June 23, 2017

The True Meaning of Love isn’t Romantic—but it’s Real.

Is there is a place where human complexity is any more obvious than it is in love?

Relationships illuminate the vast array of complications nested within our own minds; there is nothing that reflects our problems more clearly than connection to one another.

They can be our downfall, though, if we allow these reflections to negatively impact us by taking these things personally.

This can also act as our greatest teacher if we use these reflections to gauge where our personality could use some work.

I listened to a talk recently by the philosopher Alain De Botton, entitled “Why You Will Marry The Wrong Person,” and it really helped me further understand the ever-extensive dynamic of human relationship. I’ll share several key quotes from this lecture to illustrate:

“We get into these patterns of not daring to do the thing that we really need to do, which is to say, ‘I’m actually a small child inside and I need you like a small child would need it’s parent.’ This is so humbling that most of us refuse to make that step, and therefore refuse the challenge of love.”

Ultimately, much of our lives are devoted to redeeming certain early childhood experiences that had a substantial impact on us, as psychology has been telling us for the last 100 years. This is not to say our paths are in any way predetermined. Rather, we have certain deeply-rooted needs that require our attendance in some way.

If we avoid these needs, these foundational desires, they will likely manifest in unhealthy ways.

It is important to admit we are not entirely independent. There is a certain necessity for human connection we cannot do without. This is a crucial starting point to embarking on the dangerous and perilous journey of being in a relationship.

“In short, we don’t know very much how to love. It sounds very odd, because imagine if someone said to you that everyone in this room needs to go to a school of love. We think, ‘What?! A school of love?! Love is just an instinct!’  No, it’s not. It’s a skill. It’s a skill that needs to be learned, and it is a skill that our society refuses to consider as a skill.”

Relationships are perpetual works in progress.

They are not purely intuitive and free, nor is there some end point to be reached in relationship. It is a constant balancing act between the known and the unknown, between structure and spontaneity, between the future and the present moment. The skill of love is attempting to walk this fine line—to attain balance to the greatest degree.

Relationships are incredibly dynamic, vastly complex, and something to be incessantly cultivated. If we cease to see love as a skill, then these complications cannot be sorted through and our pathologies will come to destroy the relationship.

The passage continues:

“We are meant to always just follow our feelings. If you keep following your feelings you will almost certainly make a big mistake in your life. Then what is love? There is a distinction between loving and being loved. We all start off in life knowing a lot about being loved. Being loved is the fun bit. We grow up thinking that is what is going to happen in an adult relationship. We can be forgiven for that. It is an understandable mistake, but a very tragic mistake because it leads us not to pay attention to the other side of the equation, which is to love.”

Love is a negotiation, or rather love can only be maintained through negotiation. This negotiation is predicated upon the fact that we have uncontrollable needs and desires that aren’t always reasonable, and thereby we must come to some level of agreement with our partner if we want our relationship to flourish.

I said in a recent article that I really appreciate the term “partner,” because that is about as far as we can discern what people in relationships actually are. We are working together. We are collaborating in order to make this connection into a work of art, and this collaboration constitutes embodying both sides of love (loving/being loved).

This is one of my favorite quotes I have ever heard on love:

“What does it really mean to love? To love, ultimately, is the willingness to interpret someone’s, on the surface, not very appealing behavior in order to find more benevolent reasons why it may be unfolding. In other words, to love someone is to apply charity and generosity of interpretation.”

I know it’s not a particularly romantic perspective on love, but it is an incredibly realistic and honest depiction of what it means to be in relationship to another.

People are silly. We act out. We say weird things. We have strange propensities in that it is difficult to approach a relationship without seeing the process as some kind of “skill” to be endlessly cultivated and developed.

A balance is to be struck between nature and nurture, chaos and order, novelty and structure, if we hope to optimize human relationship. This balance may only be sought through paying close attention to the fluctuations of this experiential pendulum to really understand our own psychological processes.

Understanding is the foundation upon which love is constructed.

Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Pixabay
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Callie Rushton

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