Reprinted from Bridges Not Walls: A Book About Interpersonal Communication, 6th edition, edited by John Stewart.
Some Meanings of Authentic Love
Love means that I know the person I love. I’m aware of the many sides of the other person-not just the beautiful side but also the limitations, inconsistencies and flaws. I have an awareness of the other’s feelings and thoughts, and I experience something of the core of that person. I can penetrate social masks and roles and see the other person on a deeper level.
Love means that I care about the welfare of the person I love. To the extent that it is genuine, my caring is not a smothering of the person or a possessive clinging. On the contrary, my caring liberates both of us. If I care about you, I’m concerned about your growth, and I hope you will become all that you can become. Consequently, I don’t put up roadblocks to what you do that enhances you as a person, even though it may result in my discomfort at times.
Love means having respect for the dignity of the person I love. If I love you, I can see you as a separate person, with your own values and thoughts and feelings, and I do not insist that you surrender your identity and conform to an image of what I expect you to be for me. I can allow and encourage you to stand alone and to be who you are, and I avoid treating you as an object or using you primarily to gratify my own needs.
Love means having a responsibility toward the person I love. If I love you, I’m responsive to most of your major needs as a person. This responsibility does not entail my doing for you what you are capable of doing for your self; nor does it mean that I run your life for you. It does imply acknowledging that what I am and what I do affects you, so that I am directly involved in your happiness and your misery. A lover does have the capacity to hurt or neglect the loved one, and in the sense I see that love entails an acceptance of some responsibility for the impact my way of being has on you.
Love means growth for both myself and the person I love. If I love you, I am growing as a result of my love. You are stimulant for me to become more fully what I might become, and my loving enhances your being as well. We each grow as a result of caring and being care for; we each share in an enriching experience that does not detract from our being.
Love means making a commitment to the person I love. This commitment does not entail surrendering our total selves to each other; nor does it imply that the relationship is necessarily permanent. It does entail a willingness to stay with each other in times of pain, uncertainty, struggle, and despair, as well as in times of calm and enjoyment.
Love means trusting the person. If love you, I trust that you will accept my caring and my love and that you won’t deliberately hurt me. I trust the reciprocal nature of our love. If we trust each other, we are willing to be open to each other and can shed masks and pretenses and reveal our true selves.
Love can tolerate imperfection. In a love relationship there are times of boredom, times when I may feel like giving up, times of real strain, and times I experience an impasse. Authentic love does not imply enduring happiness, I can stay during rough times. However, because I can remember what we had together in the past, and I can picture what we will have together in our future if we care enough to face our problems and work them through. Love is a spirit that changes life. Love is a way of life that is creative and that transforms. However, I do not view love as being reserved for a perfect world. “Love is meant for our imperfect world where things go wrong. Love is meant to be a spirit that works in painful situations. Love is meant to bring meaning into life where nonsense appears to reign.” In other words, love comes into an imperfect world to make it livable.
Love is freeing. Love is freely given, not doled out on demand. At the same time, my love for you is not dependent on whether you fulfill my expectations of you. Authentic love does not imply “I’ll love you when you become perfect or when you become what I expect you to become. “Authentic love is not given with strings attached. There is an unconditional quality about love.
Love is expansive. If I love you, I encourage you to reach out and develop other relationships. Although our love for each other and our commitment to each other might bar certain actions on our parts, we are not totally and exclusively wedded to each other. It is a pseudolove that cements one person to another in such a way that he or she is not given room to grow. The honest evidence of our love is our commitment to encouraging another’s full development. We are interdependent personalities who need one another’s presence in order to fulfill our destiny. And yet, we are also separate individuals. We must come to terms with our struggles alone.
Love means having a want for the person I love without having a need for that person in order to be complete. If I am nothing without you then I’m not really free to love you. If I love you and you leave, I’ll experience a loss and be sad and lonely, but I’ll still be able to survive. If I am overly dependent on you for my meaning and my survival, then I am not free to challenge our relationship; nor am I free to challenge and confront you. Because of my fear of losing you, I’ll settle for less than I want and this settling will surely lead to feelings of resentment.
Love is selfish. I can only love you if I genuinely love, value, appreciate, and respect myself. If am empty, then all I can give you is my emptiness. If I feel that I’m complete and worthwhile in myself, then I’m able to give to you out of my fullness. One of the best ways for me to give you love is by fully enjoying myself with you.
Love involves seeing the potential within the person we love. In my love for another, I view her or him as the person she or he can become, whiles still accepting who and what the person is now. Goethe’s observation is relevant here: by taking people as they are, we make them worse, but by treating them as if they already were what they ought to be, we help make them better.
Love means letting go of the illusion of total control of ourselves, others and our environment. The more I strive for complete control, the more out of control I am. Loving implies a surrender of control and being open to life’s events. It implies the capacity to be surprised.