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David Richo, Ph.D., MFT

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Does Love Have to Be Choosy?

Posted: 04/23/2012 8:00 am

Since love sits in us between trust and fear, a commitment to love requires daring to trust and freedom from fear, both risks we are willing to take when we love someone. Loving is often scary so we have to become reckless in practicing it. We become reckless when we are so firm and focused in our intention that we are no longer held back by what might be threatening. This helps us become unconditional in our love. (There is no conditional love; that is not love at all, only a response to our approvability or to our being pleasing.)

We are usually selective about showing love. Here we see a contradiction in ourselves: We have no trouble being committed to honesty toward everyone, unconditionally and unilaterally, across the board, no matter how dishonest others may choose to be. But we think of love as having to be carefully meted out and promised only to very special people in our lives. We believe everyone is deserving of honesty, but we imagine that only certain selected people deserve our love. Would we be able to repeat the sentence above substituting love for honesty? It will sound like this: We have no trouble being committed to being loving toward everyone, unconditionally and unilaterally, across the board, no matter how unloving others may choose to be.

It is, of course, true that discrimination in trusting others is necessary if we are to have quality relationships. Selectivity is important for our safety and security because it means trusting only those who have proven their trustworthiness. This makes sense but only in how we love not that we love. We can be careful about our boundaries when others come close but boundary-less in how far our love extends. There are boundaries in the topography of love, but no barriers.

As an example, we can love our alcoholic spouse but as long as he is abusive and refuses to seek help, we cannot live with him. Our love of ourselves does not permit placing our and our children's safety, health, and happiness in jeopardy. Our love of our partner does not permit us to enable him to go on destroying himself and others. So our love remains as strong as ever but our way of showing it changes. Now it does not include sharing the same bed, but it does include supporting him in his recovery once he is ready for it. We have boundaries but have erected no barrier because we remain open to full reconnection in his full recovery. We show our love based entirely on what has to matter: safety, security, health, happiness for us and for those committed to our care. Yet, we go on loving no matter what.

We have a place in our lives for intimate relationships with special ways of showing our love. We can have a place for the broader style of love too. When we "love all beings" without preference, when we extend love as caring and compassion to those least appealing to our ego, we are locating a new level of humanity in ourselves. We realize soon that those we come to love in this unconditional and unbounded way are transforming us by increasing our scope of loving.

Our practice of universal love does not cancel close attachments as relationships with individuals. On the contrary, it offers us the resplendent alternative of expanding the reach, style, and direction of our love. The love we have for our one special partner becomes richer when we are committed to loving in the universal way. Our dedication to love unconditionally teaches us to transcend ego restrictions, a boon in dealing with conflicts in relationships. Universal love is the most courageous, and, perhaps to our materialistic society, the most foolish vow we can make. But, the "I do" at the altar is surely deeper when it has already been pronounced to all our fellow earthlings too.

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