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. […] Here’s a toast to what love is not, so that we can (some day) be in awe of what it is. […]

  2. Chelsea says:

    Word. Like Mulder and Scully.

  3. elephantjournal says:

    Framing that.

  4. elephantjournal says:

    "You got to be kidding" re "spoken like a man that hasn't felt love…"

    I have loved fully and had my heart bloomed and crushed and twisted and snapped and blown open and kissed and cuddled and held and sung to.

  5. elephantjournal says:

    Yes. Well love is hard. And that's the bamboo tube analogy. None of this loneliness and outward facing works well without partnership and inward looking. It's a both and either or situation, as in yoga where you pull in and open up simultaneously…pana and apana?

  6. elephantjournal says:

    Agreed. But I think all in all I'd rather contribute to mass education than focused education. President Obama is a loving father, and he misses dinner plenty. That's got to be hard. But what he's doing is worthwhile and few are willing to make such a sacrifice.

    Even outside of the realm of politics, it's more fun to have dinner or drinks with those you care about than it is to get criticized for trying to be of some service (it's Friday night, I just finished an interview with an amazing inspiring person and my friends texted me, are out for drinks, but I'm still home working. Now, what I do is of little benefit, now, but as Lao Tze says above I'm focused on the step by step path toward being in a place where I can be of service to millions. To me that's more urgent than being a parent, and I loooove children and do hope to be a father).

  7. elephantjournal says:


  8. […] So while I re-learn to be friends with myself, I’ll keep on working. I’ll keep on trying to be of benefit with whatever I do (hopefully even with this, here, which may have been more than you wanted to know). I’ll keep on giving my love to the world. Maybe someday I’ll give it to one person just a little bit more. I’ll find a way to leave space in between togetherness. […]

  9. […] Angie they were in the gym and he overheard her talking about climbing Mt. Rainier. That same day, without speaking a word yet to Angie, he called his mom and said, “I think I just saw the girl I am going to […]

  10. […] Accept bumps in the road. They will come. If you are not resilient and truly committed to the health of the relationship, you will give up easily. Remember that you will feel lonely and not connected at times. Rest in the fact that feelings are transient in their nature. […]

  11. […] iPhone (insert 4 or 4s here) is not so much a phone as it is a replacement for a significant other. This is not a new revelation; many a sad single woman realized long ago the significant similarity […]

  12. […] and we’re 70% water and you can never ever interrupt water, no matter how many dams or faucets. Only boats, only […]

  13. […] ~ This is an edited, shortened, tightened version of “Love is Selfish.” It appeared in Original Magazine, Fall, […]

  14. brennagee says:

    "…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." This is one of the reasons I could not stay in my marriage. I couldn't forget the world beyond our door. I did feel selfish about wanting to face outward as well as inward.
    I've read this piece a few times. It's always a relief to see someone else feels the same. Is wanting to love and help beyond a marriage selfish or just a different way of conducting a relationship?

  15. mrchokeys says:

    In 2005 I declared myself unfit to have intimate relationships, and decided that I would avoid them at all costs. If I felt the need for sex I'd have "meaningless" sex with a stranger, even pay for it. Shortly after I made this decision, the one person on the entire planet with the ability to change my mind about this reappeared in my life after nearly 22 years of no contact. we married in 2006. We have a turbulent and dysfunctional relationship, spend lots of time away from each other, rarely have sex although it's good enough when we do. But there is nothing like the feeling of simply being together in silent, affectionate contact. If there is such a thing, we are "soul mates". The downside to finding you "soul mate" is that the demons of your own mind will be reflected right back at you. This person will see right through you and call you on your crap without mercy. The perimeter of "self" and "other' is pierced, violated and blurred, and you realize you are not "in control" of what you consider to be your "self". I guess that's why Reggie Ray advised us in class one time "let yourself fall in love."

  16. elephantjournal says:

    Abby Seible Yes!

    Megan Johnson ‎"You know what’s always fun? Serving the greater good by doing something you’re good at…The kind of love I’ve been brought up to look for isn’t a picnic. It’s a partnership, with loneliness built in." ~ Waylon Lewis
    LOVE this article/poem/attestation! Glad you're reposting… It's a beautiful reminder of why I'm sitting here, single, working! (Because I want to – I like it!)
    WL: Reading this again, I thought for a sec that maybe it was you, but 12 kids? Hell no, not even close! 😉

    Elena Montiel Hands down the best article about love I ever red! Thank you thank you thank you

  17. […] Love is Selfish. | elephant journal 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. […]

  18. @tom_zorro says:

    And what if your disabled , how can you have space then ( if your even lucky enough to find love ) when you cant even ospace from yourself ?

    Who would want love something / someone like that – unless forced too ?

  19. Dace says:

    Love is an illusion, most of the times…

  20. […] 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 […]

  21. Alex — I totally agree. The writer wants very specific things out of love: good luck!

  22. 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?

  23. Patrycja says:

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

  24. Adil says:

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

  25. 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!

  26. […] 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 […]

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

  28. […] 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 […]

  29. 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)

  30. 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.

  31. tabithaken says:

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

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

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

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

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

  37. 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.

  38. Heather Callin says:

    Brilliant, that bit. 🙂

  39. umang dave says:

    Love is a state of mind.
    For sure if one can stay in this state FOREVER, he or she is blessed.
    [email protected]

  40. zanne says:

    Thank you.

  41. 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.

  42. Gabriela says:

    The way I see it, when you have that "naked dinner together 6 times a week" is not to a longing to get away from boredom, but a wanting to be present, to really and truly be there for your partner. Excuse me, WITH your partner. Why would I want to make friends with loneliness when I have someone PRESENT next to me? When both partners are present, isn't that finding love? And if you found love, how could you wish for loneliness? At least that's what I feel when I think about that dinner with my husband 🙂

  43. […] 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. […]

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

  45. Liza says:

    WOW, well said and so true! Thanks you!