What is love, really?
People love to be in love. Yet “love” is a big word. It’s the biggest word in the language. Any language. So we have to ask…
What is love, really? Author M. Scott Peck says that love is a decision , not a reaction . It’s a choice, not a response. That may be one of the most important things anyone could ever say on the subject.
True love is never the result of how another person looks, behaves, or interacts with us. It is a choice to be loving no matter how that other looks, behaves or interacts.
This doesn’t mean that true love requires us to stay in a relationship that is abusive or that is no longer working or that’s not fulfilling. Do not confuse the words “love” and “relationship.” We are not proving that we love someone by staying in a relationship. Indeed, there are instances when we may be proving we love someone by leaving.
So it is not true that love demands that we love long after our own happiness has disappeared.
If a person is abusive to us, it is abusive to that person to allow their abuse to continue. For if we allow their abuse to continue, what do we teach them? Yet if we make it clear that the abuse in unacceptable, what then have they learned?
If we are no longer happy in a relationship, we confront one of the most important questions in life: Do we have a right to be happy?
The answer is, yes. To remain in a relationship in which you are no longer happy because “you said you would” only produces unhappiness all the way around. Maybe it’s time to get out.
Of course, it is true that no one can ever really “get out” of a relationship. We are always in relationship with each other, and the only thing that changes is the form the relationship takes.
You cannot end a relationship, you can only change it. So do not think in terms of ending your relationship, think in terms of changing it. You may wish to change its form , or you may wish to hold onto the form, but change its content.
Deciding to love someone – truly love them – is a very high choice. It is the mark of a master.
Loving someone as a “reaction” is a different kind of experience. It is the mark of a student.
The danger of loving someone as a reaction is that the one we love may change. In fact, it is certain that they will.
They may gain weight, or lose it. They may alter their personality. They may change their ideas about something important to us. And if we are in love with what others bring to us in relationship, we could be headed for enormous disappointment.
So we come to the second big truth about all this: love is not about what the other brings to you , it is about what you bring to the other. Indeed, the purpose of all love relationships is to provide us with an opportunity to decide and to declare, to announce and to express, to become and to fulfill, Who We Really Are.
This is perhaps another way of restating the first truth, because Who We Really Are is a choice, not a response. It is a decision, not a reaction – although it is true that most people think it is the other way around.
When I talk to young people about love, I tell them that there are two questions having to do with life and relationship that everyone would benefit from asking.
1. Where am I going?
2. Who’s going with me?
It is important to ask these in the right order. Many people switch them around – and suffer for it the rest of their lives.
First they ask, who is going with me in my life? Then they ask, where am I going? Often, the choice of destination is conditioned and compromised by the choice of companion. This can make for a very rough journey.
Recently a young woman in her twenties asked me, “What does it feel like to be in love?” I told her I could not answer for anyone else, but I know what it feels like to me. It feels like there is only one of us in the room.
When I am with my beloved other, it feels as if there is no place where “I” end and “she” begins. When I look into her eyes, it is like looking into my own. When I sense that she is sad, it is as if the sadness pierces my own heart. When she smiles, the heart of me smiles with her – as her.
I wish I could feel this way about everyone. That is what I am working toward. I am feeling it with more and more people very day.
A Course in Miracles says, “No special relationships.” In other words, no one person should be more special to us than another. That is how God experiences love. There is no condition, and no one is more special than another.
It is difficult for most people to understand that. How can God love us all equally, the “good” and the “bad” alike? It is because God does not see any of us as “good” or “bad.” We are all perfect in God’s eyes, no matter how we are behaving. Human beings have a long way to go before they can claim that. Most of us place condition after condition on our love, and we are very fast to withdraw it when those conditions are not met.
So the third great truth about love is that it knows no conditions. There is no such thing as “I love you IF…” in God’s world.
The fourth great truth about love is that it knows no limitations . Love is freedom, experienced. Total and absolute freedom. And so one who loves another never seeks to restrict or limit that other in any way. This is a tough one for many people. For many, love translates, roughly, into “ownership.” Not that this is ever expressed, of course. It is simply felt. It is a felt sense of “you’re mine.”
Of course, in true love nothing could be further from the truth. And in true love, such ideas or thoughts are never part of the experience. No one owns anyone , and no one acts as if they do.
This has major implications, as one might imagine. So now I am going to list the fifth, and perhaps the most “controversial,” truth about love that I know.
Love never says no. Not to persons of equal maturity and intelligence. (We are not talking about children here. Let’s limit this discussion to adults.)
No matter what the request of the beloved, love says yes. This does not mean that personal opinions are not expressed, or personal preferences not announced. It means that, in the end, a request from the beloved is never denied. Who are we to deny anyone anything?
Again, that is difficult for many people to grapple with. Yet this is the way that God loves. I am fond of saying in my lectures and retreats that God has only one word in her vocabulary. God always says yes.
No matter what you want, no matter what you choose, he never says no.
This idea can be reduced to two-words: God allows.
I believe that the words “God” and “love” are interchangeable, you could then say, “love allows.”
In the end, that is what love does. Love allows. It never restricts, it never limits, it never stops, it only allows. In true love relationships, you get to have what you want.
The final truth about love is that it always renews itself. It never runs out. So make every day your wedding day in your heart. Even if you are not married. Because you are, you know. To everyone. We are all One.