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

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.



Love this just for the title: “You Complete Me? Debunking The Jerry Maguire Myth.”

*(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. | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, is now available.


129 Responses to “Love is Selfish.”

  1. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the brand new Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  2. "But let there be spaces in your togetherness." Love that quote

    I think it's the whole infatuation/attachment thing that's selfish. Real love is selfless.

  3. I'm speechless. That never happens.

    love it

  4. Patte O'Reilly says:

    If only…
    There were more of you.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    That's what my mom aunty and dad are constantly asking for..!

  6. tea says:

    kind of love i am looking for is a partnership with loneliness built in,what a brilliant way to put it,love the article

  7. Ang says:

    who wrote this? I'm already better just for reading your words…Ive never been able to articulate this – I didn't even know it was possible

  8. Joe Sparks says:

    Every married person feels a lack of enough expression of love from his or her spouse. No one has really ever received all the affection she wants in a rational sense.

  9. Wow, Waylon! Thanks for writing this! Absolutely brilliant. Hope you're able to find the one who supports your outward-face-ness. I think children will need more of you, though. But it doesn't mean you need to retreat in 100% either. It is a readjustment of balance that isn't always easy (something I'm struggling with right now). CHEERS!

  10. Waylon wrote it, Ang…..

  11. Carol Horton says:

    Beautifully put. I hope you find your lady soon.

  12. Emily Seipel says:

    Stunning, and as a woman who has been known to give up because I date those who are " boring and work all the time and don’t pay enough attention to (me)”, eye opening and heart breaking, and heart opening and possibly eye breaking, if that's a thing. Sure would explain why I'm tearing up at work. Dang.

    Waylon, thank you. I needed this.

  13. Andréa Balt says:

    Whoever she is, you made her day with this post. She’s probably been walking around with a big smile all day, quoting every sentence in her head. Although I doubt she’s ok with naming your daughter Avlokiteshvara.

  14. honeyryder512 says:

    Agreed. I think this article stems from the idea that living a life based on being of service is somehow selfish because we reap so many internal benefits from said service. It's another question in the age-old philosphical debate about whether there is truly such a thing as altruism. My opinion is: if I am being of service then it doesn't really matter whether I benefit internally because the end results are the same.

  15. elephantjournal says:

    I've never read anything like this in my life. Holy sh*t, marry me…♥

    Did I just propose on FB? I may need to go and tell my (ex?) husband. (~ Braja 🙂

    Sandi Strong Until the children are born. then it's a whole new thing. a whole new service. enjoy the journeys. they're all fantastic.

    Jennifer Hunt It is amazing how paths, priorities & perspectives change after kids. Finding that person with whom you can bloom… while also enriching their blossom 🙂

    Terra Page who wrote this piece?

    Patte O'Reilly I want to propose as well Braja. Be still my beating heart. To find a man with the courage to love like that even though I haven't been looking my whole life I feel I have just been shown the perfect guidelines.

    Angela Arnett Wow…this makes me love,hope,smile,cry,and want to make myself sit long enough to truly appreciate that this sort of connection could be the key to everything ♥

    Allison Nicole Dugue I want to write for you. I just a girl that mostly agrees with what you're saying, but sometimes doesn't. But I think you are pretty cool. Jennifer, I notice you no longer share your amazing writing with the greater community. That's sorta what this is about. The world needs voices like yours! ~ Way Terra, Waylon wrote it… ~ Braja

    Jennifer Kass I love it, Way! What you're saying is the truth and the only answer. The work is remembering all of this when we're about to freak out or close off when our lovely partner triggers us!! Two complete people coming together to serve the greater good. This is the truth. And it's not as romantic as you complete me but it's awesome cause it's pure love. Jennifer – I think it's far more romantic than "you complete me." ~ Kate

    Jennifer Preddy Egbert I dare you to be the guy who is in "love" like you say and look at your lover and say, "go do the things you want to do, whenever and wherever you so desire. I will be ok with that." I DARE you. My money is on the girl saying FINALLY! THANK YOU!!! and you 'surprise visiting' her on her journey. Men don't let women roam that freely once they've 'got them'. ‎~ Kate, I agree….far far more romantic than that… ~ Braja xo Actually "you complete me" is bullshit…sorry 🙂 ~ Braja

    Marianne Dombroski A World of Yes. Not the only way to be in a relationship, but A World of Yes. Thank you for writing and articulating.

    Terra Page Thank you. Somehow it was not displaying properly until this morning and then I could see the author. 🙂

    Jennifer Hunt Thank you, Way. I commented on the article…

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Lubna Salah “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 between the shores of your souls.” ~ Khalil Gibran

    Alex Smith i love this. heaps.

    Waylon Lewis Ohhhh, Lubna, I "love" you for that.

    Lubna Salah I will take it a step further… I come from a cultural background that would label me as a raging feminist for my views on life, love, and marriage. Although the label is up for discussion, I have seen many an injustice committed towards women who did nothing more than serve their husbands and children. The measure of an advanced and economically stable society directly correlates to the level of education and financial independence of women. I believe it is a disservice to the human race that a woman is not given the opportunity to contribute to the greater good. I like to believe that now I live a privileged life since I am able to share my gifts with the world. I don't believe that this is a privilege however, I believe it to be my God-given right. Love and marriage should be focused on interdependence, not just between two people, but should also extend out to the rest of the world. It is not selfish… it is self-ish. I will get off my soapbox now. Thanks for writing this. ♥

    Sean Downes Excellent Waylon. Yes, I would ♥ to share mutual adoration, even when we are cranky… it don't get better than that :0) The transitions are a little rough, but it's very meaty.

    Allison Nicole Dugue Find someone with whom you have some things in common, but not everything, teach each other things, work them into your life. Have fun. Love and enjoy life. That's it. 🙂

    Waylon Lewis Allison, sounds too hard..!

    Allison Nicole Dugue Eh, not entirely

    Waylon Lewis Lubna, loooove that! Yes! I want an empowered relationship, not a 50s housewife.

    Chloë Klein This is beautiful Waylon. Thank you for sharing!! You just opened my heart even more. May the lady of your dreams walk straight into you with arms wide open. What an auspicious day to make a wish on a star and declare it to the universe!

    Allison Nicole Dugue Love is really about compromising, not about selfishness, come on, that's what you're writing about. You are not a romantic. That's fine, but what about you know, John Lennon type love, it exists, man.

    Waylon Lewis Allison, I'm not a great compromiser. Life's too short and achieving great things in terms of elephant, talk show, fulfilling my Bodhisattva vow to try and be of some benefit, give something back of what I've been given, Trungpa Rinpoche's legacy, is far more important to me (and far more fun) than date night. That's why, as Lubna says, looking for an equal match is more fun—looking for someone who wants to walk same path, not look upon my time spent working with jealousy.

  17. […] Staying safe in your cocoon is easy. It’s warm, and comfortable and if you don’t open the door you don’t risk getting cold. If you don’t open that door you miss everything. You miss who you are meant to be. You miss your purpose. You miss love. […]

  18. Also & similarly: “Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth… Love is as love does. Love is an act of will — namely, both an intention and an action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” -M. Scott Peck

  19. elephantjournal says:

    Love that. Then why lock oneself with a legal contract to love, when so many who love decide 10 or 20 years on that their love is not enough?

  20. Meredith says:

    Right on!

  21. interstitialvoyages says:

    beautiful. thank you. this is exactly what i have been chewing on and ruminating upon and the wise words you present are a balm for me right now…

  22. This is an interesting topic. I was told by a Lakota Medicine man by the name of Basil, that to be effective in service that the couple comes first then the family and then the community. I think this is a effective way to keep your life in balance so you can be effective in serving others in need. If your life isn't taken care of first how can you truly be useful to others.

  23. Smith_Scott says:

    Love is a verb. 🙂

  24. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. On the other hand, if all we do is take care of #1, or our family, or even our community, what about the world?

  25. elephantjournal says:

    Hah. No wise words, just wonderings…I need advice!

  26. elephantjournal says:

    No rush… I don't want to rush the timing, hopefully when I'm ready or have figured a few things out I'll be more deserving of a meaningful, lasting friendship.

  27. elephantjournal says:

    Yes: children are a lot of work, but I plan on just hiring a few governesses and never being around.

  28. Alex says:

    I'll merry you Way!

  29. catnipkiss says:

    Waylon, I think it is great that you know what you want and that you are passionate about your mission. Someone can surely join and support you in this. But I don't think we need to dismiss poor old Jerry MaGuire; isn't it possible that finding someone to "complete you" in the spiritual sense is what some of us need? You might need a partner who supports your work ethic and has her own thing going on, and others might want to have naked dinner together at least 6 nights a week. I think the advice of being a whole person on ones own is good, but there remains a longing for that "other", that no other substitution really fills. At least that is what I am finding. There is room for all kind of love out there, the kind you speak of, and those Vel-cro couples who do everything together. and where is there time to "have sex with one another constantly" if you are at work and she is out climbing a mountain or whatever? I admire your quest, but everyone has their own level of relationship need, you just have to find someone whose needs match your own…. – Alexa M.

  30. honeyryder512 says:

    I like that too. Reminds me of how they tell you on an airplane to secure your own airmask first…to more effectively assist others around such as children and elderly.

  31. Karl Saliter says:

    Good stuff! I think most of the game is knowing what you want, and it looks like you’ve got that nailed down like a six-pole circus tent. Give until you’re all used up, then remove yourself, breath, and return and give more. Great quote from Mr G, too.

  32. interstitialvoyages says:

    I find the wisdom is inherent in your inquiry… Advice I have none, because frankly I do not know. I am still working on embracing my own deep inner sadness simultaneous marveling of enigmatic existence all the while giving space for others to heal and explore these matters themselves. And oh, the longing… But Rainer Maria Rilke says this:

    "There is no force in the world but love, and when you carry it within you, if you simply have it, even if you remain baffled as to how to use it, it will work its radiant effects and help you out of and beyond yourself: one must never lose this belief, one must simply (and if it were nothing else) endure in it!"

  33. Jasmine Gill says:

    Thank you for this. My parents have been married for almost 30 years, and I will never forget my dad telling me why their relationship has worked/evolved for so long. "She just lets me be, if I want to go and paint for 3 hours or whatever it is, she just lets me be." Essentially spaces…in their togetherness.

  34. awesome 12 kids with weird name and abandonment issues…

  35. If there is to be peace in the world, There must be peace in the nations.
    If there is to be peace in the nations, There must be peace in the cities.
    If there is to be peace in the cities, There must be peace between neighbors.
    If there is to be peace between neighbors, There must be peace in the home.
    If there is to be peace in the home, There must be peace in the heart.
    Lao Tzu (570-490 B.C.)

  36. spoken like a man that hasn't felt love…it's ok you do great work and I am grateful for that. But make no mistake the most important work is to love..

  37. doublejointedyogi says:

    I'm in.

  38. Jeff says:

    I have been with my wife for 36 years. We were kids when we met: I was just yesterday looking at a photograph of the 16 year old girl that I fell for. Our daughter is grown. We fall into that "sitcom complacency" at times. We have each "wandered" from our vows. We have grown separately and together. But, We are still "we."

    We can be hard.

    That is the secret, I think. It would have been easier at times to quit. To take the path that denies the good times. Love is that thing most worth fighting for. When you cannot summon the will to fight, it may be time to give up. Or, maybe it's time to go look at some old pictures..

  39. ValCarruthers says:

    Wonderful, Waylon. Echoes something of my 40+ year relationship/partnership/marriage to a wonderful man who was a brilliant artist until his health issues took over several years ago. Throughout our time together we've faced outward, inward, felt ultimate togetherness and bitter loneliness, blown it apart and put it back together. Like a great work of art a great relationship is informed by the "negative" spaces—they give it depth, balance, contrast, juxtaposition, surprise and wholeness. Sure the whole *sign on the dotted line* thing of marriage vows can at times put the heebie jeebies into the most stable of relationships. But I know you can have it your way. Just keep the sex great, laugh daily and never stop the dialogue of intimacy. If your ideal lady gets your words she'll be in for a fantastic ride. Blessings dear Waylon.

  40. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. Just talking about myself. That said, I think the "ugh" reaction many humans have to velcro couples as you called 'em is healthfully instinctive: that "naked dinner together at least 6 nights a week" "that no other substitution fills" is, from a Buddhist pov, a longing to get away from the hot boredom of the present moment. Relax into that moment, cool boredom, and make friends with loneliness, and one might find that love is within, right here, right now, all the time. And then, we're fully madly deeply ready to enter into love with another.

    That's the idea, anyways. For myself, I used to be deeply uncomfortable with loneliness and being alone for many years, and actually enjoy it now. That said, when not practicing meditation formally, I'm still really good at getting away from the present moment!

  41. elephantjournal says:

    You got to be kidding.

  42. elephantjournal says:

    That's thanks to Lubna, in comments. I'm not sure I know what I want, but I know what I don't want: clinginess, leaning on one another.

  43. Joe Sparks says:

    Lao Tze said that a journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. Having set a lofty, long-range goal, one needs to calculate back from that goal to the steps it will take to accomplish it, including what needs to be done this very day. Similarly, to set immediate goals only without long-range ones is to misuse one's human capacity to really think and master the environment. Lack of long-range goals is quite likely to frustrate the achieving of even immediate ones. One needs a well-rounded set of goals, complete in the immediate future and in the longest range of time.

  44. Joe Sparks says:

    For example, if one sets up an immediate goal of overcoming shyness by greeting and having a conversation with a person of the opposite sex, he will work on this goal only and will feel much fear and embarrassment but will be a very long time in actually taking the step. If, however, in addition to setting the immediate goal of talking, he also sets a long range goal of having and raising a fine family, then this long-range goal places greater urgency on the shorter-range goal of a loving, dating relationship. If his attention is directed to the longe-range goal of raising a family, then the steps of meeting and greeting a series of potential spouses tends to be taken quickly in spite of the embarrassment, with no stopping of the feelings, but much more activity toward the effective living of one's life.
    Goal- setting is a powerful weapon for effective mastery of the environment. Most of history's celebrated achievers, individuals or groups, had a clear ( or at least a fixed) idea of what theywere after and persisited to that end.

  45. nope…I think love is the most important thing…if we all loved maybe their would be less "work" that needed to be done. Sorry if I'm the only one that doesn't think this is "brilliant"…it sounds a bit sad to me. I agree that a partner is a great thing….I agree that sometimes relationships can take us off course, but since I feel that relationships are the most important work we can do I guess I think that's ok… A strong, quiet, peaceful family can have as much impact on the world as an activist — to disparage those people who choose a different path than you? heh just sounds sad to me. I mean, You have every right to want something different and to choose the type of relationship you want – but I don't think it's necessary to say what others want or wish for is "wrong" or not as "important" as yours.

    I have been a "go getter" and an activist most of my life and what I am discovering for myself recently is that maybe just maybe the GREATEST "work" I could do would be to love my family and care for them and dedicate myself to those closest to me — maybe just maybe if we all did that no one would need rescuing. It's a thought anyway.

  46. Noel says:

    I think … Yes. Especially if you have a marriage between two people, no kids. But I ALSO think that raising children and building a family requires more: you DO have to show up for dinner every night. (Well, maybe not every night, but most nights.)

    And raising good kids in a stable, nurturing environment requires lots of selflessness … and also happens to be one of the best ways, I think, that you can contribute and give back to this crazy, messed up world.

  47. […] you hate Romantic Comedies, too, even while you enjoy them? For my version of this, Love is Selfish. […]