On love

I watched a Buddhist monk on Facebook, talking about love: “we should not cling to love”, she states. We should not depend on love, for that will only bring suffering. We need to find well-being and bliss within ourselves. Not through a loved one.

A few days later, Facebook showed me a quote from a Buddhist monk, stating that we should walk alone, if we want to achieve happiness.

I didn’t capture the posts and I’m sure that I missed some of the finer wording. But I think I get the overall picture: “It’s not OK to be dependent on somebody. Love should not be based on neediness.”

Would you agree?

Contemporary relationship therapy adopts a rather similar approach. Love, and hence: a relationship, should not be based on neediness.

The rationale goes that we all grow up with certain emotional trauma – some small, some a bit bigger, some serious. We learn how to handle these emotional hurts. Very often, however, a romantic relationship touches and activates this tender spot of emotional pain. We tend to project our deepest, and often unconscious, emotional needs and expectation, onto our partner. In a way, we try to work out our childhood trauma through our relationship.

Example: if you grew up with a father who wasn’t very present and did not show much interest in you, you might spend the rest of your life searching for a partner who will show you lots of interest. And this is failed to doom. Nobody, except the father himself, can fill in the pieces that you did not receive, but were entitled to. We cannot claim from a partner that which we did not receive or experience, when we were younger.

This can work out in many different ways. Old trauma can give you a tendency to be needy, and dependent on your partner. But it can also lead you to avoid true intimacy. Both dynamics will wreck your relationship, and will indeed, as the monk said, lead to suffering.

In that sense it is indeed a good idea to heal your old hurt, before you engage in a loving relationship.

But what if you follow through on this concept of ‘truly unconditional love’ into everyday real life? A love that expects nothing, that requires nothing at all, from the other?

Example: you are in a relationship of a number of years, and you and your partner share a household and children. The last couple of weeks have been hard on you; you don’t feel strong, you’ve been very busy at work, the kids have been keeping you up at night. You look forward to an evening out with your partner, and would appreciate receiving a bit of tender loving care. You need in a bit of support, a bit of nurturing and caring love.

According to the concept of ‘truly unconditional love’, you are not supposed to expect this, from your partner? Right? Well, that’s how I would understand it; following through on the concept that love should be truly unconditional and that I am supposed to be nourished by self-love, I should to be able to provide the tender loving care to myself, and be perfectly happy spending a night out (or in) by myself.

My partner cannot be expected to provide the care that I need at that moment. Right?

I think that most of you will agree that it would just be very sad if, under the circumstances, I would not be entitled to expect some quality time with my partner. I don’t think this qualifies as being “needy” or “clingy”.

Where do you draw the line?

Where’s the difference between the concept of unconditional love, and the everyday reality of being in a loving relationship?

The monk is right. Contemporary psychology on love are right. We need to take care of our pain ourselves. We cannot expect our partner to provide us with everything we need.

But we are not monks. We are emotional human beings. We have feelings. (And so do monks, of course, but monks make it their job to reach beyond that which is emotional.)

It is a beautiful and rich cause; to work on your emotional neediness for love, or your fear of love. It will avoid the suffering of expecting to (finally) receive what you were entitled to, and still not getting it, and the reactivation of the pain that comes with it.

But I think that it will also avoid a lot of suffering if we can simply acknowledge the fact that we are basically mammals: we are emotional and social creatures who need to feel loved, who need to be touched. We need to feel that we belong. And personally I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Not depending on your partner at all, and leaving your partner total and absolute freedom, is not really ‘love’. Not in my book. I would interpret such a relationship as ‘distant’ and ‘uncaring’. I would wonder why you’d want to be in such a relationship at all, since there basically is very little real relationship. It’s just 2 people going their own way.

I’m not trying to make a statement. I’m just challenging you to think along: where are the boundaries in love? When are you being clingy? When does freedom actually become a lack of interest, or egoism?

Once you enter into a relationship, you start interacting, you are involved, and you need to take the other person into account in pretty much everything that involves your relationship. To me, that’s basic logic. You’re not in it on your own. The other person is there too.

And even if that other person, your partner, is a very balanced and happy person – even if he or she is not clingy at all, and rather an independent soul who can take very good care of him or herself – the other still needs to feel that she or he is loved, is seen, is heard, is taken into account, that he or she belongs.

Speaking for myself: I need to know that I matter. Is this a neediness that reaches back to childhood pain? I guess so. Should I work on that need to matter, in love? To come to the point where I don’t feel the need to matter, anymore? Don’t you agree that this is a bit absurd? Why be in love with someone if that person does not matter to you?

There are limits to what a normal mortal being like me can live up to, in matters of love and relationships.

Love is infinitely fascinating. Human relations are fascinating.

The dynamics of love are different for each and every one of us. Yet there are some things that do apply to all.

How do you go about this?

Do let me know: heleen@querkum.be

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