by Dayna Mason
What is real love? The dictionary defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection.” But I’d like to propose that love in its purest form is more like liberation, and when we express it, we give freedom to ourselves and others.
Love vs Desire
Desire is a strong feeling of wanting. To long for, wish for, demand, expect—an emotion directed toward attainment or possession of something.
Desire seeks to get—to possess.
Love is more than a feeling. The deeper meaning of the word love can be found in the word “free.” One historical definition of the word free is “to love.” The word free evolved from the concept of unrestrained movement, to setting free one’s beloved (in contrast to enslaving them), to giving without cost. All these meanings apply to love.
Love seeks to give—to offer freedom.
When we make demands or require expectations to be met by another person, we’re seeking to “get” not to “give”, and this is not love. Real love gives with no attachment to how it’s received or whether it’s reciprocated. Love given with conditions is not love, it’s judgment.
The term unconditional love is redundant. Love is unconditional.
In relationship, when we seek to possess someone, we are operating out of desire, not love. Because love wants the other’s freedom and has no desire to possess. Often, when we say I love you, we’re not saying we want to contribute to another’s life in a way that makes it better for them without any expectations. What we’re saying is—If I give you this, I expect you to give me that in return—I will love you as long as you love me. I will care for you as long as you care for me. This is not love. It’s a transaction.
Love seeks nothing in return. No agenda, no expectations. It’s self-sacrificing—because it cannot help itself. We often confuse love and boundaries.
Setting healthy personal boundaries
Just because love is self-sacrificing, it doesn’t mean we abandon ourselves or become a “doormat” to make someone else happy. We need to love ourselves too. If we make a sacrifice for someone we care about, it needs to be because we want to, not because we feel obligated or because we fear the consequences of not doing it.
A healthy personal boundary always deals with oneself, not the other person. We’re not demanding that they do something—even respect our boundaries. We’re setting boundaries to say what we will do or will not do. Only these kinds of boundaries are enforceable because we only have control over ourselves.
For example, if someone in our life swears, and we don’t want to be around profanity, we could request that they not swear around us. No force, no demands, just communication of what is best for us. If they decline our request, then we would decide what we need to do to take care of ourselves. If the only way we can prevent the unwanted experience is to avoid the person, then that may be what we do. Not as a punishment for them, but to honor ourselves.
We cannot change what we dislike in another person. Love accepts people as they are and respects their choice to be that way. But we can decide what is best for us, given their choice.
According to the writer and scholar of comparative religion Thomas Merton, “The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
When we love, we will risk our own lives to save another’s life without even thinking about it. Love can’t help it—it’s more powerful than our will to survive.
When we truly love each other, we experience far more than just a mutual need for each other’s company and consolation. In loving relationship, we become better people; more alive, more understanding, more patient, more courageous. We are transformed by love’s power.
Give this a try. Without expecting anything in return, even acknowledgment, do something for someone in secret, in a way that they may not even realize anything has been done for them, in a way that you won’t hear any feedback on the receipt of the gift. Then, notice how you feel. Can you let go of the attachment to the satisfaction of “acknowledgment” and just give, no expectations?
That’s what real love does.
Real love seeks only one thing: the good of the one loved. Love liberates us, and in that freedom, we feel safe to grow into our full potential.
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