Most spiritual traditions name love as the highest spiritual value.
This kind of love is a practice. It is a practice of acceptance, compassion, and wanting the best for the other.
When most of us speak of love we are referring to something different. We think of it as an emotion. We think of it as a reciprocal agreement. Our “love” relationships are usually the most complicated experiences in our human lives.
The reason human “love” causes so much confusion and complication in our lives is because what we talk about as being “love” is not actually love.
So, what is love? What are some common misconceptions about love?
Let’s take a closer look.
What love is and isn’t
Love isn’t possession
Love is not about having someone else or belonging to someone else.
This misconception is especially present in what we call romantic love.
Often when we believe we love someone, what we really mean is “I want you,” or “I want something from you” not “I love you.”
Think about the lyrics of almost every love song you’ve ever heard. They all say things like “I want you,” “I need you,” and “I want you to do this, this, and this.”
As romantic as it might sound, these songs are expressions of possession, not actual love.
This isn’t to say that if you have these feelings, you don’t actually like a person, care about them, or actually have love for them. It’s just not truly love when it’s surrounded by “I want.”
“I want” means we want something from that person in exchange for our love.
“If you loved me, you would______________.”
Which leads us to our next point of what love is not.
Love isn’t an exchange or a contract.
Love is not about someone else fulfilling our expectations.
This idea that the person we love needs to behave in a certain way, that they need to reciprocate or otherwise earn our love to deserve it, is not actual love.
This goes along with the idea that you will withdraw your love if you don’t like their behavior.
That doesn’t feel loving at all, does it?
When we’re caught up in expectations, we think thoughts like “If you love someone else, I definitely won’t love you. If you love someone or something else more than me, then no more love for you.”
Romantic love is this idea that there’s some kind of contract. For example, “If you kiss me, that means you love me. If you say you love me, that means you do love me.”
The truth is, if someone else loves you, that’s not your business. You can be glad they’re having that experience of you, but at the end of the day, their loving feelings are about them, not about you.
Other people’s love isn’t our business.
This one can feel confusing because it’s so different from the usual way of thinking.
In reality, our business is limited to what we can control, and we can’t control someone else’s feelings. The way someone feels is always about them and not about you, therefore it is their business and not yours.
The truth is, you’ll never truly know if someone loves you. They may tell you they love you and express their love in different ways. They may love you on whatever level they think is love, but that doesn’t mean it’s the same level or same kind of love you’re thinking of.
It’s not something you can control or force.
We have this idea of what love should look like, that parents should love their children a certain way, that spouses should love their spouse a certain way, that mothers should love their children, or that they should love their children a certain way.
Ultimately, love is the business of the individual who feels the love.
Loving other people enriches your own life, but it’s not meant for the other person’s gain. Their own feelings of love enrich their lives as well.
But it can’t be forced on either side, and you cannot force someone else to love you, just like no one can force you to love them.
Love isn’t meant for gain.
Most of us engage in romantic love to get something in return. Maybe we want to feel secure, to feel validated, to feel taken care of, or to feel that there is someone for us to take care of.
If we want something from the person we love, that want isn’t coming from feelings of love.
What is love?
So, what is love if it isn’t any of these things? So many of these unloving things are present in relationships, and we often mistake them for signs of love. But really, love is a beautiful, pure emotion when it’s not tangled up in these other things.
And we may still truly love a person if we experience these other things, but these tend to cloud or view of that love.
Now that we’ve cleared up what love is not, let’s look at what it is.
What love IS
The true definition of love is very simple: Love is unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional means that we will still love a person no matter what they say or do. They don’t need to earn or deserve our love in any way.
You might have some protesting thoughts, but let me assure you, unconditional love does not mean you need to stay in a relationship with a person or interact with them at all. We’ll cover this in a later post.
The thing is, it feels wonderful to love someone unconditionally. Love enriches our lives because it brings us peace and joy.
Therefore, love is about us, not about the other person. They can love someone else to enrich their own lives as well, but their love for us is about them, not us.
We have difficulty with this concept because love is a spiritual state, not a human one.
As humans we are never going to perfectly achieve this state of unconditional love, and that’s okay. We can intend to be in it, but we will never perfectly be in it.
Now that we know what love really is, we can remind ourselves and come back to that state, or at least as close to it as we can get, which will lead to much more happiness in our lives.