Why do so many people murder those they claim to love? Why do we call these murders “crimes of passion”?
Could it be that much of what we call romantic love is really the need to control someone else? And could it be that when most people profess love, they’re really saying, “I’m desperate for someone to love me. Will you be the one to love and accept me?”
Here’s the real question that’s been bothering me lately. Is love always ultimately selfish?
At heart, I’m a romantic, in both the narrow sense and the broad sense. I identify with the line in the Postal Service song called “Clark Gable” which says, “I want so badly to believe that there is truth, that love is real.” I’ve believed in love — and continued to believe in love — at times in my life when it didn’t make sense. I need love to be real. I need for someone who says “I love you” to mean that she loves and accepts me — as a person, the way I am, for better or worse — rather than it simply meaning, “I like the attention you’re giving me.”
I’ve always ignored evidence to the contrary and made the conscious decision to believe in people who’ve said they love me, even when the evidence suggested otherwise. Am I idealistic in the good sense and just waiting for real love to triumph? Or am I in denial and setting myself up to be disappointed in people who are merely serving their own selfish purposes — for however long I meet their needs?
I don’t know, but the question has been haunting me.
I’ve realized that I feel most strongly eager to tell a woman I love her when I need to hear that she loves me. As I realized that about myself, it led me to this terrifying thought that maybe the love I want to express is more about my own need than it is the other person. Could I have this element of narcissism in me? Or could the fact that I can even ask the question suggest otherwise?
I desperately need love and I feel the strong need to express love. But what happens if someone supplies all of my needs for love — when someone loves and adores me, when someone is willing to do anything for me? What happens when I’m not having to pursue someone’s love?
When I think about those situations from the past, I’m uncomfortable. Have I been selfish enough to be complacent when someone desperately needed me? Have I been selfish enough to lose the need to express love when I had the power or control in a relationship?
I honestly don’t want to think about this, because it forces me to look at dark and selfish parts of myself. But when I’m honest, it also forces me to question whether all love is ultimately selfish in some way. And I don’t want that to be true.
I’ve seen how narcissists “love.” What they do isn’t real love, because it’s always about control and about getting their own needs met. They say “I love you” because they’re desperate to hear it in return, even though their actions prove themselves to be controlling and self-centered. They almost never really know the people they claim to love, because their own fear of being unlovable distracts them from noticing anything else. The other person is merely a source of “narcissistic supply.”
But what about those who don’t suffer from narcissistic personality disorder? Is all love selfish? Even for those who are emotionally healthy in other ways?
If I fall in love with you but you don’t love me in return, I eventually lose my love for you — so was it real? Or was it real only to the extent that bait is real when it attempts to hook a fish?
Most couples I see are miserable, partly because all they’re interested in — whether they admit it or not — is what they can get from a relationship. Over and over, I see people fool themselves into thinking they’re self-sacrificing and loving, when their actions show they’re mostly interested in shaping that person into what they want him or her to be.
Are we all engaged in elaborate Pygmalion projects? I’ve done that before and it terrifies me, because I didn’t know it at the time. The more I look at other relationships, the more I wonder whether we’re all doing that — at least until two people simply learn to tolerate each other and settle into a routine. Is that really love? It doesn’t feel like it, but how can I know?
Have I ever seen real love? Can I be certain I’ve experienced real love?
It’s hard to know about love I might have seen in other couples, at least in the long term. Almost everybody has experienced the heated, exciting passion in a loving relationship that can last for months or even a few years. But what about when people get past that? How many couples who stay together for the long term really experience true love for the other — as opposed to simply settling into the feeling that they’re trapped at worst or “this is good enough” at best?
I say I’ve seen real love in long-term couples. I think I have. But when I start asking myself to name those people — and why I’m sure it’s really love instead of just acceptance — I start doubting.
Then there are my own feelings. When I experience love, is it just because I’m desperate for someone to love me, to understand me, to accept me? Or have I really loved those to whom I’ve said, “I love you”?
My own feelings are the only reason I can still feel hope. When I think about every woman to whom I’ve ever said — or would say today — “I love you,” I can honestly say that I feel some degree of warm love for every single one of them, to one degree or another. Even for a few who have betrayed me and hurt me very deeply — sometimes for reasons I’ll never understand — I wish them only the best. I want them happy even if I can’t be happy.
I’m depressed about much of what I think about the reality of love and much of what I see in others about love. But my own feelings give me hope.
I love some people who don’t love me anymore (or maybe who never did). I want good things for them. Even though I might be angry about specific things those people have done, I can look at each case and know in my heart that I would do whatever I had to do to help that person be happy — even at great cost to myself. Even if she never knew what I had done for her.
I question the honesty and integrity of my own heart at times. I question my motives. I question whether I’m selfish (or if I can love unselfishly). I really do — and I don’t want to give myself too much credit.
But when I feel the burning love still in my heart that I know will almost certainly never be returned, that gives me hope that there’s truth inside there and that love is real.
That’s not a satisfying answer as I sit here alone and in desperate need of love and understanding, but that flicker of hope that love is real is all I have to hold onto.