Reflections on Love
I have spent most of my life seeking love, and I believe many of us do too.
We give the search different names depending on our inclinations — finding a life partner, getting a PhD, climbing the corporate ladder, creating a family, and so on.
Whatever we do, we seek not just the goal itself, but also the emotional rewards of the goal. For example, we want a promotion because the promotion raises our position in the eyes of others and therefore makes us feel good about ourselves.
We all have our own strategies for how to get love.
Some seek to get love by dominating others, others by submission. Some try to get love by achieving fame, others by accumulating wealth. Some give to get, others demand. Some believe they will be loved if they conform, others if they rebel.
Isn’t everything we do an attempt to be loved a little more?
Celine, Before Sunrise
We all have our own ways.
Strategies to get love
How did these strategies come to be?
When we are children, a parent’s approval means everything.
When I was child, I was always rewarded (a) for being obedient, and (b) getting good results at school. If I was obedient I was praised. If I got good results at school I would be rewarded with Pound Puppies play sets. If I was rude or rebellious or lazy or careless, I was scolded harshly.
I learned to please my primary caregiver (my mother) for it was her approval that mattered most. If I was ‘good’ she would buy me M&Ms and let me watch TV. If not, I’d be holed up in my room alone, doing yet more assessment books.
Eventually I became proficient at reading my mother’s moods. If she was angry, I tiptoed around her and was extra acquiescent. If she was in a good mood, I could enjoy my treats and joke around a little, but I was still vigilant for any sudden changes. This relationship formed the base model for all future relationships.
I came away with a few conclusions.
- I was responsible for making other people happy.
- I had to obey authorities and live up to expectations.
- Achievements and hard work would get me approval and love.
- I was never good enough.
- I was loved for the results I produced, not for who I was.
This model kept me going all my life.
I chased the 100 marks, the A’s, the prizes, the recognition, the awards. I became an investment banker because it brought money and status. Perhaps if I climbed high enough, I would finally be loved.
But it was a Pyrrhic victory.
Even though I got what I wanted, I felt empty and lost inside. I was “loved” because I was subservient, productive, and on call 24/7. I was not loved for who I was, but for what I did. I was a slave.
Seeking romantic love
Outside my career, I sought love in romantic relationships.
Feeling never good enough, I sought in my partner what I believed I lacked. Being quiet and socially-awkward, I was drawn to guys who were street smart and outgoing. I was also attracted to guys who were more competent and accomplished than me.
Having perennial self-acceptance issues, I was always on the lookout for whether my partner was pleased with me. I wanted acceptance, kindness, compassion. So whenever I looked at my partner, I always judged him on whether he was being a good, kind, and huggable teddy bear.
I was not able to see my partner for who he was. I was only able to see him as a candidate to fill the teddy-bear-shaped hole in my heart. I was not able to see him as whole and separate person in his own right, only for who I needed him to be.
This wasn’t truly love. This was attachment, what the Masters and teachers refer to as clinging and grasping.
A different form of love
Fortunately, at the same time, a different kind of love was growing in me.
I had been training and practising as a coach. The journey to becoming a coach gave me a glimpse of what love could be.
One basic requirement of a coach is the ability to be neutral, and not impose any of our own judgments onto our clients. This is very difficult, since we all have our own beliefs about how the world works.
So, I worked very hard to evolve and expand myself. As much as possible, I would not be a limit for my client. No matter what else was going on in my life, when I was with a client, I was there 100%, listening attentively, providing a neutral space, being what the client needed. I strove to remove my subjectivity from the equation.
To that end I was willing to dedicate hundreds of hours of practice without needing any external rewards. I was able to face failure and rejection to become a better me, to build the skills necessary to be a good coach. I could organise event after event, face rejection after rejection, and give the best of myself without asking for anything in return.
Then came a shocking realisation.
Did I love my clients more than I loved my partner?
From my partner I was always demanding understanding, acceptance, attention. I wanted him for what he was able to do for me or give me.
With my clients I found in myself a stand for their highest potential. I found myself able to stand for the best and the most beautiful in them.
What if everything I had thought of as love was, in fact, not love, but my own unfulfilled needs projected onto another person? The more I craved, the more attached I was, the less I loved.
The moment we say, “I love you only if you are X (good / kind / honest / loyal / insert adjective)”, we see only part of the person, and not the whole person.
A new understanding
My most fulfilling relationships — whether they be in coaching, friendship, or family — have been in cases where I was not too concerned about the other person’s happiness. I recognised that they owned their feelings and I owned mine; neither of us was responsible for making the other happy. Only through that recognition was I able to offer a truly neutral presence.
That presence encompasses both the strengths and weaknesses of a person. It allows people to find their own inspirations and motivations, to make their own mistakes, to be responsible for their own failures and successes, all while I maintain my space of acceptance non-judgmental presence.
When there is a lack in me, and I seek to fill that hole from the outside, it appears as if I am seeking love. But that is not really love. That is desperation.
When I seek to ‘earn’ the love I want by achieving or by giving with an expectation of return, that is not love, but manipulation.
When I heal myself and move towards wholeness, I naturally become more loving because I no longer project my needs onto others. That is when I am closest to love.
Learning to love
When I love myself completely, I can love all. When I love myself incompletely, I can love some. As long as I reject parts of myself, I cannot love another fully. For there would be people who reflect to me the very qualities I reject in myself, and I would not be able to love them.
The more I work on myself, the more parts of myself I integrate and accept, the more I am able to see others for who they are, and not who I wish them to be.
To purify oneself for the highest service to another: that is the closest I have come to experiencing love. It seeks only the growth and evolution of myself and another human being.
The way we can best love others is by transcending ourselves, by seeking our own enlightenment.
Originally published at https://www.betterself.sg on December 26, 2019.