All You Need is Love—Yes and No:
The Beatles gave us a beautiful anthem, All You Need Is Love. It’s a simple formula that’s helpful in so many areas of life, in getting along, in forgiving, and in enjoying another person.
The problem is that it’s asking too much.
Can you say to your unhappy partner, “All you need is love?”
Can she say back to you, “All you need is love?”
It may work for a day or two, but then all the bad feelings come back, and sometimes with a vengeance because they’ve been holed up for so long. The pressure breaks us, because love alone is not enough for real relationships, what you need is the capacity for ambivalence.
A Basic Lesson on Love:
I would like you to come away from this blog with one simple lesson. It's that you can transition from the wonder of love to the wonder of loving a real person.
- The first key word to understand is ambivalence.
- The second key word is maturity
Armed with both, much good can happen in your life.
Falling in Love with Love:
Each of us brings a ton of ideas, baggage, and dreams to a relationship. And, while we kiss, hug, talk, have sex, and even argue, we're often in love with the idea of love itself. It's both hormonal and its our imagination.
And that's not bad.
The magic of love is a mix of fantasy, longing, a feeling of coming home and Oxytocin. We're like young children again, eveloped in a cloud of wonder. Lovers play, giggle, fight, and make up. But, it feels so right.
Over time a shift occurs. Sex is wonderfully familiar but not brand new. His attitude toward you is too something...deferring, condescending, controlling, or unsure. Her attitude toward your friends is less friendly and more demanding. You both love, but there's distance. He fails to find your messiness endearing anymore. She's frustrated that she can't talk to you.
Failing out of love with love and into love with a real person has many permutations.
But, with healthy people, its an inevitablity.
Time to Move On:
Many move on at this point, because it takes only one person to break a relationship. There's dissappointment in losing a grip on love. Because there are endless fish in the sea, one of you may just decide to try it with someone else.
Some people do this serially for many years. They enjoy the bloom of love, and leave when it morphs into the challenge of loving a real person.
And, look, who can blame them. Loving a real person requires patience and commitment, and its not always about being happy. Loving a real person requires giving up the endless possibilities of other sexy, engaging men and women out there in the world.
And it requires tolerating someone's dissappointment in you.
If you or your lover come from a problematic background, that can impact as well. It helps tremendously if you've internalized memories of healthy love from parents who were satisfied with love themselves (even if it was a second or third marriage).
Without good modeling, there's a tendecy for some to run for the hills with the first signs of trouble.
Loving a person requires maturity. (And, a belief that it's possible.)
I can think of few other words that are as hopeful and human as the word, Ambivalence. If you break it down, it means AMBI - VALENCE.
AMBI: Means two, or containing two parts.
VALENCE: Means charge, as in the power of a charge going in a direction.
AMBIVALENCE: Means the containing of two opposite charges of emotion or thinking at the same time. It signifies the capacity to see two sides and not have to choose one, even if you feel tempted to do so.
Healthy people are able to appreciate their spouse or partner when they are a pleasure and also remember the good when they are not. It’s the love of a whole person, even when they may annoy, bore, or disappoint us.
Without the capacity for ambivalence, you will soon tire of someone you love, as they let you down in one—or in many ways. And, they will tire of you as your habits or attitudes begin to wear down what had been a wonderful love.
Love, without the maturity of healthy ambivalence, cannot last.
It burns out.
The Second Innocence:
A year passes—or 30—and you both do your work.
She is your love. You know her faults and can almost finish sentences for her. But, you accept her. In fact, you love her, with all the annoying problems that just don't go away. And, with work, and often good therapy, you find yourself in a second innocence, happy that you have a life with this crazy creature.
You realize that you married a guy who can't express his feelings very well. And, yes, it's annoying and frustrating. But, he loves you and is good to the children. And, when you stop needling him to talk, he withdraws less. You suggest to go to therapy and work on the relationship, and he finally agrees. You realize that he's not ignoring you or just stonewalling.
You love this tongue-tied character.
You date again, get close again, and thank your lucky stars that you found what so many are looking for. It takes maturity, the capacity to accept someone else for who they are, and restarting the engine when others are just going along to get along.
A second innocence is possible.
Real love, the kind you have with a person, must go through ambivalence.
There is simply no way around it.
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“The object of this Essay is to assert one very simple principle, as entitled to govern absolutely the dealings of society with the individual in the way of compulsion and control, whether the means used be physical force in the form of legal penalties, or the moral coercion of public opinion. That principle is, that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinions of others, to do so would be wise, or even right. These are good reasons for remonstrating with him, or reasoning with him, or persuading him, or entreating him, but not for compelling him, or visiting him with any evil, in case he do otherwise. To justify that, the conduct from which it is desired to deter him must be calculated to produce evil to someone else. The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.”
― John Stuart Mill, On Liberty