When we talk about romantic love we always focus on the part of the equation we think will make us happiest: how to get someone to love us. Seriously, this is 99.9% of dating advice. But if you do any research into how our minds work, you’ll know that a bigger contributor to our happiness — and what we should focus on — is how we love.
Think of the (faulty) famous dating advice trope: Never make someone a priority who only treats you as an option.
Here we shine a spotlight on the behaviors of another — do they love us enough? Is our affection returned?
We measure their actions and what we guess their motivations to be. We turn people who we were otherwise willing to love into monsters because we don’t get enough out of the transaction. We put all our eggs in a basket we have no control over.
Here’s the thing: it’s really fucking hard to tell if someone loves you as much as you love them, even if they do. People show and receive love in different ways and despite all our advances, we’re often very bad at communicating when it comes to matters of the heart. It’s sensitive and tightly wound up in our ego, so we hold our cards close or we ourselves are confused or scared about what we want. We self-sabotage, we pick up pathologies, we carry baggage.
Feeling completely loved by someone is like landing on the moon. You learn how to walk first.
By focusing on one of the hardest parts of relationships first — having someone love us exactly as much as and in the way that we wish to be loved — we ensure that we will never be happy in love.
The way to love is to love
There is no obstacle to having more love in your life. You can start right now. Love people more.
It’s not a trick and it’s not hippie bullshit, spend more time loving people and you will feel happier with the quality of your love life. Forgive people more. Show your love by listening to and understanding your chosen people. Make the whole love thing easier on yourself by not requiring them to love you back. Just let your heart do what it does and try to get your ego out of the way as much as possible.
You don’t have to rely on other people or luck or timing or romantic tropes to have a happy love life. All you have to do is be willing to love.
The need to solve the problem is the problem
The problem with this strategy is it reveals an ugly truth: we worry about ‘getting people to love us’a lot more than we worry about becoming people who can love better.
We put up with so much unnecessary happiness because we want to solve something that is not a problem: people love each other to varying degrees.
No one is a bad person because they love someone less than that person loves them. Some people are busier, some people place a higher premium on money or endeavors that aren’t romantic love, some people carry too much baggage to be vulnerable enough to love deeply in their current state. There are circumstances beyond our control, always, but we can be satisfied with the abundance with which we can give, when we really try.
The problem is that instead of being fixated on this abundance, we are fixated on scarcity. As Thich Nhat Hanh writes:
Very often we feel like a pot without a lid. We believe that our lid is somewhere in the world and that if we look very hard, we’ll find the right lid to cover our pot. The feeling of emptiness is always there inside us. When we contemplate the other person, sometimes we think we see what we feel we lack. We think we need someone else to lean on, to take refuge in, and to diminish our suffering. We want to be the object of another person’s attention and contemplation. We want someone who will look at us and embrace our feeling of emptiness and suffering with his energy of mindfulness. Soon we become addicted to that kind of energy; we think that without that attention, we can’t live. It helps us feel less empty and helps us forget the block of suffering inside. When we ourselves can’t generate the energy to take care of ourselves, we think we need the energy of someone else. We focus on the need and the lack rather than generating the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight that can heal our suffering and help the other person as well.
When we have nothing to lose, we stop being afraid of losing
Imagine what your love life would be like if you weren’t afraid of losing. How much more free would you be to be yourself, to pursue your goals — how much more powerful would you feel in giving love, unafraid of the possibility of not receiving it back? Don’t we always understand that life is more fully lived in gratitude than in worry?
There is no worry about our ability to give love. That is something we control. That is something we can accomplish.
As Dennis Lehane wrote:
The person you love is rarely worthy of how big your love is. Because no one is worthy of that and maybe no one deserves that burden of it, either. You’ll be let down. You’ll be disappointed and have your trust broken and have a lot of real sucky days. You lose more than you win. You hate the person you love as much as you love him. But you roll up your sleeves and work – at everything – because that’s what growing older is.
There’s another story about children who survived the holocaust but were unable to sleep peacefully until they were given loaves of bread to sleep with. Only when they were assured of the promise that they could eat tomorrow were they able to sleep. Give yourself a loaf of bread to hold: concentrate on what you control, on what makes you feel good.
Saying ‘I love You’ Is easy
Who is happier? The person who is chained to a scoreboard or the person who is unfettered by circumstance, who is free to do what feels good to them.
If you are worried if you are lovable, if you are pretty or smart or good enough — will looking to other people to tell you ‘yes’ ever fill your void? You are lovable because you love. You are pretty or smart or enough because of what you do. You will never be these things simply because someone else tells you you are. What if the need to be loved is the whole problem?
But if you are loving, if you are going through the motions of love and telling someone you love them and sending them nice texts and remembering their mother’s birthday and when they are due for a doctor’s appointment and endearing yourself to their friends in order that they give you something back — you are not loving. You are not lovable. You deserving only of the same kind of conditional love that you are giving. And frankly, you deserve better.
Saying ‘I love you’ is easy. Loving someone is easy. It’s expectations that are complicated.
Equality is the enemy
I have learned that reciprocity can be the enemy of happiness. When you give something, especially love, it should be because of the joy that comes from giving. If you are giving in hopes of making it a transaction, because you want to keep score and get back everything you’ve given, I am sorry to tell you that you will never be happy. Because you haven’t found love, you’ve found someone who accepts the same form of payment you do in order to dole out your affection.
It’s supposed to feel empowering to demand reciprocity, but instead it feels hollow. What if instead of needing, I was so empowered that I could give as much love whenever and wherever I wanted and never worry about what was coming back to me?
What is so wrong with loving someone more than they love you? What if you have a high capacity for love and are on the extreme end of the spectrum? Is it worth being upset about for your entire life? Is it worth sacrificing your gift because it isn’t given to everyone equally? It is more important to find peace with and say “I am happy that one of my best qualities is my ability to love” and move on? The simple fact is that love and relationships are not equally important to everyone and we are all entitled to have whatever values we choose, as long as we are forthcoming about them in a relationship.
When you truly love someone, your love doesn’t come with hooks. You don’t love someone to get something out of it, including a quota of how much they love you.
You deserve better than to love someone who doesn’t love you back. But you also deserve better than to love someone who does. You deserve to be so full of love, and so satisfied in giving it, so joyful in giving it that what someone can offer you in return is irrelevant.