What love is not

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Love is not what the movies and hit songs tell us it is.

Love doesn’t hurt. If it hurts it’s something else. Fear. Attachment. Idolatry. Addiction. Possessiveness.

Nobody’s heart aches out of love. In pop culture, love gets conflated with desire all the time. From childhood we learn you can like something, or you can love it, as if it’s only different degrees of the same thing.

Love is all selflessness. It’s the opposite of need and attachment. To an individual it’s a sensation of allowing, rather than seeking. Letting go, rather than grasping.

Love is subtle and silent and delicate, and in its beginnings it can be drowned out easily by attachment, lust and fear. Love must have space, and force is what crowds it out. Love is powerful but it isn’t forceful.

Desire is simple and often reckless. We need to manage it carefully to avoid causing harm. Desire is the intention to change something, to reject what it is in favor of what it could be — something better, more secure, more pleasing. Love is the intention to let that thing be for its own sake.

A lot of us grow up thinking that to love is simply to want very badly. It’s hard to be sensitive to love when you’re overrun by desire. Love isn’t something that can be done badly, if it’s love at all. Desire can happen at the same time as love, but it’s not the same thing.

Jealousy isn’t love, nor is it evidence of love. Jealousy is fear. Love doesn’t drive people mad, it drives them sane. Desire, in its different forms, can drive people to do anything. Love never drives people to kill or steal or cheat or worry. 

Love reveals itself when you release your need to have the object of your affection, and see that there’s no reason to make it yours. That it exists at all is enough. To love something is to disappear in its favor — to die to your own interests so that it can be what it is.

In evolutionary time, love is new, and we’re still learning to used to it. It’s a much more sophisticated human capability than desire.

Desire’s been around forever. It’s a high-horsepower engine. It’s loud. It handles poorly. It only goes the way it’s pointing. It needs a sober driver, but it makes you drunk.

Desires are personal. They’re attached to you and they end where you end. They can be no bigger than you.

Love is bigger than you. To love someone is for their happiness to be the same as your own.

And so love is the dissolution of the borders between you and me and them. Those lines are conceptual and imaginary anyway, and love gives you vision clear enough to see the world without them.

Your love can’t be reserved for one person. If you only love one person you probably don’t love anyone. Love isn’t something you can aim. The truer your love is — in other words, the less you have it confused with something else — the more generalized it becomes. To love fully is to love all.

It takes practice to give up “good for me” in the name of “good.” In the grand scale of evolutionary time, human beings are only at the beginning of experimenting with this — working with something bigger and more important than personal desire.

But love is already everywhere, at least in the background. It’s too conspicuous to be marginalized, even among a population largely driven insane by mismanaged desire. We need to learn to navigate our desires better in order to love fully. We’re working on it.

It’s an interesting time to be alive. We’re graduating from a culture of desire-driven lives to one of love-driven lives. The solution to the world’s problems will look more and more obvious as more people begin to understand that and make that transformation. The first step is knowing the difference.

Defining it is impossible. You can throw words at it but never pin it down. Nothing is misidentified more often than love. But for now, we can know what it’s not. If it hurts, it’s not love.


Photo by Neal

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Eric Lindberg December 18, 2012 at 2:55 pm

David, you don’t seem to provide any background or rationale for your thoughts on love. I think that’s why this article comes across as bad poetry. It makes it easy to dismiss your ideas as idealistic trash. Do you have any reason for thinking “love” is the way you say it is, or are you simply defining the word “love” to mean whatever want it to? Why do you think love can’t hurt, or be selfish or needy?

Ingrid Sørensen December 20, 2012 at 9:40 am

Nice to read your posts again. This one was just what I needed right now. Thank you! It’s hard at times to remember what love is. I believe that if you act in the cause of love, you cannot fail. Not really fail.

Robin K December 29, 2012 at 11:54 pm

I enjoyed what you wrote. The friend that brought me here shared with me the a lovely depiction of The Little Prince and the Fox and how he had to tame him. It took time and patience and the love grew.You can be afraid to open your heart, especially if its one-sided.

Ephraim February 11, 2013 at 12:54 am

Hi everyone – though I´m from germany I will try to say two or three things in a language I absolutely not good enough at -.-

First: I dont think changing the subejct of the discussion to whether or not the WORD love or the WORD compassion is meant to be critizised is effective. Changing the subject doesnt lead to any OTHER interpretations and in the end the things already said will also be alright for another more or less meaningfull/less WORD.

To understand this you have to think about what is it to a word to be more and more meaningfull: having a load of possible interpretations means that a word indeed has not ONE easy interpretation which leads me to the point, that a word doesnt mean anything if we dont provide it with a more or less simple meaning. (i hope that was explained easy enough)

Second: This is really a great article! I happen to always feel hurt if I fall in love and it lies in direct connection to my fear to be left (and there is another conection, after that another one follows and so on …^^). But also – I know, I love, because I dont restrict my love to ONE thing like in an obsessive way.

i´m happy, now that I´ve seen that at least SOME people in this world have the guts to open their borders for others. But also I am aware of the fact, that most of the people DON`T.

And that is my primary problem – because having open border includes beeing constantly hurt by people who just dont understand what they are doing or that their desire to overthrow you by any means without having any interest in you as an individual person isnt all that good in the end – even for themselves (always look for the consequences in the future!).

Part Three:
I dont think it is as easy to love as people are thinking and in the end the method behind the word LOVE is more more more meaningfull than the different interpretations belonging to far to many different situations.

i think there is something far greater behind what you said and it´s in our own hands to achive a glourious contribution to the humand MIND.

in other words, i believe that it always was the aim of people who called out for greater achievements – of the individual and the society – to become masters of their fears and desires.

The “Method” behind LOVE: It´s about creating a space in your mind that constantly feels towards others – but not loosing yourself in a selfish selflessness. We are not ONE BODY and not ONE MIND – but we are ONE SOCIETY. Simply put – it just IS NOT POSSIBLE to achive a TRUE connection between two humans to SYNC everything within them to ONE BEING – but it is possible to achieve some sort of synchronisation that has constantly be controlled by your own mind.

Controll – a word people who are trying to get a hold on their feelings often describe as the OPPOSITE of feeling.
I don´t think that ist right – beeing able to understand what happens around you includes some sort of controll and also some sort of borders. without feeling yourself it would be hard to distinguish OTHERS and being able to see, in an emotional way, them is the most important thing about love.

So it is about a ballanced usage of your love-mode ;)

Love is an abillity – not something that overthrows you.
Like David said – there are fears and desires and … in many biological reasons that are connected to the negative interpretations of love.

After this wakeupcall – I feel like being able to move on. Thanks a lot! :D

And sorry for all my failures ^^


Dave X Robb February 14, 2013 at 5:41 pm

So interesting, David — last year I wrote a post on the same thing, including tying it in with what we’re told by pop music, called “Love Hurts?” (http://davexrobb.wordpress.com/2012/08/13/love-hurts/) A lot of people had a hard time with the concept, but a lot of people also “got it.” Glad a friend pointed me to your site — looks like you’ve got a lot of views I’ll appreciate reading about. Namaste. Dave

th February 18, 2013 at 2:08 pm

You have a very deep understanding of love, but I think you (unintentionally?) leave the impression that love equals some kind of letting go, passive attitude… I have never had that feeling -to love and to let that person exist “outside”, while I’m in some kind of admiration atitude, not doing anything…Love is also about the need to know what happens to that person, about taking care of that person and about fighting for that person (defending him, if ever…).
And heart DOES ache out of love or should I say because of love… It is BECAUSE you love that you empathise when the loved one is hurting…
I’m sorry, I think you were too subtle for me :)

anais February 20, 2013 at 3:14 pm

Teach your children to respect their parents, but teach them that loved ones also make mistakes. Teach them that when it snows they should watch their step for ice, but also look up at the snow. Teach them to love and accept themselves, and they will know what love is and how to love. And also, teach them to ask themselves what love is. Apparently, many of those who answered were lucky enough to have that education–and that includes you, David :)

Maryam February 21, 2013 at 5:28 pm

I have been exploring this site since summer 2012 and love to read David’s position on the mundanities and profundities of life, they really make you examine your own thoughts and beliefs.
My mother always said the best love letters are written by those not in love (think Cyrano de Bergerac). Certainly the more generous, joyous and celebratory side to love will be evident in a person writing about love who has maybe never been in love or is not in love or in very close loving relationships. Yet this may also be the case for a person in love but the point is, as the late Queen Mother used to say, (and William has also repeated her words) “Grief is the price we pay for love”.
Love and its associated good feelings come from a place where sadness and pain also exist, it is the human condition. You cannot have one without the other, if you are capable of feeling deep love you are capable of feeling deep pain. Or you could make a choice to sit in the middle and have a more tempered existence when it comes to love. I listened to the Dalai Lama talk about this the other night on radio 4′s “Something Understood” programme as I dozed off. Although it was inspiring to listen to a calm and jolly attitude of gratitude towards life and others, I could not help feeling that it was an impossible task for me. He is a celibate and as such doesn’t get totally involved in the fall out of human love; but one cannot pass it off as if it is possible with the wave of a hand. One has to acknowledge the love, mess and pain that is humanity, Jesus Christ did and his love meant his death. So love cannot be simplistically defined as only good feelings or that it should not involve painful or sad feelings because love requires a sacrifice of some sort and grief is just one of them.

Andre Rolla March 7, 2013 at 2:02 pm

Excellent text. I love the way you transfrom so called “mystic concept” in simple language. About what you said: I am currently in a fase where I am starting to notice this love energy better inside me. I know exacly what are you talking about. But it’s a long term hard quest. I know I have a long way to till I can express love fully in the tridimentional world it is a big intern effort of observation and learning how to separate things right so you can drive your life energy through the right channel. With just a few steps taken I have already started experiencing life a lot different than before.

Thank you for the post. It helped a lot

David Kawika March 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm

GO TO > Love-NotLove.com

Covers ” What is Love \ and What is Not Love “

deen April 8, 2013 at 4:32 pm

ya it’s true but i think love is not the meaning of getting her/his .Love is the feeling when you love someone and she is happy then you feel happy and when she sad then you also feel sad.when you love someone its not necessary that you purpose her and make a relationship love is the just a feeling .

Werter May 22, 2013 at 8:19 pm

This article is amazing, but it continually makes references to being totally “selfless,” but to love completely and infinitely would mean to love yourself just as much as you love others.

Vanessa May 23, 2013 at 10:43 am

Fabulous article, and just as important and valuable are all of these insightful comments!!! I awaken to new truth of LOVE all the time and this really brings light to my walk and will be applied through Action. I believe Love occurs both naturally and yet is to be cultivated over time with each individual as we serve others and enter Loving relationships. Sometimes We meet many other emotions on the road to Love and while serving Love, that society tends to label as a PART of Love…ie; jealousy, fear, attachment. Those are not a PART of Love. Letting go of THOSE emotions adds potentcy to serving UNCONDITIONAL Love. I love the comments relating to having a relationship being seperate from Love. Love to me is given through action with ALL people as selflessly as possible, and I also enjoy engaging in an intimate monogamous personal relationship. They are two seperate entities, and when having a relationship, it is essential to conduct the relationship in loving ways by recognizing and letting go of the baggage or additional emotions that taint the Love such as fear, attachment, jealousy. To me Engaging in unconditional LOVE is easier if there is no relationship with physical intimacy. And yet, I find value in the personal romantic vulnerable relationship as the leg work of having to choose to be patient, tolerant, and accepting, are more in my face and challenging while creating a beautiful dance. I Love and find both amazing! Either way people choose to live– with or without intimacy, with or without titled relationships—are beautiful ! Thanks everyone for illuminating my path of Love through this conversation. We are all connected, and our words and actions create a ripple to others awakening process. PEACE!!!!

Iulia May 27, 2013 at 5:31 am

True thoughts on love that match the beauty of a human being that we need to discover in each of us. You have the privilege of being one of the human beings, not „a ridiculous animal”. It is the honor that God gave every person on earth.

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Reticulato July 3, 2013 at 4:46 am

Thank you David! Lately I have been searching for what love is. Until now all that I have found was love defined in terms of relationships. A few years ago I told someone that there is only one type of love. I knew that love for your wife – children – parents – sister may be love, but have other emotional components. Indeed, love in its pure sense is not an emotion at all but a sense of being. Your article is making this clearer for me. And again – Thank You.

Michelle July 6, 2013 at 5:24 am

This is a great post. I have been looking up what love is, but then I thought I should look up what love is not. The meaning is also listed in the Bible. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous or puffed up.

To truly love someone is to love with your soul (your spirit). It is of God. A lot of people do not understand what love is. They are trying to figure it out. I have truly loved and loved selflessly. I do every day of my life. I will love him forever. And I love him enough to want him to continue with his life and be happy. Desire, attachment, fear, and other components are what the human side of us bring to the relationship. True love is able to overcome these human weaknesses, but I would like to say that we are all spirits having a human experience on this Earth. It is proving to be more challenging than we thought (especially in areas such as love and forgiveness.) Sometimes you will hear people say, “I had a spiritual experience!” but the reality is that they are a spirit having a human experience. To mix the two is very complex and difficult. There is nothing wrong with being human and the desire to feel loved physically and to feel that you belong to someone. Our spirits are the better part of us, but with the right balance of spirit and human nature, life can be better than one could every imagine. So live life, love, learn, and forgive others. Do not expect perfection from the ones you love because they are learning just as you are. We all wanted this human experience and it is precious, believe it.

Michael July 25, 2013 at 9:18 am

Beautiful post! Although I would disagree about love being definable. Love is, by definition, concern for well being (be it property, a thing, or a person). I don’t associate this with Worship (which is different, lacking self-respect over desire), but in it’s general term you have three types of love (plural or singular, really irrelevant). You have Absolute, Conditional, and Unconditional.

Absolute love is an association that all parties have a desired concern for the well being of the other parties. An example of a relationship based off this is a friendship.

Conditional love is a love based dependently on situation. An example of this is like the phrase “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Unfortunately, I feel the Bible used Unconditional Love a little to rashly in the new testament and here is why:

Unconditional love (theoretical love, cannot exist so long as a condition is placed) is without limitation. Unconditional love in theory is how people have simple concern for the well being of those around them they have no association with, but through narcissism or self-respect is almost immediately destroyed by any burden placed on it. The reason the Bible absolutely destroy’s this concept is because those living under unconditional love who choose to do what god doesn’t want them too essentially are to be destroyed. This makes this a conditional love regardless and thus not unconditional love.

Amit Mate July 26, 2013 at 3:51 am

This is my favourite article David. Thank you so much for this wonderful gift to humanity. I just want your advice on how to control that high horsepower engine of desire. I’m in a very bad condition David. This desire is on the verge of destroying me completely. I live in India. I need your help desperately. I’ve been following your blog for 2 years now. I’ll be waiting David. Please help me.

plainblacktights August 16, 2013 at 6:03 pm

Made me think of this: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things”.

Nathan December 1, 2013 at 12:59 am

Jealousy is love and hate at the same time

Thomas Andrews December 8, 2013 at 5:14 am

A most excellent post. If one cumulatively adds it all up, love does not exist at all. Letting go is too easy, you just let everything go and laugh at those who take love as being either existential or real. Neither is the case. You ignore the validity of anything called love. I believe in good friends and nothing more. Anything more is simply awful. One does not need awful in ones life. Same goes for friends and lovers, you cannot mix the two. The moment you have sex with a person, it ceases being a relationship capable of love. Having both a friend and a lover in the same person is completely impossible. If you’ve dealt with ridicule most of your life, you collect people around yourself that buffers that evil completely out of existence. People constantly hurl themselves at a person proclaiming that they love you. Likewise if no ambition has grabbed you to step out of yourself, why proclaim the existence of something intangible and fully out of reach?

Lee May 5, 2014 at 7:08 pm

David, thank you for this. This article has helped me to change me life dramatically recently, in the most wonderful and profound way. You are very wise.

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