July 5, 2017

Attachment vs. Love: Understanding the Difference.

Love is often confused with attachment.

We stay in destructive relationships because love is worth fighting for. Oftentimes, we fight because of our attachment—not really for love.

I’ve lost count how many times I thought I was in love. To be honest, I didn’t really understand attachment until I experienced its opposite.

Realizing we’re attached—and not really in love—is freeing. Occasionally, we know that we’re not experiencing love, but we might be too scared to admit it, because realizing that we’ve been kidding ourselves all along isn’t a desirable feeling.

However, coming to terms with our attachment to others puts an end to our suffering, and it also helps us to recognize attachment in the future.

Attachment isn’t an inherent trait within us. It’s something that develops with time and morphs into something that’s entirely different than love. The transformation is so swift that we commonly miss it.

Love comprises the essence of attachment at its core—however, it’s innate and healthy. This kind of attachment is also present in our relationships with our family and friends. It’s more of a natural bond that’s designed to keep people connected. On the other hand, the bond that exists in toxic attachment is created by the mind. This is why we can get over the people with whom we had a relationship based on unhealthy attachment. Because everything that the mind creates is also eradicated by the mind.

I’m convinced that love can’t be eradicated, because it doesn’t come from the mind. Even if our beloved isn’t around, love keeps flowing. Love is certainly strengthened by the presence of the person we love, but it’s not obstructed by their absence.

I’ve loved only once—and the truth is, we’re no longer together. Nonetheless, I don’t deem my love to that person as less than genuine. He means the world to me, but his happiness means even more to me . And if the distance between us is imperative for his happiness—then, by all means, I’m fine with it.

This is an essential difference between love and attachment. When we’re attached, we don’t mind the other person’s happiness. In authentic love, there’s a balance between what pleases us and the other person. We’re not too selfish, yet we’re not too submissive.

Having said that, attachment is akin to the word “needing,” because attachment in itself is self-centered. Rather than considering what both parties are bringing to the table, we focus solely on what we’re receiving. We might even push the buttons of the other person in order to get what we want. In a relationship based on attachment, our giving is usually unconscious: We either give so we can take something in return, or we give so we won’t lose the other person.

The fear of losing the beloved is an obsession that lives within the lover who’s attached. It gets quite difficult when the person to whom we’re attached isn’t around. Then attachment works on us like some sort of drug. When the drug is available, we’re good—but, we collapse when it’s not.

When we experience genuine love, our perception of relationships expands. Though we suffer if our relationship comes to an end, we eventually understand that we can still generate feelings of good will toward the other person and learn to accept their absence.

Even when they’re absent, we can still relate to them in one way or another. To put it differently, we choose to live with them, but we can also live without them. When things end with the person we love, it almost feels as if there’s no end. Time is relative when it comes to love—unlike attachment, which operates within a timeline.

When we’re solely attached to the other person, the breakup is usually destructive. It’s like we rebel against the absence of the drug. We stop relating to the other person—and, with time, we become indifferent toward them. In attachment, our so-called love walks hand by hand with conditions. When conditions change, love also changes (unlike true love that’s constant). When the relationship ends, we experience the opposite of love in a matter of days (jealousy, blame, aversion, hate, ill-will). Our love oscillates, until it finally dissipates and transforms into indifference.

When conditions change in a relationship based on attachment, we drown in our own suffering. The reason for our agony is that there is exaggeration and idealism in our “love.” We put the person we love on a pedestal, despite all the toxicity they impel. We create a flawless image of them in our minds, and we love them as long as they fulfill it.

Having said that, we realize that the attachment we have been holding all along is not really for the person, but to the image we have of them. When that image changes—that is, the conditions—our love changes.

In a relationship based on love, there’s no idealization. We see the person for who they are, and we love them as they are. We’re also aware they’re as impermanent as anything else in life. We understand they they’re prone to change by the second. Love means walking with them through all their changes and phases. Attachment, on the other hand, means clinging to one image of our beloved and forcing them to maintain it. With love, we don’t create images of people that they’re unable to meet.

In order to experience love, we must find it within ourselves first. For, so long as we haven’t tuned into the love that we have for ourselves, we will keep on seeking it from the outside.

When we have learned how to be alone, and how to love who we are, we become capable of genuinely loving other people. We start to want them and choose them, instead of needing them.

Remember, whatever you are attached to is something that’s missing within yourself.



Letting Go of Attachment to People—the Buddhist Way.


Author: Elyane Youssef
Image: Flickr/Christian Lauer

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Copy editor: Nicole Cameron
Social editor: Callie Rushton

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