Why we love and do not love
What is love?
I have encountered two types of love.
The first type is what most people understand and experience as love, which is the type of love that fills the holes of the individuals involved. In the common type of love we look for people who can fill certain roles (and holes) in our lives. We evaluate relationship partners through the lens of what we need.
Depending on our early life influences, we find ourselves lacking certain types of emotional transactions. We can classify them broadly into two types.
People who lacked fatherly love. They look for people who can fill the disciplinarian, authoritarian, protector, provider, achiever, critic, goal-oriented, striving, role in their lives. They want to prove themselves and be recognised for their achievements and success.
People who lacked motherly love. They look for nurturers and life-givers. People who are gentle, kind, compassionate, all-embracing, accepting, soft, allowing, receptive. Providers of unconditional love. These people want to be loved for who they are, not for what they do.
- If we lacked compassion and kindness when we were young, we would love anybody who is kind and compassionate to us.
- If we lacked attention when you were young, we would love anybody who gives us attention.
- On a darker note, if we were abused as children, we might grow up to love a person who abuses us.
The lack of such transactions in our lives, and the consequent obsessive search to fill these holes, are what gives rise to fantasies about knights in shining armour, damsels in distress, prince charming, Florence Nightingales, Derek Shepherds, Fabios, and other romantic ideals.
This is an unconscious form of love because we simply ‘fall in love’ with anyone who checks all the boxes and fills the void in our lives. We love the partner for what they can give us and what they represent.
This means we do not see the other person as himself, but only for a part of himself that we need them to be. When they stop being what we need them to be, we ‘fall out of love’ and we stop loving them.
Say, we love someone who is like a hero to us. Perhaps they were like a shining beacon of success, they were strong and successful and protected us, but once they fail, we start disliking them, because all along we only liked the ‘good’ side of them, and were not willing to accept their fallibility.
Therefore this type of love is limited. We do not love the person totally, but partially.
Roles and agreements
Most marriages and long-term relationships fall into this category. The relationship exists because each party has agreed to play certain roles for the other, and have tacit agreements as to how they will relate to each other.
For example, a husband and wife might have the agreement — I’ll be the leader in the relationship and you be the follower. Or I’ll be the critic and you be the pleaser. Or I’ll be the creative one in the relationship and you provide structure.
So in this way the relationship is like a transaction in which interactions of emotional (or sometimes material) value are exchanged. Or as Sadhguru calls it, a mutual benefit scheme. Or as my teacher Kelvin says, two incomplete people coming together to complete each other, two halves making a whole.
This is why people in relationships sometimes blame each other for their unhappiness. When we view our source of fulfilment as coming from the other person, our first instinct will be to find fault with the other when we are unhappy.
Relationships that limit growth
Gradually, the parties involved in the relationship stop growing, stop exploring. They believe they have found another person to complete them, and they become comfortable. But as soon as the parties stop growing, the relationship stops developing too. The passion and spark disappears.
However, neither wants to give up the comfort of the relationship, as facing the alternative — loneliness and rejection — would be horrifying. Because of this, both parties become more and more stuck in their positions in the relationship so as to maintain the relationship dynamic.
Such relationships are damaging to personal growth, because the very basis of the relationship lies in each party playing a fixed role. If one party were to grow himself and let’s say, decide not to please the other party anymore, then the relationship contract is violated, and the relationship falls apart.
So this is ‘love’ driven by unconscious forces.
So what conscious love? To answer that we must first know what is the effect of love. The highest love results in the highest good of man. What then is the highest good of man?
The highest good of man is to evolve. People call this process and goal by many names — evolution of consciousness, personal growth, spiritual evolution, self-mastery, enlightenment.
The goal of evolution exists in contrast to the goal of survival. When we evolve, we seek the truth and live by our own truths. When we try to survive, we seek to adapt to society’s norms, abiding by other people’s standards and rules. In evolution, we are willing to give up everything for the truth. In survival, we want to protect our own self-interest, be it acceptance, comfort, or security.
Conscious love must empower, enable, or support a man in achieving his ultimate goal of evolution.
How does this conscious love look like, in contrast to the common and unconscious love?
First, in the conscious form of love, one is more concerned with what one has to give, whereas in the unconscious form of love, one is more concerned with what he can receive.
The conscious lover therefore takes it upon himself to develop and evolve oneself in such a way that he becomes capable of giving something of value to another. He takes on tremendous responsibility to evolve, grow, and produce things of value.
I will reference my work done in coaching as this activity is undertaken with the conscious intent to further another person’s evolution.
For example, in coaching, the coach must train himself in coaching skills and do countless hours of drills such that he obtains the skills and techniques to allow another person to grow. He must also evolve personally to overcome as many of his own blind spots as possible so that he can be neutral during a session and does not become a limit for the coachee. This is a challenging endeavour. Nonetheless, the conscious lover takes it upon himself to overcome obstacles to love, such that he can facilitate another person’s evolution.
Secondly, the conscious lover is detached, whereas the unconscious lover is attached.
To embody love, the conscious lover must have first transcended his own idiosyncrasies and subjective needs, to be able to see the other objectively as they are. The more evolved one is, the greater degree to which he can perceive and relate freely, and the more effective is his love.
The conscious lover’s only desire is for the growth and evolution of his beloved. He is therefore able to provide a calculated force to spur the growth of the beloved person.
For example, in a coaching relationship, if the other person needs discipline, the coach would have to provide discipline. If the coachee needs nurturing, the coach provides nurturing. If the coachee needs space, the coach provides space. The coach is able to see accurately what is needed and provide the required support. That being said, ultimately, what the coach wants is for the other person to stand on his own two feet, to achieve freedom and independence.
The effectiveness of the love and relationship is based on whether the coachee achieves his aim. The coach is able to give freely from a neutral space, not to achieve his own goals, but to achieve the highest good of another.
In the unconscious form of love, the ‘lover’ sees another person as a means for achieving his own ends. For example, if one lacks approval, one sees others as a means to gain approval. One may do things to please or impress the other, but the ultimate goal is to fulfil his own need for approval.
Consequently, the unconscious lover becomes very attached to his object of love, and makes demands that restrict the beloved’s freedom. Demands such as, you cannot look at other girls, you may not wear short skirts, you must not go out with another man, you may not sleep with another person, and so on. They ‘need’ each other, and may also do things to deepen their mutual co-dependence. Thus in an unconscious love relationship, both parties are limited in their freedom to explore and discover.
The third difference is choice. In conscious love, the lover makes a conscious decision to love or not to love. In an unconscious love relationship there is no conscious choice.
For example, when a coach and client decide to engage in a coaching relationship, the coach decides to love the client for the duration of the engagement. During that time, the coach makes a conscious decision to focus his energy and attention on the client, to extend himself for the client’s benefit. The coach observes how the client behaves, observes the personality of the client, takes into account his desired outcome, and assesses accurately what the client needs to achieve his outcome. The coach adjusts his behaviour accordingly to achieve the optimum result for the client.
For the duration of this engagement, the coach is constantly making the conscious choice to love. It is a productive act and it is work. The coach must consciously look at what stops him from loving and make efforts towards being able to extend and produce love.
But in unconscious love, the parties in a relationship are drawn to each other by unconscious forces, i.e. unresolved pain from the past. They therefore do not truly have the choice to love or not love. Each party seeks his own subjective aims and not the highest good of the other.
Self-responsibility in love
The conscious lover must thus have a high level of self-responsibility and ownership.
To be self-responsible means to be able to own and bear consequences. In the case of love and relationships it means to be able to bear emotional pain as well as the pain of loneliness and separation.
Those who cannot bear pain look outwards to gratify themselves. At the slightest hint of discomfort, they grasp externally. They turn to people, to material things, or to activities for comfort, distraction, and reassurance.
Due to their unwillingness to bear the pain, they are forced to seek relief from an external source, and must therefore form relationships of dependence and need. They seek from others what they should fulfil from within.
To be a conscious lover
It is impossible for the lover to give what he himself does not possess. He must have an understanding of what it means to evolve, to grow, to expand in one’s consciousness. Therefore, the lover himself must be evolving. The lover must act in his own highest good.
As the lover strives to be able to produce love, he cannot help but learn how to love himself, and discover what it means to love himself. Therefore, in loving, the lover also produces love in himself.
And as the lover walks the path continuously, dedicating himself to pursuing his own highest good, he then comes to embody love. Love becomes not only a conscious act, but also a state of being.
Originally published at https://www.betterself.sg on June 9, 2020.