Do You Know What Love Is?

It amazes me how many people don’t know what love is. People say they love the other person because of how that person makes them feel. Well, okay, then you’re in love with your own feelings. That is not the same as loving the other person.

If you love him because he makes you feel safe and warm, it’s not him you love. You love feeling safe and warm. And really, who doesn’t? That isn’t the point, though. If you love her because she makes you feel good about yourself, it isn’t her that you love.

When you love the other person because of his or her effect on you, what you’re in love with is the mirror they’re holding up to you, to reflect your own good bits back to yourself. As long as the mirror shows you only or mostly your good bits, you’re golden. If the mirror is tarnished or broken, though, you stop “loving” him. Because you never actually loved him in the first place.

Love is unconditional positive regard. When you feel unconditional positive regard for a person, you love her for who she is, not something she does for you. You love her for her strength, her kindness or her creativity. You cite his intelligence, his sense of humor, his compassion, etc., as the reasons you love him. You love things that are about him and who he is.

Instead, it’s typically thought that if you’ve been dating for a year it’s probably time to get married. I’d venture to say you don’t really even know this person yet. It takes a long, long time to really know someone. Instead, you marry the person who shows you the prettiest mirror. When it tarnishes, as it inevitably will, you fight and perhaps ultimately get divorced. This person doesn’t make you feel good anymore, so it must be time to break up.

The mirror becomes irrelevant when you feel unconditional positive regard for another person. It isn’t your own reflection you’re enamored of; it’s the actual person. The things you love, intelligence, humor, creativity, don’t change. They may evolve or even devolve, but they’re still in there.

Unconditional positive regard doesn’t mean you like all of his behavior. You may not agree with everything she thinks, says or does. It doesn’t mean you don’t argue or fight.

It does mean that fights are momentary and, sooner or later, you revert back to your baseline of positive regard.

A friend recently asked me if needing someone wasn’t love. That was his perspective on the subject. No, needing someone is loving the mirror they show you. If you­ need them to feel okay, then what you need is the mirror. Then he asked me if that butterflies, giddy, unable to eat or sleep thing wasn’t love. No, that’s infatuation. It may grow into love, but it’s infatuation while those feelings predominate.

Love is about the other person. It’s outwardly directed and it is about giving. It’s about the outward flow of positive regard. Years ago, I asked a friend why he thought his relationship worked. He told me he believed it was because he not only loved her, he liked her. Two kids and more than 20 years later, they’re still together.