much prefer the broader, “Your vision will become clear only when you look deeply and honestly at yourself.”  Becoming more objective about ourselves–and what’s in our “heart” as well as our “soul,” as well as our thoughts and our actions–is a great way of becoming more aware of our prejudices, biases, projections, slants, et cetera.)

Suggestions for further reading: (Letter no. 7 of Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet“) (In particular, letter no. 62; on page 150 or so.  The majority of the letter is excerpted below in “related content” or can be read here–

Related content:

Letter written to Friedrich Westhoff,
By Rainer Maria Rilke, while at Villa Strohl-Fern, in Rome

April 29, 1904

. . . . I learned over and over again that there is scarcely anything more difficult than to love one another. That it is work, day labor, Friedrich, day labor; God knows there is no other word for it.

And look, added to this is the fact that young people are not prepared for such difficult loving; for convention has tried to make this complicated and ultimate relationship into something easy and frivolous, has given it the appearance of everyone’s being able to do it.

It is not so.

Love is something difficult and it is more difficult than other things because in other conflicts Nature herself enjoins men to collect themselves, to take themselves firmly in hand with all their strength, while in the heightening of love the impulse is to give oneself wholly away.

But just think, can that be anything beautiful, to give oneself away not as something whole and ordered but haphazard rather, bit by bit, as it comes? Can such giving away, that looks so like a throwing away and dismemberment, be anything good, can it be happiness, joy, progress? No, it cannot.

When you give someone flowers, you arrange them beforehand, don’t you? But young people who love each other fling themselves to each other in the impatience and haste of their passion, and they don’t notice at all what a lack of mutual esteem lies in this disordered giving of themselves, they notice with astonishment and indignation only from dissension that arises between them out of all this disorder.

And once there is disunity between them, the confusion grows with every day; neither of the two has anything unbroken, pure, unspoiled about him any longer, and amid the disconsolateness of a break they try to hold fast to the semblance of their happiness (for all that was really supposed to be for the sake of happiness). Alas, they are scarcely able to recall any more what they meant by happiness. In his uncertainty each becomes more and more unjust toward the other; they who wanted to do each other good are now handling one another in an imperious and intolerant manner, and in the struggle somehow to get out their untenable and unbearable state of confusion they commit the greatest fault that can happen to human relationships: they become impatient. They hurry to a conclusion, to come, as they believe, to a final decision, they try once and for all to establish their relationship, whose surprising changes have frightened them, in order to remain the same now and forever (as they say). That is only the last error in this long chain of errings linked fast to one another.

What is dead cannot even be clung to (for it crumbles and changes its character); how much less can what is living and alive be treated definitively, once and for all. Self-transformation is precisely what life is, and human relationships, which are an extract of life, are the most changeable of all, rising and falling from minute to minute, and lovers are those in whose relationship and contact no one moment resembles another. People between whom nothing accustomed, nothing that has already been present before ever takes place, but many new, unexpected, unprecedented things.

There are such relationships which must be a very great, almost unbearable happiness, but they can occur only between very rich natures and between those who, each for himself, are richly ordered and composed; they can unite only two wide, deep, individual worlds.

Young people—it is obvious—cannot achieve such a relationship, but they can, if they understand their life properly, grow up slowly to such happiness and prepare themselves for it. They must not forget, when they love, that they are beginners, bunglers of life, apprentices in love, —must learn love, and that (like all learning) wants peace, patience, and composure!

To take love seriously and to bear and to learn it like a task, this it is, Friedrich, that young people need.

Like so much else, people have also misunderstood the place of love in life, they have made it into play and pleasure because they thought that play and pleasure were more blissful than work; but there is nothing happier than work, and love, just because it is the extreme happiness, can be nothing else but work. So whoever loves must try to act as if he had a great work: he must be much alone and go into himself and collect himself and hold fast to himself; he must work; he must become something!

For, Friedrich, believe me, the more one is, the richer is all that one experiences. And whoever wants to have a deep love in his life must collect and save for it and gather honey.

One must never despair if something is lost to one, a person or a joy or a happiness; everything comes back again more gloriously. What must fall away, falls away; what belongs to us remains with us, for everything proceeds according to laws that are greater than our insight and with which we are only apparently at variance. One must live in oneself and think of the whole of life, of all its millions of possibilities, expanses, and futures, in the face of which there is nothing past and lost. . . . Be of good courage, all is before you; and time passed in the difficult is never lost. . . .

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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 Difficulty, Immature Love, Intimacy, Intimate Relationships, Love, Love is Not a Feeling, Mental Health, Real Love, Rilke, Truth, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Love *Is* Difficult

  1. janeadamsart says:

    thank you John, one of your best – contains so much that I need to hear and re-read in the inexplicable growth pain which my love is at present. What you say, and Rilke’s letter, keeps the doors open.

    • John says:

      Hello Jane,

      Thank you for reading and commenting. And I am glad that you have found food for thought as well as for your heart and for the soul in my post. Life is difficult, love is difficult; and Rilke is one of many, who seem to me to be very profound and deep and soulful thinkers, who advise us to trust in what is difficult, to remain open to it, to endure, to be patient–with ourselves, with the other, with the situation, with life.

      Warmest regards, Jane,


  2. Wow. Thank you so much for this. My flowers need some arranging, that’s for sure.

    • John says:

      Hello R2B,

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. I am happy to hear that this post resonated with you–the art of better arranging ourselves for our own growth and for a more loving arrangement with another, is always a good thing, in my opinion.

      I hope you are well 🙂 Warmest regards,


  3. I have enjoyed many forms of love in this life of almost sixty years: three marriages and two children from one of them. The first two marriages were like this: #1 – married the first guy who was wild about me. Afraid I’d never find “the one,” I settled and regretted, for this was a very troubled young man. The second was a grand passion, despite obvious drawbacks. We had two beautiful children, for which I am grateful. The third – a union that has lasted over twenty years and going strong – was a man who was first a good friend. When younger, I would never have considered a friend as a lover. But this “mutual esteem” you speak of is the glue that has held us together, through good times and bad. We are two very independent people who give one another space, yet take great comfort in one another’s presence. We share a worldview, a deep love of nature and creatures and family and friends. Passion waxes and wanes, as it does in any life – yet what has maintained it in the long run are the other aspects of any enduring relationship: respect, growth, allowance of differences, a desire for peace and a great capacity for humility – the ability to admit when one is projecting one’s own negative emotions onto the other – and a deep caring to make these crooked lines of communication straight.

    Rilke is, as ever, so very wise. Thanks for coming by my blog so I know you exist out there in the blogosphere!

  4. John,
    this is an amazing article, and it shows the wisdom you have certainly acquired along your path. I cannot resist quoting you: “Your vision will become clear only when you look at yourself.” This is an important point, and it is so true that if we wish to develop a lasting love, we must look within if we’ve hit some rocky ground with our partner. Thank you dearly for another thoughtful post.
    Kind regards,

    • John says:

      Hello Gina,

      Thank you for reading and for taking the time to comment. And, yes, self-knowledge and self-awareness are so crucial if we are to be an actual benefit to a relationship. Relationships where one or both parties are not willing / able to look at themselves honestly and deeply, are seriously seriously handicapped by this deficiency / inability. So, yes, our vision can and will become clear *only* when we look deeply and honestly at ourselves. Jesus spoke about removing the wooden beam from our own eye before we try to take the speck out of our brother’s or sister’s eye. We have to account for and neutralize our own biases and projections and narcissism if we want to actually be part of the solution in a relationship, and not a part of the problem and adder to the problems. Deep self-knowledge–especially about the perennial and existential concerns and themes–is what leads us to wisdom, as well as being better able to understand others, empathize with them (with certain struggles they are facing), have compassion for them, et cetera. The deep things that we are struggling with probably hold true for more than just ourselves.

      Thanks again for reading and for commenting, Gina! And I hope this finds you well 🙂

      Warmest regards,


  5. Pingback: Why Real Love Is So Difficult & Rare (updated 12-26-2012) | What Is Real True Love?

  6. Pingback: Why Real Love Is So Difficult & Rare | What Is Real True Love?

  7. Anonymous says:

    very true words, i’m glad you can articulate these truths….

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