Sunday, June 6, 2010

Love Is...

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
1st Corinthians, 13: 4-7
But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Matthew 5:43-48
It has been discerned that there is an inverse relationship between love and power. The more you love somebody, the less power you are able to exercise in the relationship. The more you love, the less power you have in any relationship and that goes for a marriage. Here is a husband and wife. She loves him desperately. He does not love her much at all. Who is in the position of control? Who can call the shots? Who is in a position of power?
Tony Campolo
If you need somebody, call my name
If you want someone, you can do the same

If you want to keep something precious

You got to lock it up and throw away the key

If you want to hold onto your possession

Don't even think about me

If you love somebody, set them free

As Iris and I drove to New Jersey last night, we played a bit with defining love. For starters, we skipped all the victim-oriented, love just-happens, it's chemistry, you-know-it-when-you-see-it stuff, and went right to deliberate action. Love is something you do.

Being a deliberate action, love is therefore independent of the person loved. Surely there are people whom we find more attractive, with whom we'd prefer to spend time and for whom we feel stronger affection. However, love operates independently of these. In some instances, things like attraction, affection and desire are side-effects of having actively loved.

As we played with the question what is love?, we started defining aspects of love that we considered essential. Most of these were defined in the context of our relationship with each other, so the manifestations of the attribute are somewhat specific. However, I think we can generalize them to some basic principles.

To Love is to Trust
The first aspect of love that Iris brought up was trust. To love someone is to trust him.

I asked Iris what she meant by trust. There's trusting someone's sentiment, that he wants the best for you and he'll always act in a manner consistent with that. There's trusting someone's judgment, that the decisions she makes are sound. There's trusting someone to show up, to be fully in the relationship. There's trusting the person you love to know what's best for him.

As we talked them through, we concluded that all these forms of trust play a role in love depending on the nature of the specific love relationship. In particular, to have a successful relationship with a partner requires that you trust in all these ways and that you actively invest in growing that trust.

Corollary: To Love is to be Trustworthy
To love generally we flip things around: we become actively trustworthy in all dimensions.

Love is Excited
The next thing that Iris brought up was being excited to be together, really enjoying one another. She talked about never wanting to be in a relationship where her partner wasn't excited to be with her.

Being excited to be with someone is something that we often associate with the beginning stages of falling in love, something that diminishes over time. However, to love someone involves actively maintaining and growing excitement and enthusiasm for being together.

Note, the excitement to be together might be inspired by something not at all exciting in the general sense, e.g., excited to just go home, sit on the couch and drink coffee together.

Love is Affectionate
The next aspect of love that Iris brought up was affection. When we love someone, we actively feel and demonstrate affection. Affection is another aspect of loving that many of us view as it's there or it's not. However, when we actively love, we actively foster affection simply by paying attention to doing so. For example, whenever we see one of our lover's little quirks, we can view it negatively, positively or indifferently. To build affection, we actively place them into the positive category.

Demonstrating affection is super easy, yet we often forget to do so. Maybe an affection alarm clock?

Love is Respectful
A key indicator that a relationship is not going to work is one or both partners showing disdain for the other. It might be a rolling of the eyes when the other speaks. It might be cutting remarks and criticism.

When we love, we actively respect and build respect for the person loved.

Love Does Not Judge
Love Judges Positively

At first, I thought that love does not judge, but that doesn't cut it. Love judges positively. Love believes absolutely the best about the person loved.

To be clear, this is where the accepting part (as defined by Sree) becomes really, really important. To accept someone is to see him fully and clearly for who he is (warts and all).

So often, when we decide not to judge someone or to judge someone positively, we do so by magically morphing him into someone he's not, someone who doesn't do the things we judge, someone without warts. We avoid judgment by deluding ourselves, i.e., we don't accept the person we love, we just accept someone else, an idealized version.

To judge someone positively requires us to see her in the full light of day with all the warts and wrinkles and to judge her positively. We may have a vision for who we hope she becomes. We desire her to change. But, we see her for exactly who she is in the moment, and we judge her as being great, wonderful, perfect.

Love Judges Actions Positively
I mentioned a while back the concept, "Love the sinner, but hate the sin." I learned this when I was a Christian trying to reconcile hating certain things about people we love with loving the person who does things we hate. I hate that she is abusive. I hate that he is an addict. I hate that she is irresponsible. But I love him or her.

The problem is that this doesn't work; the hate of someone's actions always bleeds into our view of the actor. Therefore, to love someone requires us not only to judge her positively, but also to judge all that she does positively.

At first blush, this sounds a bit crazy. I can't judge abuse as good! I can't judge addiction as good! I can't judge irresponsibility as good!

Actually, you can. However, you wouldn't want to judge them as good. The reason you wouldn't want to judge unwanted behaviors as good is fear that it would lead to stagnation. If I didn't judge my partner's unwanted behaviors, then he'd never change.

We've all been taught from very early ages to judge unwanted actions and behaviors negatively and sometimes harshly. By doing this, we motivate ourselves to avoid them. We're taught this because it works. However, it often backfires. When we judge unwanted actions, we force them underground; we deny them in ourselves, we obscure them from others. We hide, we delude.

As bizarre as it may sound, when we love the unwanted behavior, we are best positioned to replace it with wanted behavior. Iris sees this all the time working with children with autism. When parents hate the autism and love the child, progress is slow or non-existent. When parents decide to embrace and rejoice in their child's autism, change begins.

So, loving someone involve judging both him and his actions positively.

Love Keeps No Account of Wrong
I've always liked this part of Corinthians 13: it keeps no record of wrongs. In the context of Christian teaching, this is often viewed as forgiveness. However, forgiveness necessarily implies judgment. If we never judge, then we never have to forgive.

A great precursor to loving someone's current actions is to retroactively love her past actions. Shred the records.

Love Does Not Blame
A great way to torpedo a love relationship is to blame your partner. We blame for our financial situation. We blame for our lot in life. We blame for all we've done. We blame for all we never did.

If you find yourself blaming, please re-read the section on judging positively.

Love Does Not Control
Tony Campolo has an interesting perspective on love and control: one that I both agree and disagree with. I agree that loving someone involves actively not seeking to control them and actively surrendering power. In fact, when you have power over someone, it's hard to discern if their response is love or something else.

However, I don't agree that abandoning power makes us weak. To me loving desperately is an oxymoron. So, on this front, I'm in agreement with Sting: if you love somebody, then set them free.

Love is Indiscriminate
Here's the kicker. We typically talk about love in terms of our partners, our children, our friends. But, I believe that to effectively love anyone involves loving everyone. When we actively believe the best of others, when we actively judge all things positively (it's all good), when we keep no records of wrong (for anyone), when we never blame, we become different people. We become great lovers.

Love Means Happy Endings
As we merged onto the Garden State Parkway, I asked Iris about ending relationships, "Can we love and break up at the same time?"

Iris said, "Sure, when the relationship is no longer what we want. We can still love the person, but want something else."

So we talked about the potential volatility of relationships ebbing and lowing like the tide. There's a lot of social infrastructure built upon having relatively stable relationships. I've read about problems with relationships based on mutual-benefit versus moral-mandate; they create instability. The theory is that when we have some kind of mandate to stay together, we tend to work through challenges, whereas, when we're simply together because we want to be, we break up at the first sign of problems.

Iris disagreed calling this view naive. She pointed out that relationships last when one plus one equals three (or four or five). When the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, then, even when things are a bit off, they're still better than what they are when we're alone: one plus one equals two-and-a-half instead of three. So, a minor change in what we want doesn't result in the immediate dissolution of the relationship.

The challenge occurs when one plus one equals something less than two. You end up with no reserves to stimulate wanting when times are a bit more challenging.

Still, there are times when what you want and what your partner wants change significantly (and in different directions) over time. You simply no longer want the same things in life. At some point, one plus one no longer equals three, or two, or maybe even one. Usually this results in strife because we judge negatively. We judge that not wanting the same things is bad. We judge our wants and/or our partner's wants as bad. We judge ending relationships as bad.

However, if we decide to judge all things positively, the we can continue to love each other while we each move towards something new.

So What?
All said, our discussion didn't do much to define love. However, I think that applying some of the principles we talked about can lead to relationships that we would see as loving. I would summarize our discussion in the following way.

To love is...
to trust and to be trustworthy
to be excited about being together

to grow and demonstrate affection

to respect

to see what is for what it is and to judge it positively
to keep no account of wrong (in case you missed judging part)

to set free (to abandon power and contro
Well, that's a start. I would add one more thing. Most people would never consider themselves to be piano players never having played a piano. They would assume that becoming a piano player involves study and practice. Yet, many of us never consider loving as an art form to be learned, practiced and developed. I would suggest that it is.

Similarly, it's difficult to define what 'playing the piano' means. There are so many ways to play, so many songs to play, so many styles of music. Yet, there are common techniques and methods that can lead to playing well regardless of what or how you play. Perhaps defining love isn't as important as determining the techniques and methods that lead to becoming a great lover and then practicing them.

Have a Loving Monday,


  1. excellent.....thanks for sharing this 'make-up.' ;)

  2. As I read this blog (love it!!) I thought of our recent discussion about zest for life and realized that another relationship these criteria apply to is one's own relationship to life itself:

    1. to trust and to be trustworthy - a basic belief that life is good and whatever happens in life is good

    2. to be excited about being together - that feeling you always talk about of being excited to do the next thing, not wanting to go to bed at night because it's so much fun hangin' with your life.

    3. to grow and demonstrate affection - I like to talk aobut some people being "passive affectionate" in relationships (of course I love you, even if I never say it!). It occurs to me now that people do that with life, too. They never come right out and say that they love their lives or act in a way that shows how precious it is to them, never embrace their lives until they are on their death beds.

    4. to respect - I totally grin f*@k my life by insisting on being over 150 lbs. overweight and a total couch potato. Need I say more?

    5. to see what is for what it is and to judge it positively - a corollary of #1, to see life as a kind and benevolent force with whom we journey.

    6. to keep no account of wrong (in case you missed judging part) - a favorite old therapist of mine used to warn me about steering clear of what he called "injustice collectors", people who go around looking for others to treat them badly and be unfair to them and others. One can do the same with life itself, never getting over the fact that life can be unfair at time as if that's reason enough to serve a global indictment on life and make it an enemy.

    7. to set free (to abandon power and control) - don't fear the bumps, just love the ride. LOVE THE RIDE.

    I can't at all say that I have a great love relationship with life, but the clarity I have gleaned from your presentation here both helps me and stimulates me to help myself.

    Love always

  3. Mark, what a great insight.

    Perhaps our love relationships with people are all calibrated to our love relationships with life. We can love no one more than we love life itself.

    I think it would be great to be among people who love life as you've laid it out.


  4. It seems Bears is likewise tuned into this topic when he writes

  5. As a Drive-in owner/operator, i designed and had minted my own 'coin.' called it a Drive in Dollar. (DID) Perhaps one could embrace ones experience as 'coinage?'

    The coinage of Choice. On one side Freedom, the other Responsibility. Reference the responsibility of our freedom of choice, alwaYs...... bw

    (By the way, the 'trade-dollar'(5000) of them went pretty quickly to collectors around the world.)

  6. Wow - so wonderfully explained

  7. I keep reflecting on this blog: does this definition of love means that loving can be nothing but unconditional?
    that love existes only if you chose it and once you've chosen it, it has to be unconditional since it doesn't keep records

  8. Joy, I think that the conditions for love are less dependent upon the object of love and more dependent upon the subject of love.


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