Love is Selfish.

Via Waylon Lewis
on Jan 22, 2012
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love is selfish @waylonlewis

Photo: @waylonlewis on Instagram. “This reminds me of my Love is Selfish on @elephantjournal. Space allows for independence, change, humor, appreciation, lack of jealousy, loneliness. You do not complete me. Rather, we are partners in service of a great good.”

“But let there be spaces in your togetherness
and let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but
make not a bond of love:
let it rather be a moving sea
the shores of your souls.”

~ Khalil Gibran


The Problem:

“I’ve had a few good relationships but they dump me ’cause I’m boring and work all the time and don’t pay enough attention to them.”

The Solution:

“Find a partner-in-crime, a match, an equal, a queen.

The Buddhist Notion of Love.

I’m in love with a woman I’ve never met.

But we do know each other. And one thing she said that I love is that

being in love is of secondary importance

she said it more poetically, though, in response to my concerns about our future hypothetical love and marriage and baby carriage

she said

I don’t need to go on a lifelong romantic picnic I have things to do

I loved that. I loved her for saying that. I’ve always thought fun was fun…for an hour or so. Then, fun is boring. You know what’s always fun? Serving the greater good by doing something you’re good at. Whether that’s dance or teaching or politicking or working the counter at a corner store or being a nurse or what.

And that reminded me. The kind of love I’ve been brought up to look for isn’t a picnic. It’s a partnership, with loneliness built in.

In the Buddhist tradition, there’s no “tying the knot.” Space is built in.

On the other hand, it’s absolute commitment. The analogy of a snake in a bamboo tube is used. Our other half becomes “the representative of the phenomenal world,” as Trungpa Rinpoche called it—ie, the one person on earth who is stuck with you in a good way, and cares about you enough to get to know you completely, warts and all.

In the Buddhist notion of love, there’s no two candles or two souls “becoming one.” Instead of facing one another, completing one another

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and living happily ever after (which only happens in fiction and even then they never show it, they just tell it), the Buddhist visualization of a successful marriage is this:

Two friends* facing the same direction together, symbolically east, the direction of the rising sun, as in ever-awakening fundamentally a-ok human nature.

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” ~ Saint-Exupéry

Walking the path together. Helping one another to be of benefit.


Love is selfish. Folks sometimes call me egotistical because, sometimes, I’m a temper tantrumer. Like a poor man’s godfather

I can take things personally. Especially when I haven’t meditated enough.

I’m not a big believer in being professional in business. I’m a big believer in being personal in business. You know you’re about to be douched upon when someone says to you “I just work here” or “it’s not personal.” For me, everything’s personal—you do me or my vision or my mission right, I’ll repay you 2x as much. I’ve done more favors and work and made more connects for others than anyone I know. Yes, sounds egotistical. But I get repaid 4x—I get a great deal of pleasure out of it.

love individuality

“When two people love each other, they don’t look at each other, they look in the same direction.” ~ Ginger Rogers

But where was I: oh, yes: society’s notion of matrimonial love is what’s truly egotistical. I know a lot of folks who do some good for the world but then they have a wife, or a husband, or a child, or children…and suddenly they treat that child/wife/husband as if it’s an unarguable excuse to forget this whole holy fucked up wonderful world that is crying and dying and begging and pleading and needing our help.

I do think the sort of marriage, children, sitcom-watching life I see with some friends is great but limited in scope. Folks settle. They forget their dreams. On the other hand, many folks treat marriage like dating: they marry for as long as it’s good-to-workable, then give up at a certain point. Which is fine. But marriage is unconditional. So I’m just always puzzling that koan over a bit.

In a way, that’s good…folks used to be stuck in horrrrible marriages, divorce was basically Scarlet Letter territory–shameful.

So I say this: I don’t just want a girl, a woman, a lady who knows I love her, and she loves me, and we admire one another, and always are kind to one another, especially when we’re tired and cranky. That’s a good start: half the battle.

But the whole battle, love is war, is if she looks at me and says, go free, do your thing, and in return I want to be able to go free, and do my thing, and your thing and my thing may be totally different, you might travel, I might travel, you might want to work instead of having dinner and I might want to work instead of having dinner…when I find a girl who loves what the whole point of life is…

“And while I’m here I’ll do the work.  And what’s the work? To ease the pain of living — everything else, drunken dumbshow”  – Allen Ginsberg

…more than our marriage, well I’m ready to get married.*

 *well, also, she’ll have to be okay with having 12 children named Pippi, Sargent, Huck(leberry) or Twain, Fitz(gerald), Cary (Kerouac), Whit(man), Washington, Eleanor, (Rose) Roosevelt, Avalokiteshvara, Hal(ifax) and Sham(bhala). Already got the dog named Redford, and when we’re ready he’ll have a younger brother named Rockwell.

Until then, spare me your expectations. You don’t have rights to me. I have one short life to live and I’ve been given a ton and I enjoy nothing more than working night and day to create something (elephant, Walk the Talk Show) that can give back, only 10fold. I took a vow, and I aim to keep it. And that’s a tall order.

As Eleanor Roosevelt said, the only joy in this hard life is serving others.

When I fall in love, truly, if I’m lucky enough to do so, that love will help me, and I will help her, to face outward, not merely inward.

And if I’m not lucky enough to do so, well, that’ll be 12 children who won’t have a hard time in junior high explaining why they have such ridiculous names. Either way, I’m gonna get a lot of work done, and be busy…

…’til I’m 80 then I just want to sit on couch, eat corn chips, drink weak beer and watch baseball on TV or whatever they have then curse at my grandchildren running through the room “keep quiet, whippersnappers!”


“I’m offering a lot, I’m offering me.”
~ Joanne Woodward to Paul Newman in Long, Hot Summer.



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Love this just for the title: “You Complete Me? Debunking The Jerry Maguire Myth.”
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*(who want to have sex with one another constantly)

Picnic Image: Crafty Modern.


About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. | | | | | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom


129 Responses to “Love is Selfish.”

  1. Dace says:

    Love is an illusion, most of the times…

  2. […] have it, last week I came upon an article in Elephant Journal, by founder Waylon Lewis, called “Love is Selfish.” In many respects, it was spot on. He discussed the Buddhist notion of love, a love that has […]

  3. Laura says:

    I think that this way of thinking about love is really relevant to my own life, however I struggle when sex gets involved. What is the significance of love in sex and what is the significance of love without sex? If you are in this kind of a relationship why is sex the part that messes everything up? Should you be allowed to have sex with other people if you want?

  4. Patrycja says:

    Yes. Thank you for the reminder.Ahh, thank you !

  5. Adil says:

    Real Love is not Selfish, Rather it is totally opposite to selfishness i.e. it is Sacrifice.

  6. Cloud cave says:

    I'm very sorry my friends, but you all sound like people who have never really loved. Once you have had the privilege, honor and sacrament of a love that totally ravages your being, so that every cell of your body chants your lover's name like a 100,000 infinite mantras; when lying in bed the endless pounding waves of her affection wears down the craggy bluffs of your egoistic defenses, any talk of "love is looking in the same direction" or "being alone together" just sounds like insignificant drivel. Or at least, the blind men who described the elephant. So beside the point that it misses the point entirely. However, I cannot advise anyone to wait for such a love as that. We should all take what we can get in the meantime and be grateful that anyone loves us at all!

  7. […] of all, if you love someone, hopefully you will already both be enjoying a great deal of freedom. Spaces in your togetherness are essential. If you love someone, you want him or her to have the fullest life possible. Hard to do that if you […]

  8. […] For more: Waylon Lewis’ “Love is Selfish.” […]

  9. […] I need you to want to go for a run if I’m busy working and not bother me, because you’re independent and not […]

  10. simplersjoy says:

    "Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue to exist, a wonderful living side by side can grow up, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see each other whole against the sky."
    (Rainer Maria Rilke)

  11. Wandering Dervish says:

    I remember struggling with these issues when my internal clock kicked in and I started feeling the need, as a woman, to have a baby. The pressure to find a perfect partner to fulfill all one's specific needs is probably self defeating and naive when looking back now. You can analyze, plan and think all you want, but experience itself has it's own way of doing things. Needless to say, my life took so many twists and turns that I never could have imagined, most of them hard and painful. But, I'd not take back a second given the choice. The lessons I've learned from choosing the wrong partner and having his children where the lessons I needed to learn.

    There is no perfect person just waiting there. And you won't know it until you experience it. A sexy intellectually stimulating partner now might turn out to be a very impatient selfish parent down the road, then you end up with sad and angry children. You just never know and won't until you take that risk.

    But, it's worth the risk to take. A whole new world opens up to you. It's not an easy or perfect path, but marriage and having children will broaden you. There are trials and tribulations that will stretch and pull at your very core and force you to grow and become a fuller person whether you want to or not. And if the relationship ends after having children, life is not over. You still move on and make life good, still continue fighting for your causes and even open yourself up to meeting a new partner.

    You can chose to be selfish and single putting your personal causes first before a partner or family. There is no one right way to live life, but life is short and fleeting. Unfortunately, "the machine" will probably not be able to be stopped or it's path changed too much. So, what's truly important at the end of the day? This is a question each one of us has to make. For me, I believe….yes, change in the world and fighting the good fight….but really it's about family and loved ones and the memories and bonds we create.

    There's a certain depth that occurs by being a parent and husband/wife. So beware of being single past the nest building years because you can't get those back. Some how time seems to speed up extremely fast when you close in on 50. Especially beware of setting expectations too high as it will keep you single. You don't want to miss the train.

    Perfect partners evolve over time together. She/he isn't just "there" waiting to be found or taken. A man who can be a good father and husband and fight his cause for the world at the same time is truly an amazing man.

  12. tabithaken says:

    Dear Waylon – pick me, I'm fabulous. [and very busy doing my own thing]

  13. […] who’s up for this “no shit experiment?” In the words of Jerry Maguire: “Who’s comin’ with […]

  14. […] Love is a selfish thing: it’s all about devotion to the […]

  15. ClaretCup says:

    One of the most beautiful essays I've read on love. I've kept coming back to this again and again over the past few months–and sharing it with friends–finding solace and inspiration both. Thank you.

  16. Sara says:

    I've kept coming back to this again and again over the last few months, every time finding solace, inspiration, and beauty. Thank you.

  17. […] and beauty is in in mutual, raw intimacy, […]

  18. MaryNYC says:

    @WanderingDervish “selfish and single”? I don’t see it that way. I love how post tweaks the “western concept of matrimony” as the ridiculousness that it is. Not for me, thank you. Clock or no clock.

  19. zanne says:

    Thank you.

  20. Michele says:

    If I was religious, I might say “Amen”. I see love as both a constant and a variable. It speaks to you internally and then finds a cozy place inside to rest. It doesnt have to be in the forefront. It just ‘is’. It can be an easy place to hide for those who feel helpless about their place in the world. A safe happy place.
    As humans, we live so long, and have such power to amend, build, and strenghthen our lifestyle and enviroment. Too few stand to lead. To be able to do the work you love should be a lifestyle. If you can share the path with someone, you are blessed. If you cannot, then lets hope you have work that sustains you and friends to share your joy.
    Each day is a blessing.

  21. […] I seemed to be playing out that old idea of Ego Psychologist, Erik Erikson that says that it is necessary for a woman to leave room in the formation of her identity to accommodate that of her husband. I didn’t really know who I was and I depended a great deal on my husband to define me. I gave up many of my own interests, pursuits and ambitions simply to be available to his. […]

  22. I think this is a lovely article…especially the last lines…’I’m offering a lot, I’m offering me’…nice one..

  23. Liza says:

    WOW, well said and so true! Thanks you!

  24. Tim says:

    Buddha walked out on his wife and newborn and never expressed any regret for doing it. Never worked for a living. The fat lazy ass should have lead by example rather than theory.

  25. elephantjournal says:

    Lorraine Right, because love isn't selfish enough already. How long until children no longer even have anyone else in their class to be jealous of who DOES have two parents? Do all the people who follow this philosophy have fabulous, exceptional careers helping lots of people? Are they all creatively fulfilled and in-shape and living their ultimate lives, full of the utmost fulfillment that only craft beer and the hottest new music you've never heard of can provide? I sure hope so, because they've dissolved the glue that held society together since its inception in the meantime.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 47 minutes ago Lorraine, I'm not sure I understand what you're arguing against…it certainly isn't this article.

    Did you read it? This article is about finding love that has room for space, appreciation, and individuality within it.

  26. alansmith15 says:

    wow…this are really awesome and fresh insights. i love every perspective, beats the norm or at least the standard. i really love reading this blog post.

  27. Sherri Rosen says:

    Waylon, another Buddhist buddy of mine, Rachel Timberlake, were just speaking about this. Thanks. I love the honesty and real ness of it all. It took me a much longer time to get this about love and relationship, but I get it now, and would love to fall in love and "work it now"

  28. Katya says:

    Yes Waylon

  29. Katya says:

    Also, happy birthday. Much love.

  30. Angela says:

    I love the concepts. In my life, I’m looking for the same . . . someone I can grow with where we both are doing out purposeful work in the world. I’m trying to picture myself as a woman with twelve kids still working full time and traveling without help from my husband because he’s working all the time. I’m curious when we would have time for sex. I’d be curious to hear from other families with multiple kids who’ve been able to do this. I’m not saying its not possible . . . I simply have a lot of questions and haven’t seen this modeled.

  31. kiki says:

    God, you are brilliant… love your articles and my EJ addiction … where are all you guys hiding?…. keep them coming por favor!

  32. alex myles says:

    ok, you have lots and lots and lots of 'marry me' requests
    so, how about this one… let's marry each other 🙂 I am as worthy of you as you are of me
    however, one prenup.. can at least 10 of the 12 children be adopted? If so, I'm happy for you to choose all of the names. I adore your choices!!
    and finally….
    'Really important meetings are planned by the souls long before the bodies see each other.' Paulo Coelho

  33. Jenna B. Wiser says:

    You are awesome!! Marry me now and I will have all 12 of your children. Wait. We already have children between us. Hold on. Let me do the math. Where’s my damn calculator? Oh wait. I think my iPhone has a freakin calculator. Where the hell is that app?? Damn it!! This is the longest post ever. Ok. 10-5=5. But I’m 40 and that’s high risk. So let’s just say 1or 2 max. And that’s only if you give me lots of lovin’ everyday. And if you kiss me on purpose every morning before you leave for work. And we have our hot dates scheduled and send racy texts to each other all day that will lead to mind-blowing sex at night. (Or lunch as I know how you like your pleasure mid-day too). When your in the mood of course. But since its with me, that will be everyday!!!

    So, what the hell was the question??

  34. Mia says:

    Well done! Thank you !

  35. Amanda says:

    This is wonderful. I'm so glad this popped up on my news feed today, of all days. Thank you.

  36. Hanna Kushala says:

    Amen….I want to meet you…;)

  37. Jacinta says:

    these great posts heal me of my writers block little by little, coz they inspire me to respond! However, I don’t always submit my first response coz I go off on tangents. Lolololololol ~ but I’m getting closer to a full-on cure …. for which I may have to begin actually writing something substantial, and then sharing it…. just sayin

  38. Amber says:

    This is my new favorite love story!

  39. Nichole says:


  40. karen says:

    I agree with the people who disagreed with this, though I am single with no “real” romantic love in sight. How can you be an old man at the end of the story, satisfied despite not having a life partner, but having grandkids to yell at? I know pertnership is no guarantee of progeny, and vice versa, but- isn’t the stability not necessarily in marriage, but in all of life- what we’re looking for? Or if you look outside yourself for the stability does it immediately go away? I’m sorry, I am not Buddhist and do not meditate, so my view is largely uninformed save for whatever I’ve seen on the internet about it.

  41. Elien says:

    Your words feel perfectly right. I always felt there was something wrong with the way most people, or society, looks at love ( what is in fact mostly selfishness, clinging or attachment that doesn't deserve the name love] It just never fitted the way I experience it. So difficult to put it into words though, so Thank You.
    To let the person you love truly be their own, to let him/her wonder off, explore and do what they are meant to do on this earth, is love in the purest way. True love understands this .Like two dancers can move away from each other to dance a unique solo, to let their feet lead them back towards each other and, blissfully reunited, move in perfect harmony. They see the importance of this individual dance, and will cheer and encourage each other’s solo, because they love to see their other half move wild and free, and they are immensely grateful that this beautiful soul wants to spend time with them.

  42. Elien says:

    And there will be commitment; it will be voluntary and therefore strong and solid. This union will be both peaceful and fierce, because they can look proudly into their own eyes and love the reflection in the mirror, and so are able to give without restraint to the other. Like the wide ocean always brings his waves back to the shore, this love will be inexhaustible. Kindness and respect will come as natural as the tide, and they will look at each other and love will vibrate between them.

  43. Elien says:

    Until dead do us part will not be a requirement, cause who knows what life has in store for all of us. Don’t get me wrong, once a love like this is found, both will treat it with the greatest respect and care, they will commit to making this wonderful bond last…But if it is time to dance another dance, they will try to let go gracefully, never wanting to imprison another being, never trying to force love. Attachment drains love and every happy memory out of your soul, leaving only a bitter taste in your mouth, darkening the heart.
    Also will there be no demanding like we know it so well, like society makes us believe we can and have to, because the base will always be unconditional accepting this other soul, and letting kindness and respect guide every word, and every move. Both will keep their hearts wide open, loving generously without keeping score. (Maybe one requirement can be made: every falling out has to be followed by passionate lovemaking. That only seems fair, doesn't it?)

  44. Elien says:

    Now, tell me, where is this love to be found in this world? Cause for nothing less than this do I want to settle. Might imply that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life, as far as my experience goes…but I rather dance solo if I know the pas de deux is coming.

  45. Elien says:

    Also will there be no demanding like we know it so well, like society makes us believe we can and have to, because the base will always be unconditional accepting this other soul, and letting kindness and respect guide every word, and every move. Both will keep their hearts wide open, loving generously without keeping score. (Maybe one requirement can be made: every falling out has to be followed by passionate lovemaking. That only seems fair, doesn't it?)
    Now, tell me, where is this love to be found in this world? Cause for nothing less than this do I want to settle. Might imply that I’ll be alone for the rest of my life, as far as my experience goes…but I rather dance solo if I know the pas de deux is coming.

  46. Bay says:

    I have to read these things through a few times, but this sounds right. There is a danger in the mundane between two people. It sets up a bad standard of togetherness. If there is space like what this post is suggesting, then I think there is more room for a dynamic life.
    Did that make sense?
    If this article were a song, it would be "Entre Nous", by Rush.

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