One Opinion About Love

Three kinds of false love often distract us away from the real thing. These three kinds are dependency, power and addiction. We see dependency when people crave to be the center of their partner’s entire universe, demanding to be waited on and fussed over the way a dependant, helpless child is fussed over by their all-protective parent. “If you loved me you would have washed my clothes, gone to the store for me, carried my packages, etc.” It would be nice to return to childhood and have somebody standing between us and the big bad world, but it is not a fair to our partner, and it weakens us when we refuse to develop our own strengths. We see power when people play games like always threatening to leave so they will be begged to stay, or holding up some important project of their partner’s until they get their way. At that moment they feel important, they feel “loved.” But that’s just a power trip. We see addiction when people tell themselves, “I must love my partner so, look how much I need them.” Love and need are completely different things. Someone can be so strung out on another that they chase them the way a crack head chases a pipe, but that’s not really love. Once we throw out the false loves of dependency, power and addiction, we will be left with true love, or at least with a clear space into which it may enter. Now we can consider how to keep love. In my experience three factors are especially important: equality, honesty and fighting fair. Equity starts with the notion that my partner is a real person just like me. We work together and there is a basic fairness. What goes for them goes for me. Sounds pretty obvious, but unfortunately it’s not. My European friends tease me about this part of our culture and say that American love is half romanticism and half consumerism… The romanticism comes from the countless sappy American movies and books, which tell us that there is a “perfect” person out there, and that God or Fate somehow owes us this person. The consumerism comes from being used to getting exactly what we want when we want it. Put these together and it’s hardly surprising that some people feel entitled to a sort of fast food McMate, who is supposed to pop out of the woodwork with nothing better to do in life than serve up everything our way. And since the McMate will be “perfect” — in other words, a narcissistic extension of our own personality — we will never fight or argue. What a dream! What might not be obvious is that this is really a dream of a product, not a person at all. At best it is a job description: cabin boy on my cruise ship of life. But just as there is no equity between us and cabin boys and waiters there can be no equity between us and persons magically sent by God to be perfect for us. In both cases, the idea is, they work for us. We are entitled to what they give. This leads to one of the greatest paradoxes of all. Someone who is almost the perfect person may be treated as a waiter, while an ordinary ruffian may be treated with greater respect and dignity. This observation is the source of greatest hilarity among my European friends, many of whom have lived here and seen it firsthand. You can test for equity with the simple “golden rule” test: are there things my partner does or says to me, that they would never suffer to be done or said to them? Honesty is fairly self-explanatory, but it also means being honest about who you are and not fronting to anyone about that. Fighting fair means attacking the issue in front of you, fighting foul means attacking the person in front of you. An especially damaging tactic is listing, where every fight brings out a long list of every real or imagined offense you have ever suffered before. Basically, this signals to your partner: “Remember when I said I forgave you for that? I lied.” This erodes your partner’s trust in you when you say important things like, “I forgive you,” or even, “I love you.” To sum it all up, to have love and a good relationship, remove dependency, power trips, and addiction. In their place, cultivate equity, honesty, and fighting fair. Eric B. Griswold is Director of the nonprofit Institute for Thought, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, voting section: Psychology.
Eric B. Griswold is Director of the nonprofit Institute for Thought, and a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, voting section: Psychology.