April 25, 2013
What on earth is it? We throw the word around like we sprinkle salt on our eggs.
Here’s a stab at what it’s not. It’s not self-sacrifice. It’s not saccharin words—you know what I mean—”I’ll love you forever”, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”, and my favorite, “You complete me”. (I confess, though, I did ‘love’ the movie:). It’s not about getting someone else to do what I want them to do. And it’s not about putting all-consuming attention on the object of my affection to the exclusion of the rest of the world.
I think the self-sacrifice one is possibly the toughest ‘not that’ nut to crack, and may be the most confusing, so this is the one I’m going to explore today.
Self-sacrifice implies we’re giving up something. And here’s the rub–if I believe I’m giving up something, then I’m likely going to feel resentful if after I’ve given it up the one I’m giving to isn’t appreciative enough, or doesn’t do or behave the way I want them to, or doesn’t notice I’ve given up something to be oh so loving to them. Because that’s just sort of how we humans are wired.
We’re paradoxes, yin yang, both sides of the coin, greatest strengths = greatest weaknesses, both/and rather than either/or. We can be mind-bogglingly generous and that lives with the reality that underneath it all we look for a payoff, even if it’s as simple as the reality that giving can make us feel good. So the conundrum is that if we stop feeling good, then our generosity, or our self-sacrifice, can turn into something that looks very different from what we intended.
I recently read a story about an elderly man who was the primary caregiver when his wife became ill and needed round the clock care. At first he felt really ‘loving’ and good about himself and his wife. He was sacrificing a lot but felt proud of how he was handling an incredibly difficult situation. But then he got tired. He didn’t get enough sleep, had no time to himself, caught cabin fever and started noticing that he was missing out on his favorite rituals. It all began to take its toll. He no longer felt loving.
As I was reading the story I saw the complexity behind his behavior. What does it mean about love when he starts feeling not generous and cranky and under-valued. Which led me to wonder if maybe when we’re in a situation that requires some degree of sacrifice on our part we make it less about love and more about our values, about who we want to be as human beings, what really matters to us.
I know I haven’t even attempted to answer the question, what is love? And I’ve only scratched the surface on what it’s not. I’m hoping you guys will throw out your ideas about what it is, or isn’t. I think it’s a HUGE, complex topic and I’m excited to read your thoughts.