I've sat witness to many people profoundly disappointed in the opposite sex. You know, the hackneyed, men are dogs or women are bitches. Then, they blame love. Love dies. Love sucks. Unfortunately, this line of thinking leads to more alienation.
But the truth is: it's not love's fault.
Love is actually pretty stable. Love doesn't deceive us. It doesn't walk away or disappear for no reason. We do.
In psychotherapy, I notice a great deal of confusion about love. Many of us conflate our emotional needs with it. We want to be loved. We want the high of romance. But are we really loving?
One of the characters in my book The Men on My Couch, the suave womanizer who confidently charms the ladies and never calls back, the guy women love to hate, walked into my office and surprised me by earnestly asking the question, "Am I capable of love?"
He wanted to get married one day and so we began an assessment of his capacity to love. What my client had in is life, like many of us, wasn't love. It was narcissism, a counterfeit love. Unmasked, this is what many of us are actually expecting:
I want you to do what I want when I want it. I want you to be what I want, all the time. I want you to give me what I need exactly when I need it. I shouldn't have to ask for it or tell you how to do it. I want you to give me love unconditionally. Unrelentingly. I want you to be my savior, my mommy, or my daddy. And if you don't I will be pissed off. I might even leave you or cheat on you, because my needs should be met at all times.
P.S. I don't want to hear about your needs.
We all have these unspoken feelings to some degree and it's pretty much the pestilence of modern relationships. Narcissism is opposite of self-love; it's being trapped inside oneself, trapped in one's own wounds. This drive that masquerades as love is simply an ego pursuit. In order to fully help my client, I needed to turn to sources on love outside of psychology. My first stop, at the behest of my mother, was the Holy Bible. I compared the famous scriptures widely read at weddings with what client was feeling:
Love is patient.
Ego is impulsive, demanding and ready to hit the road.
Love is kind.
Ego is intolerant of others flaws.
Love does not boast.
Ego wants a trophy wife or husband.
Love is not self-seeking.
Ego prime goal is self-gratification.
Love is not easily angered.
Ego rages when it doesn't get what it wants.
These are the less glamorous parts of love. The one's we ignore in search of epic movie moments. But they are the sustainable parts of love, the sturdy foundation.
I realized that because I could only guide my client as far as my own capacity, I needed to hone my own ability. Love is a skill and the most concrete training I found was the Buddhist practice of cultivating loving kindness. A simple meditation that involves sitting and silently focusing on love for yourself, the person next to you and even the greater world around you.
I now demonstrate the practice to my clients by having them focus on what they already love: most people pick their children or their dog -- and alas, they are able to feel the warm swell in their chest. With a simple focus of attention, the powerful feeling we all want is conjured.
It's possible to be the progenitor of love rather than walking around frustrated that the world isn't giving it to you. Often people focus on how to find and keep love and less on how to generate or give it. And in this way, we strangle love. We confine what could be a much more expanded experience. I know this isn't the same as romantic euphoria, but it does provide a powerful sense of well-being and fullness of heart -- and will transform the way you approach all relationships. My client, defying stereotypes, gave up philandering and womanizing and successfully set out to learn how to love.
Here are a few love practices you can try today:
Empathy: When you suffer, think of all others who are suffering the same thing -- and make a wish for their well-being.
Cherish: Allow other people to matter. Try cherishing the next person who crosses your path today.
Wish peace: Silently wish peace to everyone you pass on the street today.
Turn inward: Think of everything you want in a partner and give that to yourself
These practices have taught me to differentiate between a "selfish mind" and a "loving mind." This isn't easy, that's why it's a practice. You try and it and fail, then return again and again. Over time, the way I experience love has changed. It no longer feels weak or vulnerable. Selfishness is small and painful. Love is expansive and peaceful.
I think the best we can all do is to make a commitment to lov-ing. Even if you don't get it right, each time you make the effort, it takes you to a higher place.
When in doubt, I put my hope in a line from the Holy Bible, "Love never fails" and return back to my practice.
Follow Brandy Engler on Twitter: www.twitter.com/themenonmycouch