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What Love is

You know that famous quote on love that they always recite at weddings? The one that starts with “love is patient, love is kind…?” I wrote a post about this Bible verse, but in my quest to discover whether I’ve ever known love, I thought I would revisit it.

Let me preface this exploration by saying that I am not usually the type who interprets the Bible literally, but since a lot of people agree on this definition of love, I figured it’s as good of a place as any to start.

So there are 15 things that love is supposed to be, and I would say that I exhibit 11 out of 15 of them on a good day. Which would be a 73. Which is a C. And as you know, a C is failing in my book.

I have problems with envy, anger, keeping record of wrongs, and selfishness. Selfishness, in particular, is the hardest one for me to improve upon. I try to be reasonable, but the truth is, I don’t want anyone to get over me. I don’t want anyone to be happier without me, even if I am happier without them. Even if I never hope to be with them again. And even though they want me to be happy.

In my defense, this verse doesn’t explicitly say that love is not selfish. It says that love is not self-seeking. This may be splitting hairs, but that’s what obsessive people do. Wanting to be loved the most is clearly selfish, but is it self-seeking? And if so, what is it that I am seeking?

I guess I want to be the most special person they’ve ever known. I want to be able to hold up that gigantic foam finger that says “We’re #1!” that sports fans wear, even when their team sucks. Except it would say “I’m #1!” So, even if it is narcissistic, our culture clearly condones the desire to be the best as socially acceptable, even when it’s delusional.

But that just sounds like a rationalization for my selfishness, so it doesn’t really alleviate my guilt. Plus maybe we, as a culture, shouldn’t be so focused on being the best, either.

But that is for another blog post.

Oh! I just thought of something that helps me to redeem myself!

So you know how I want to be a famous writer and have a best seller and make a lot of money some day? Well despite my desire for fame and fortune, I often pray that my brother’s blog on “The Walking Dead” will be more successful than mine. That he will be the one who knows fame and fortune. Because I will be happy regardless of what happens with my blog, but it would make him really, really happy to have some external validation of his talent. And I want him to be happy.

See? I am capable of putting someone else’s happiness before my own. I do know what love is after all. Because this is how much I love my family.

Love is

What Love is Not

Not love

Sometimes I’m still not sure I know what love is.

I’ve said I love you many times, but often immediately after the relationship ended I was like, what the hell was I thinking?! It’s as if I had been in a trance, and once the person moved out of my empathy range, I could not understand how I ever convinced myself that I loved that person.

Once the person decided that they loved me, I felt obligated to love them back. I felt like it was my job to give people what they wanted, so I tried my best to focus on the person’s good qualities. In positive psychology research, being able to overlook your partner’s negative qualities is actually one of the best predictors of a happy marriage.

And admittedly, sometimes I would try to change the things I didn’t like about them so that they could be more like someone I could love. That’s part of the reason why I’m afraid to be in a relationship: I don’t trust myself to accept the person as they are. In my defense, sometimes I was responding to their desire to be helped. But sometimes it was just because there were things about the other person I couldn’t stand.

But isn’t that true in loving relationships, too? I’ve often heard couples say that there are days when everything their spouse does gets on their nerves. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you feel loving towards them all the time. This is what I would tell myself as a way to justify staying.

And like I’ve said before, if Jesus said we should love our enemies, then surely I can overlook the fact that this grown man picks his nose in public. Even though that was a good enough reason for someone to break up with Seinfeld.

In a couple of relationships I actually felt like I hated the person. My friends would explain away my hatred with the the old adage that there is a thin line between love and hate. But that wasn’t why I hated them. I hated them because they exhibited the kind of narcissism that characterizes psychopaths, and I was their latest victim. And I hated myself for trying to love someone who was a borderline psychopath.

I still have nightmares about one of my exes. I’ve had dreams where somehow I am with him again and I feel panicked and trapped. Like Julia Roberts in the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” where she walks into her house and sees her husband standing there, even though she faked her death and changed her identity in order to be free from him.

That can’t be good. That hardly sounds like love at all.

I don’t want to give the impression that all of my relationships could be turned into psychological thrillers. Most of them were good guys. And I truly loved the two that I married. The problem is that I never knew for sure whether I really loved someone until the relationship was over. Until they were far enough away that I could distinguish my feelings from theirs.

Yet another example of how empathy isn’t always a good thing.

These are not easy relationship patterns to change. But I have not given up hope. I like challenges. I’ve figured out knitting patterns that were beyond my skill level.  Surely I can learn to choose love, rather than have love choose me.

The Me Generation

Everybody’s talking about the Me Generation–including me, because the students that I see in counseling are a product of this generation.  These are the kids who have grown up in an era where no one keeps score in sports.  Everybody is a winner, which is why everyone gets a trophy just for showing up. 

These kids have also been told that they are special and brilliant and deserve great things, whether they’ve earned them or not.  Some researchers argue that these messages are creating a narcissistic epidemic in which today’s youth are superficially connected, attention-seeking, vain, and materialistic. 

And there is some evidence for these claims.  After all, “selfie” was the 2013 word of the year.  People can have hundreds of followers without doing anything particularly interesting.  And the rising popularity of Twitter is evidence that every random thought that someone has throughout the day is newsworthy.

Perhaps it is because I am not a product of the Me Generation that I have been reluctant to participate in social media.  I didn’t want to get caught up in competing over who has the most friends because I knew I would lose.  And as much as I am interested in getting to know people, I don’t really care about when someone is going to the gym or what they had for dinner. 

I also don’t like to have unauthorized pictures of me floating around in cyberspace because I’m afraid I’ll look fat in them.  Plus I don’t know how to strike that pose that all the young people do that’s supposed to make you look more attractive.  Because I don’t like pictures of myself, I’ve only posted about 3 selfies, and they were all with someone else.  That’s more like a selfie+1.  Which is not as narcissistic, if you ask me.

However, my blog has forced me to participate in social media, and I have to admit, it’s not all bad.  Yes, it allows narcissists to have a bigger audience, but it also gives the introvert an opportunity to have a voice.  And sometimes it can accelerate positive social change.  Before, there might have been one person on the playground strong enough to stand up to a bully.  Now, there can be millions of them.

Personally, social media has allowed me to stay in touch with people who I would have never heard from before FB.  And I have connected with people through blogging who I would have never met otherwise.  Plus, if Pope Francis can take a selfie, it can’t be that narcissistic.

Critics of the Me Generation claim that all of the unconditional acceptance that psychologists recommend is to blame for this narcissistic epidemic.  I don’t think that’s accurate.  In a previous post I talked about the difference between self-esteem and self-worth.  Self-esteem is about accomplishments and self-worth is about inherent value.  Focusing on trophies, appearance, and success are ways to instill inflated self-esteem, but not self-worth. 

Instead of telling kids that they are all winners, we should be telling kids that they are still worthwhile, even when they lose.  Even when they become old and gray.  Even when their 15 minutes of fame are up. 

Until that happens, we haven’t truly taught the next generation what it means to believe in themselves.