November 29, 2022

The Problem with Romantic Relationships: A Buddhist Teaching on True Love.

Almost a decade ago I survived a breakup that hurt like hell.

I was young, foolish, and had fallen head over heels for the guy who left me.

When we broke up, I locked myself up in my room for many months, refusing to leave the house or see anyone. Thinking back to that time, my mind could only see my ex. He was the center of my universe; without him, my life was meaningless.

I healed from that breakup by getting into another relationship with another guy. I, again, fell head over heels, and, again, endured another breakup that was even heavier than the previous one.

I couldn’t understand why it hurt so much to separate from people. Physically they were absent, but mentally it was excruciating; they would permeate my entire thoughts and body. Their absence wasn’t the only difficult thing. I also had to get my life back together…every. Single. Time.

After many years (and other failed relationships), I was introduced to the teachings of the Buddha. I received the teachings with an open heart and accepted all their perspectives—except for one:

Buddhism doesn’t support romantic love.

I was so upset and disturbed when I learned this. The Buddha was a teacher of love; how come he didn’t accept romantic love? For me, it was the epitome of happiness and goodness. How could it make us suffer?

A Buddhist monk in India was happy to answer my question and put my (monkey) mind at rest. With a smile and an open heart, monk Gelek told me, “Romantic love focuses on one person whereas universal love focuses on all sentient beings. In Buddhism, we practice universal love.” After a moment of silence and him noticing my discomfort, he continued, “You can love one person, of course, but don’t forget about other beings.”

That conversation stuck with me. The truth is I did forget about other beings. I could see why breakups hurt like hell and why romantic relationships in general cause us so much suffering at times. It’s not that romantic love is wrong or bad. It’s just that we forget to practice universal love when we’re in love with someone.

Metta is a beautiful Buddhist concept that means to direct unconditional love to all sentient beings. Our capacity to love is massive, but most times we choose to offer it to one person. We neglect our family, friends, and ourselves without realizing that we can love them all equally—and simultaneously.

If we want out romantic relationships to succeed, we need to expand our hearts. We need to realize that our capacity to offer happiness and love is limitless; it’s not limited to one object.

That said, true love means expansion.

It means we don’t use someone as the only source to our happiness. (It will eventually deplete them—and us.) It means universal generosity, patience, presence, care, and attention. It means we see our romantic relationship as an extension—not an entity.

True love means training ourselves in how we distribute our love and care.

True love means we revisit what happiness means to us. It means we understand the impermanent nature of things and that some things may not have happy or desirable consequences.

Remember, when we use love as an escape, it’s not true love.

Are you practicing metta in your life and relationship? Let me know in the comments.



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