August 19, 2017

We don’t want Love—We want Familiar Suffering.

“We are not merely on a quest to be happy. We are on a quest to suffer in ways that feel familiar.”  ~ Alain de Botton

There is a difference between what we say we want and what our actions would imply.

Love is, perhaps, the place in which this is most obvious.

What do we really want in love?

Do we want a sustainable, healthy relationship—one in which we communicate and are open and receptive to the needs of one another? Or do we want someone to make us suffer in a special way?

According to Alain de Botton, the answer is both.

“When it comes to love, something tricky occurs, because the way we love as adults sits on top of our early childhood experiences. Now, in early childhood, the way that we learned about love was not just through tenderness and kindness, rather it will also be bound up with various kinds of suffering.”

There is no love without suffering. This much is true.

That being said, surely there are unnecessary forms of suffering that become associated with the feeling of love because of experiences we had early on in life.

Naturally, the desire for love becomes entangled with the desire to suffer in a special way that is unique to our own psychology.

Botton continues:

“Something quite bad happens when we start to go out into the adult world. We think we are out to find love partners who will make us happy, but we’re not. We are out to find partners who will feel familiar, and that may be a very different thing; familiarity may be bound up with particular kinds of torture.”

This is an important thing to realize, because along the path of love, we perhaps will make some grave mistakes as a result of this tendency. It is important to have a sense of direction on the path of love—and this includes an understanding of the manners in which we unconsciously seek suffering.

Botton gives an example of someone who is avoidant in relationships. Being avoidant means that the moment we feel our partner needs love most is the very same moment we pathologically pretend that we don’t.

We all have these little tendencies in relationships that arise out of our deep-seated pain, rather than unconditional love.

In my experience, most people fall somewhere along the “neediness versus avoidance” spectrum. We most often will either project our pain in the form of need, or in the form of avoidance. Neither one is particularly healthy. Nothing arising simply out of pain can be helpful in the maintaining a healthy and mutually beneficial relationship.

We must understand the manners in which we suffer, as well as the manners in which we seek out suffering, if we are to be rightly related to another human being in an intimate way.

Botton continues:

“This explains why sometimes we meet someone and we can recognize that they’re really wonderful and amazing, but we must confess that there is something missing in this person, and we struggle with the vocabulary to explain it. We say, they’re maybe not that exciting, or not sexy, a bit boring, but really what we mean is that we’ve detected something in this person that they will not be able to make us suffer in the way that we need to suffer in order to feel that love is real.” 

The trick is not to deny the ways in which want to be made to suffer, but to acknowledge the ways in which we want to be made to suffer and be aware of them when they are active in a relationship.

Just because these impulses are active in a relationship doesn’t mean the relationship won’t “work,” but the fact of the matter is that history repeats itself, and these deeply rooted desires want to find their way to the surface. The best we can do is practice loving everybody in our lives unconditionally and do everything in our power to abide by a state of love that is entirely free of expectation.

Of course, this is easier said than done, but practice makes perfect—sort of.

Author: Samuel Kronen
Image: Mirøslav Hristøff/Flickr

Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy editor: Yoli Ramazzina
Social editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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