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.

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Photo by Neal

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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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