They say love can do everything. And there is no doubt that love is an essential ingredient in virtually everything we do, from our work to interpersonal relationships. It is also a powerful dynamizer agent of our behavior. It gives us the motivation and strength we need to move forward. But sometimes feeling love is not enough. Plain and simple.
Sometimes you have to go one step beyond. We need to separate the idealized concept of love from its everyday expression. We must separate love as a goal and product – an idea that has been sold us and we have consumed more or less consciously – from the act of loving and give love. The difference is huge, and it is not exactly futile.
Why, sometimes, love is not enough?
Love is a feeling and, like all feelings, it is not always expressed in the most assertive way. The way of expressing love has nothing to do with its intensity but rather with the way they have taught us to relate to the others and our emotions.
Who has an insecure attachment, for example, is likely to develop a great dependence on the loved one. This emotional dependency usually generates an intense fear of loss that can lead the person to develop controlling behaviors that end up ruining the relationship. If love suffocates, if it drowns the other, it will become possession and end up being oppressive.
As Carl Jung wrote: “Where love rules, there is no will to power, and where power predominates, love is lacking.” Loving is, above all, wishing good to others without seeking a personal reward. When a dependency relationship is established, the other becomes a means to meet our needs, which makes it difficult – or directly impossible – to love.
Other people have an avoidant attachment style that prevents them from expressing their love. These people were taught in their childhood to ignore their emotions and hide them because they are a sign of weakness. As a result, they often have problems expressing what they feel, they think that demonstrating their love is a sign of vulnerability, so they end up building a wall against which every attempt at intimacy explodes. As a result, their love remains imprisoned behind the walls they have built and ends up withering, hopelessly.
Love, and its expression, must go beyond conditioning, establishing itself as a way of personal growth in which we get rid of all those stereotypes that prevent us from loving freely. As the Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti pointed out: “Love means absence of violence, fear, competition and ambition.”
Agápē: The unconditional and thoughtful love we have forgotten
Love is not an abstract feeling, but a daily reality. It is not an arduous process resulting from enormous fatigue or a goal that we must conquer but a natural state. The problem arises when the conditioning we have received undermines the essence of that love and, consequently, its healthy and full expression.
When we think of love as a goal to be achieved, we convert the loved one into a possession. We begin to think in terms like “my partner” or “my children” and it is easy for love to transmute into property. But love without freedom is only the shadow of love.
The mature expression of love passes, inevitably, through the essential freedom to be and do, which also implies taking into account the wishes of the loved one. In fact, Simone Weil did not conceive love without freedom: “To love purely is to consent in the distance, it is to adore the distance between oourselves and that which we love.”
The Greeks called that love agápē (ἀγάπη), to differentiate it from the rest of the feelings we can experience, and with that word they referred to an unconditional but thoughtful love, in which the lover only takes into account the good of the loved one. That love is unconditional because it demands nothing in return. Thoughtful because it involves putting oneself in the place of the other to understand their needs. It is a feeling that involves loving without owning, accompanying without invading and living without depending.
It is a change of perspective in the way of understanding and living the love that takes it from the merely emotional realm to move it to a more rational level. It is a love that is not only felt but also thought as soon as that process of reflection on feelings helps us to channel them in the best possible way.
That new perspective will allow us to express love more fully and constructively. Thus we will develop a love that does not self-phagocyte, but that feeds on itself and allows the growth of both, instead of restricting their freedom, encouraging them to be everything they can be.