This is why we don’t know what love is

It happens to all of us. You’re in your very first relationship or your umpteenth, it’s going great and you think to yourself, “I think I love him/her” or its close cousin, “I think I’m in love with him/her.”

You affirm it to your significant other with some trepidation because maybe you’re saying it too soon. But then they say it back! And now you both are swimming in a love vortex, a wild whirlpool, a sexy soup!

Then they do something that pisses you off. It’s inevitable. The love turns to hate.

Or, we do something that pisses them off. Still inevitable. The love turns to fear.

Then if there is adequate reassurance that the love is still there and enough apologies are made, everything goes back to normal. But if we’re honest, it doesn’t go back to normal. You’ve seen the dark side and you know the sensitive spot. The offender will tread lightly because they don’t want to be broken up with. The offended will try to hold down the vomit of their vitriol.

But that’s okay because the two are still in love and that will power through any discord that may come up again…

until it doesn’t.

There are many of us who argue that love does not exist, that it’s just the body’s way of tricking us into procreation. “It’s just a bunch of neurotransmitters dropped into our bloodstream,” said the cold, calculated jilted lover.

But they have a point. Artists and scientists agree that love is addictive and may be the greatest addiction the world has ever known. One might think, “But I’ve never seen a love junkie before like I’ve seen a heroin addict or a crack addict.”

I remember being on assignment once and there was this one guy who kept rambling to himself and was seeing things. He might’ve been schizophrenic. The story goes that one day when he was coming home he saw his woman in bed with another man and he just… snapped. I remember wondering to myself, “Why are people so selfish?”

Hold your horses, younger me. I don’t think you want to put the blame solely on the cheating woman (and the other guy). When a man or woman walks in and sees their partner in bed with someone else and kills them both, is that justified?

Or is this behaviour consistent with that of an drug addict? Irrational, often fatal. Not to mention you ruin your own life, and once again, the love turns to hate/fear.

There’s a passage in Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now that I have to read a few times per year because I catch myself in this irrational addict behaviour. I even have the passage bookmarked with a receipt from a pharmacy (yes, I see the irony because you get drugs there; no, don’t ask me what I bought).

“…there comes a point when your partner behaves in ways that fail to meet your needs, or rather those of your ego. The feelings of fear, pain, and lack that are an intrinsic part of egoic consciousness but had been covered up by the “love relationship” now resurface. Just as with every other addiction, you are on a high when the drug is available, but invariably there comes a time when the drug no longer works for you. When those painful feelings reappear, you feel them even more strongly than before, and what is more, you now perceive your partner as the cause of those feelings.”

Some believe that romantic love is a healthy addiction, that we evolved with this inclination so as to cause us to procreate and create familial bonds to raise children. I disagree. I totally get where this sentiment is coming from, but we have familial trauma out the wazoo and parents who divorce when the child is still an infant or before the child is even born. Do you really mean to tell me that we evolved to be addicted to each other? Was it not enough to evolve to desire each other? Was it not enough to evolve to have paternal and maternal inclinations? Because we certainly have those things. I think we evolved with this addiction for romance for another reason.

The reason we pursue relationships and love with the fervour that we do is because it is a Swiss Army knife of relief. It’s a panacea. It’s ibuprofen for the soul with a bump of coke. This other person makes you feel amazing but you do tend to feel scared of losing them too. But like other drugs that take you on a wild ride, there a high and then there’s a crash.

What makes it worse is that if your subconscious mind is holding negative thoughts about love that were obtained from growing up in a less than perfect home, it is going to make you like the type of person who can mess you up the most. And none of us had a perfect upbringing. Some of us had close to perfect parenting but unfortunately, because the child mind is underdeveloped, the one time your parents messed up, is the thing you latch onto because it probably had such an emotional weight that it had no choice but to lodge itself into your subconscious mind.

What I’m trying to say is, love is a set-up.

Or perhaps, this isn’t what love actually is.

Every now and then, I make this comparison in my mind. I love my friends. I love my family. I loved this girl, who would be an ex or a missed connection. Why is the love I have for my friends and family different from what I felt for these girls? Somehow they both count as love, and yet I feel them differently.

This is where one would say that the love you have for a friend is different from the love you have for your mom and is different from the love you have for your significant other.

I disagree.

I think that the love is the same. The relationship is different. Love is love. There’s a sexual component in the romantic relationship and that’s why people think the love is different, but now you’re just conflating attraction and love. They are not the same thing. Furthermore, if I hate my friend, hate my mom and hate my girl, there is no discrepancy among the three. Hate is hate. I could hate one more intensely but it’s the same emotion.

Then I had an insight. Have you ever realised that the heavier the emotion, the more negative it is? Hate, jealousy and insecurity are very taxing and toxic. But you know what else is a heavy emotion? It’s “love”. “Love” can travel with joy and happiness just as easily as it can hate and jealousy.

And yet, the love I feel for my family and friends is so light, so ephemeral I sometimes question if I love them because I’m not feeling some deep and wild emotion.

And now I know why. It’s because love, real love, is supposed to be light. And this is why we don’t know what love is and constantly have debates about it. Ultimately, love is a choice and it is not a feeling (especially of the head over heels variety), but we still harbour the sentiment that love is a feeling. Until we stop doing that, we will continue to have this debate.

Allow me to put it to rest once and for all (as if scores of people didn’t already do this).

When I was talking with my most recent ex this week, I found myself doing a peculiar thing. I was helping her, even though at that moment I kind of didn’t want to. I shared memes with her. She said she lost weight and I wanted to see, not because of some sexual desire but I was genuinely curious and I know she’s insecure about that. The picture was more revealing than I thought it’d be. As a male, I reacted. But the point is that I was being loving without the emotions that I used to feel.

And I’ve been doing this for several months post-breakup. But I never called it love because I was just checking on her. I still care about her and I know she’s having a rough time. She made me really mad and sometimes I don’t trust her but I’m still walking with her in life because I consciously decided to. I didn’t stop despite breaking up.

And that is why they say love is a choice, an act, a decision. If at any point in time, you felt something and said, “Oh, I think I love them” you actually don’t. That’s attachment. That’s just an effect of the drug we call “love”.

“Love” is so powerful and we’ve had this narrative of love being this powerful force that we feel these head over heels sensations, these larger than life emotions that we think, ah, I found love. Worse yet, I found The One.

I think I’ve found The One four times. I found The Four. The Fantastic Four.

That was terrible, I know.

Anyways, like I said earlier, love is very light. It’s so light that I find it hard to call it an emotion, I just act. Similarly, peace feels light. Joy is heavier than peace but it’s also light. Compared to the ego clinging that people feel in “love”, real love is pretty boring. There is no drama. People are insensitive to you and you brush it off instead of feeling like someone stabbed you. You seek to understand rather than to begin to distrust them. You are okay if they leave instead of worrying about it. Other aspects of your life don’t take a backseat to your relationship.

I need to be clear on this. I am not saying don’t have a relationship. I’m not saying don’t have a relationship unless you feel this lightness. I’m just saying that one would be wise to not call addictive clinging love because when they do something you don’t like and you get mean, or you do something they don’t like and you get scared, that “love” is extremely fragile, isn’t it. Most (if not all) of us have egos and have things that our significant others are going to do that we aren’t going to like. I figure that my next relationship will have us going through this same ego attachment phase. Like I said, we have egos.

But that attachment phase isn’t going to last forever. If we make the decision to love early in the relationship, we can weather the lows of the ego attachment phase. Relationships are about reflection. We will show each other our blind spots. We will address them. We will honour them. We will release the pain therein. A relationship is not about another person making you happy or saving you from dying alone or ensuring the kids grow up with both parents. Those are nice but they’re not the point because they certainly don’t have to be met and often aren’t! The one thing that you cannot miss no matter how hard you try in a relationship is learning about yourself — the effect of past traumas, the trends in your life, the insecurities, what you like, what you hate and what you subconsciously think love is.

Love is very easy to miss because it’s the most obvious thing ever. It falls into the background of louder emotions. Overjoy is an emotion but it is still skewed negative because it’s too much of a good thing and definitely felt in addiction.

We never question if we love our friends or family. We never even hide it in fear that it won’t be returned. We don’t pledge to love one friend or family member over every other person. Why? Because why would we withhold love from any other human being? Why would we only give love to one person?

I know what you’re thinking. Are we supposed to just be with everybody in some polygamous sex ring? Nope, but it would do you good to stop equating love and sexual relationships.

You’re going to be attracted to other people when you’re in a romantic relationship. That’s just the truth. At the very least, you will find others attractive, not just because of how they look, but because of who they are. Vibe don’t lie, and a connection cannot be thwarted.

Therefore, love is not and cannot be exclusive. Your sexual relationship may be exclusive. Your love is not.

Now, maybe you’ve read this, understood it and are now asking yourself, “Well, I’m in that drunk in love phase right now, or I probably will be in my next relationship. Should I never say ‘I love you’ to my significant other since it’s still only the attachment phase?”

Nah, go ahead and say it. As long as you are not saying it from the emotion you feel but from the decision you’ve made. If you say it from the emotion, you’re not being fully truthful. And embrace those moments when the drunk in love feeling fades momentarily and you feel that lightness of real love.

And look forward to more of that.

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Jason Henry

Jason Henry

Former Edu. Psychologist | Current Writer | Constant Learner | “By your stumbling the world is perfected.”