Who taught you about love? Who taught you how to love? What did it look like? How did it sound? Act? Walk? Talk? Think?
It’s a question so integral to the fabric of our being, I for one had never thought about it until this week. Suddenly I realized that, to me, “love” had a touch of hysteria and soupçon of terror. Love meant smothering the object of your affection. Love meant nearly being in a panic for fear anything bad happened to the loved one. Conversely it then followed that if I wasn’t in a panic, it meant I didn’t love them…or love them enough.
The love I saw modeled always looked a bit on the dark side, anticipating all the terrors and dangers that probably won’t ever occur. Love was engulfing, smothering and intrusive. Love was making a loved one wear a label, stay safely at home and give up their dreams because it’s a big, bad world out there. That kind of love claimed to be much superior, much more loving than the kind of love that wasn’t smothering and controlling.
The love I saw gave lots of hugs and kisses. It said, “We would die for you.” It said, “I adore you.” It cared and sacrificed. Sacrificed too much. Love meant not pursuing your own dreams either because it might cost a little bit of money or there might be a tiny element of risk involved.
Love meant loving a narcissist and doing our utmost to keep the peace and never, ever rock the boat. Love was disappearing. Not existing. Keeping the status quo. Not causing anyone any stress. Avoiding disappointing them so we didn’t get the silent treatment. Smiling when our heart was crying. Choking back the angry retorts. Concealing all negative emotions. Taking undeserved blame. That was love.
Perhaps for some of you love was simply an assumption. Somehow you were supposed to just know you were loved without being hugged, kissed, treated with kindness nor hearing the words “I love you.” Despite cruel words and other abuses, you were expected to just know you were loved…with no tangible or abstract proof.
People often tell me horror stories about their abusive childhoods and families. Families that loudly insist, “We love you. You know that.” In my response, I quote Danny Kaye in White Christmas, “Well if that’s love, then somebody goofed.”
So what is love really? If it’s not fear, hysteria and smothering, what is love?
If the greatest poets of all time have been unable to capture and define it, who am I to try!? But that’s never stopped me before, so here are my random two cents about what love really is.
On the day that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle wed, I stayed up all night in an Emergency Room and then watched their wedding live after my husband was comfortably ensconced in his hospital room. When the choir sang Stand By Me it struck me that that is what love is all about. Love is standing by our loved one through thick and through thin…except if they become abusive. Then we must love them from a safe distance for our own safety.
I don’t want a love that says “I would die for you” if it won’t live for me. I want my loved one to make a joyful life for themselves. To express that much “selfishness.” To not just sit around, sacrificing themselves, obsessing about me.
I want a love that doesn’t just say “I love you” but acts it out. Words are cheap. Show me that love by encouraging me live my dreams as I encourage you to pursue your dreams.
I don’t want a love that’s obsessed with changing me into something they consider to be “better.” I want a love that wants my happiness. A love that knows it’s not loving to be so obsessed with what’s so-called “right” that they’re blind to what’s “good.” (https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2017/11/how-narcissists-take-good-to-extremes-where-it-becomes-evil-or-why-the-world-has-gone-stark-staring-nuts/)
Strange as it may sound, perhaps “love” is not what I most desire at all. I once heard a woman say, “I don’t always like my husband, but I always love him.” Of course none of us is likable all of the time nor lovable all of the time, but personally, isn’t it much better to be liked than to be loved? You can be narcissistically and condescendingly so-called “loved” in spite of who you are, but you can’t be liked in spite of who you are. Personally, I’d much rather be liked for whom I am, instead of being loved in spite of who I am. (Luckily, when we’re unlikable, unconditional love keeps on going.)
I want hugs that are spontaneous, not artificial and forced. I hate being hugged anyways. Those kind of hugs suck…I should know. They’re cold, brittle, awkward and push you away. I don’t want a narcissist’s brand of love — conditional, stifling and paranoiac.
Like you, I too need to relearn love. To learn what it should be. How it talks, how it acts. That loving someone can be calm and relaxed and trusting, not hysterical and frightened. It’s an exciting journey of exploration. And maybe, someday, I’ll get it right.