A friend asked me today if I thought that some people “love” more than others. Allow me to put the word between quotes because I am not sure whether I know what is meant by it. He, this friend, was wondering if his girlfriend is more capable of love than he is because she seems more giving, more tolerant, more patient, more capable of “loving”. This has set me to thinking all day long: Do some people love more than others? Do I love less than most people who are in a relationship because I lead a single life (at 73, finally) and seem to have no need for a partner? In my 30-year marriage, did my husband or I love more? In my second relationship, was there one of us who loved less? In either, was there love at all, or something else? What is LOVE really, what is it about and where does one find it?
Byron Katie says: “Personalities don’t love, they want something.” For Katie, ego and personality is equal. So I must ask myself if I loved my first husband, and sincerely answer that I did not, at least not at a conscious level. How can I be so sure? Because when he confessed to having had an affair (which had long been over), instead of asking him if he had been happy in that relationship, if it had given him something I was not capable of giving and if it had been terribly painful for him to
break it off in order to fulfill his marital duties, which would have been the loving thing to do, I flew into a rage, threatened to kill myself (I was much too much of a coward to kill him, but leaving him with the guilt of my death would have been the ultimate revenge) and proceeded to drink my way to divorce ten years later. I didn’t care about his happiness or his pain or his needs in that moment and probably not in many others either; it was my injured ego, a simple matter of vanity (there was no question of his leaving me in that moment) and a terrible feeling of powerlessness before a fait accompli.
So, did I love my second partner? I remember telling the Universe that I wanted to fall madly in love, which was something that hadn’t preceded my first marriage. As if ‘falling madly in love’ assured a lasting relationship! The Universe complied (it always does, whether we are conscious of it or not), and I fell madly in love, so much so that I was convinced I would die if it didn’t end. Fortunately, I knew to wait for I had read Alberoni’s Innamoramento e amore, (titled Falling in Love in English) which explains the difference between falling in love and love itself, and promises lovers that the falling period will last little over 6 months if that much. As promised, the falling in love period turned to what I called “love”. But was it? There were definitely things about him that I “loved” –he made me laugh, he treated me with tenderness, he held my hand when we walked together, he made love the way I wanted to and the sex was satisfactory for me…- but everything on my list of what I loved about him has to do with me and my supposed needs. There is nothing about him. So was it love?
Understand me, I am not saying my relationships were wrong in any way, or not normal, but the question of someone loving more than the other has made me ask 1) is that possible and 2) how can we know, unless we can find some way to measure it? If one half of the equation gives more, tolerates more, serves more and is more faithful, does this mean they love more or just that they need more? If someone says: ‘I want you to love me as much as I love you’, is that person expressing love or need?
“Personalities don’t love, they want something.” If I “want” something it is because I believe I need it, that it would make my life better, more complete, fuller, etc. In both of my relationships I wanted many things, the not least of which was being ‘happy’. But one thing that I wasn’t conscious of wanting became clear the day my second partner left. Even though I had asked him to go, when the time came for him to actually leave, I found myself filled with pain and crying hysterically. I could hardly believe what was happening to me. After having instigated the break was I now to discover that I had made a mistake?
At the time, I had learned from one of my multiple ‘teachers’ that when under the effects of a strong, overpowering emotion, if one breathes into the feeling (pain, sadness, whatever) and out again without thinking but just concentrating on the breath going to the place of pain and exiting again, one not only alleviates the feeling but also might discover what is causing it. So I began to breathe, very slowly, recovering little by little a state of calm and then, suddenly, a thought/belief came out of the depths of my subconscious and popped into my consciousness: “Without a man my life is meaningless.” I was dumbfounded and actually burst out laughing at the absurdity! I hadn’t had a clue that a belief like that was buried in me. It wasn’t even “without this man my life is meaningless”, so it had nothing to do with my partner leaving. What was more, the belief had nothing to do with me or my life: it belonged to my grandmother, it belonged to my mother; thanks to my inner work I had finally discovered that my existence was filled with meaning by the simple fact of existing.
So I had to admit that, even if I had not wanted anything else (which is doubtful), my relationships had been motivated by an unconscious belief that without them my life would be meaningless. Well, I had had two and as far as I could see, they had not made my life any more meaningful, although I had greatly enjoyed both for many reasons that had nothing to do with meaning. So there I was, watching my second partner walk out and feeling nothing but a certain excitement at the new challenge I faced of learning to live alone.
Did I love less than he did? No, I don’t believe so, but in that moment I began to need less, to want less from others, because I began to learn how to give myself everything my heart desires. In time, I discovered that there is nothing I cannot give myself. That does not mean I do not receive from others; quite the contrary. I receive and am eternally grateful to the other and life itself for such generosity and abundance; I just don’t need the other to give it to me. When I do want something from someone else, I simply ask for it. If that person does not have or is not willing to give me what I want, I go to the next person
I realize now that this possibility of fulfilling my own needs more and better than anyone had ever been capable of doing (including my parents) gave me something that was quite unexpected: for the first time in my life I felt genuine love for myself and it was the most incredible feeling, it filled me completely and asked for nothing in return; I can feel it now as I write this (realize this) and tears come to my eyes, my cup runneth over. I remember something I learned when first in AA: ‘You can’t give anyone else that which you cannot give yourself’. This is the modern version of ‘Love your neighbor as you love yourself’ which is not ‘sacrifice yourself for your neighbor so that he/she loves you’, but love yourself and then offer that same love to your neighbor.
Ok, so that means…. I think it means: give your neighbor the same things you give yourself 1) if he/she asks for them and you can and are willing to, and 2) if doing so harms no one including yourself. So what do I give myself? Everything I give my beloved dog:
Help when needed and I can
and each one of those things encompasses many more. But perhaps it is time to go back to the original question: In a relationship, does one partner love more than the other? How would we know? I don’t think it matters: today I believe that relationships are about learning, not necessarily loving (and they can be loving too), and if in a relationship I learn to love myself, then I will probably love the other enough to let the other go with love if that is his/her desire… or mine.
When Byron Katie was asked why she married Stephen Mitchell, she answered: “ Because he asked. After considering his proposal for over a year and asking all my friends to help me find a reason why I shouldn’t marry him, I couldn’t come up with one, so I said ‘yes’.” Does she love him? She loves everyone, and he apparently has no problem with that.
So what is love? Has anyone said it better than Kahlil Gibran in The Prophet?
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself, Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love… Love has no other desire but to fulfil itself. But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires: -To melt and be like a running brook that sings it melody to the night,
-To know the pain of too much tenderness.
-To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
-And to bleed willingly and joyfully,
-To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
-To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;
-To return home at eventide with gratitude;
-And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise on your lips.
So be it.