Beneath our idea of love lurks an assumption that makes true connection almost impossible.
As Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving explains, “one believes that all that is necessary for love is to find the right object – and that everything goes by itself afterward”. In other words, we search far and wide for the right person, the person we’re meant to be with, our soulmate – and once found, we can sit back, put our feet up and let the good times roll. As we’ll see, this assumption is nonsense.
Love and relationships, just like any another venture, requires skill and effort.
Picture this: if I were an aspiring painter and told you that I’d produce a masterpiece, not through practice but through simply finding the right thing to paint, you’d know I was a fool. It’s obvious that producing a masterpiece has less to do with the object and more to do with skill. Why should love be any different?
The fatal assumption at the root of much interpersonal misery is this: love is found through the object, through the person – and once you’ve found it, you have it. In truth, the discovery of love, of connection, is only the beginning. Rather than a possession, or a guarantee, love is an act which must be consistently practiced if we wish to maintain and deepen it.
“There is hardly any activity”, explains Fromm, “which is started with such tremendous hopes and expectations, and yet, which fails so regularly, as love”. Why does bliss turn to misery so often???
If you neglect to show your partner the basic qualities required to maintain and grow a connection, your relationship will eventually fail. These qualities are care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge. In the last post, I spoke of knowledge; in this post, I aim to tackle the qualities of care and responsibility.
From Fromm: “Love is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love. Where this active concern is lacking, there is no love”.
If someone claimed to deeply love their pet, yet consistently ignored and failed to feed it, would you believe in their love?
That care is a fundamental component of love seems painfully obvious, yet how often do we ignore those we’re supposed to care about given our preoccupation with something else, even something as inconsequential as a football game? Even worse, how often do we fail to provide care because we’re so self-absorbed that our own comfort seems more important than someone else’s? The consistently selfish are doomed to disconnection.
Care goes beyond merely providing comfort as it also involves encouragement, reassurance, and the determination to help foster the growth of those we love. Who is this person that you care for? What can you do to help them continually develop into a mature, productive, and happy individual? How can you help them succeed on their own path?
Love requires time, thought, and effort, it’s not a joyride and it’s not always easy. Yet, the fruits of this labor are beyond doubt worth every ounce of effort.
Implied from the characteristic of care is our willingness to respond to a loved one in need. This is another essential quality of a truly loving relationship.
This idea is most easily demonstrated through the connection of a mother toward her child. When the child is in need, the mother responds. To not respond would be painful. Her child is the priority. In many ways, the child is an extension of herself, it’s pain is her pain. That’s love! Selfless giving, without the expectation of receiving anything in return.
Be generous with your time. Be dependable. Be considerate. Compromise.
Pay attention to those around you. Notice when they may be down, when they may need help. Respond. Make it a priority to be there for people. In turn, they will be there for you. We all struggle from time to time and no one should have to face the world alone.
That relationships require sacrifice is an inescapable truth. When we sacrifice our time and provide care to those around us, we strengthen our connections; when we overlook another’s comfort for our own, we distance ourselves.
Choose to become a dependable source of care and kindness for those around you. There is perhaps no other venture that will enrich your life as much as this.