Counterfeit love feels just like the real thing — at first.
As you start getting close to someone, you suddenly feel your heart swell in size. Your thoughts center on him or her. Everything the person does or says seems just right for you. You feel irrational exuberance and the feeling that you’ve finally found the love you’ve been waiting for.
Most of all, though, you bask in the golden glow of feeling that this wonderful person adores you.
And then something happens. His or her mask slips. You see things you hadn’t seen at first. The person’s words of love and devotion start to change. And the words you needed so much — ”Never forget that I want you!” — start to disappear. And then the memory of those promises feels hollow.
Maybe he didn’t really love you. Maybe she didn’t adore you and want a life with you. Maybe it was just counterfeit love — a selfish thing which crumbles into dust when it faces the light of reality.
It was my father who first taught me that love could be selfish. It took me many years to consciously realize it, but the lesson was very clear. He was fond of saying, “I love you,” but what he really meant was, “Please love me.”
My father didn’t offer real love. He didn’t know how to love. He was only a beggar holding out a shiny counterfeit in hopes of getting what he so desperately needed. (When I wrote about this two years ago, I knew that I’d learned the lesson from him, but I couldn’t say so, since he was still alive and reading my words here. Go back and read what I said there for context.)
Selfish love actually attracts us. A recent psychology study showed that a person becomes more romantically interested in another person, on average, if he or she discovered that the other person was attracted to him or her. So if another person falls for you — gives you attention and appreciates what you seem to be — you’re far more likely to return the affection than you otherwise would be.
When I first read this, it seemed counterintuitive. After all, don’t we often seem to want something we can’t have? Maybe. But after reading the study and then thinking about my own history, I realized there was truth to it. When I’ve known that a woman was interested in me, that made her more attractive and more desirable to me.
Why is this?
I think it’s simply that we are all desperate to feel wanted, needed and loved. If someone else will love us — will give us the attention and adoration we want — that person automatically becomes more attractive to us.
That doesn’t mean we’re going to fall for whoever falls for us, of course. We all have certain minimum standards a potential partner has to meet. We sometimes feel selfish admitting these standards, but we all have them. I want a woman who’s beautiful and smart and impressive, at least by my standards. I want someone who can be a partner in the true sense of the word. I want someone who will be the sort of mother I want for children. I have my mental list. You have yours.
But if someone meets those basic criteria, we quickly respond when that person offers what appears to be love.
It’s at this point that it’s obvious why the counterfeit is so dangerous. Counterfeit love engages in the heady stage of “falling in love.” Counterfeit love says all the right things, but it’s just a fantasy. There’s no willingness to follow through.
Counterfeit love just wants the attention and the affection. Counterfeit love is selfish. Counterfeit love isn’t about the other person. It’s about what the counterfeiter can get from the other person — until the other person grows tired of giving love without receiving follow-through.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately for an odd reason. I’m craving all the things which a love counterfeiter craves. I’m craving attention and affection from a woman who meets my standards. I’m craving for such a woman to adore me — to want me — for her to want me to love her in return.
This stage is the same for real love and counterfeit love. In fact, you never know which you have until you make it through this stage and get to the point when action is required. Then you find out whether the person is offering real love — or if the person (consciously or unconsciously) is just sucking attention from you, but has no intention or willingness to give you real love in return.
Almost everybody likes the way love feels like when it’s starting. Almost everybody is intoxicated by the thrill of being adored, by the excitement of being wanted and needed and understood. But love counterfeiters suck what they can from you and then quit when it’s time to give in return.
Only a much smaller percentage can honestly say, “I’m willing to sacrifice for you, because my love for you is real — and I’m willing to do the hard work of building a future with you.”
I can think of one time in my life — more than a decade ago — when I was the love counterfeiter. I didn’t mean to be. I didn’t mean to hurt her. But she adored me and was willing to give me anything. I got caught up in being adored instead of ending something quickly which couldn’t work. It was my worst relationship mistake.
I’m not sure it’s possible to know for sure whether a new relationship is real love or counterfeit love until that moment comes when it’s time to make a sacrifice or to put into practical effect all the things you’ve been fantasizing about together concerning a future.
But there comes a moment when it’s clear whether what you’ve experienced is real love or if it was just frivolous play — like a 16-year-old with a crush.
When that moment comes, you will either feel more loved than you’ve ever felt — to know someone was telling the truth when she said she wanted you — or you will feel more hurt and betrayed than you’ve ever felt — to find out the words meant nothing.
The heady feeling of falling in love is amazing. There are few things like it. But you can’t know that love is genuine until just past that point — and that’s when you find out whether you’ve experienced real love or just an ugly counterfeit which has no lasting meaning.