The first kind of love is when you want somebody for yourself. It is to wonder and check where they are at all times, and to restrict who they are talking to lest they find someone more attractive than us.
The second kind of love is when you simply wish someone the best. It is to let them be free to do what they have to do, hoping that they’ll have have the experiences they need to become happy and find peace with themselves.
The first kind is conditional. You give it only to people you find sufficiently beautiful, funny, rich, or exciting. They must behave the way you expect of them. They must meet your desires and love you back in the same fashion, or, at least, you must believe that one day they might. If they don’t meet these criteria, you do not give them love. It’s complex and petty.
The second kind is unconditional. You can give it to anyone — even if you cannot have them, even if you think they’re wrong, even if you’ve never met them, even if they hate you, even if they’ve hurt you. It’s simple and vast.
The first kind is about getting. Compliments, sex, gifts, time, status, or even a bigger social network. It’s about having your own desires fulfilled. It’s selfish. It is a trade of affection for affection.
The second kind is about giving. It’s about making an effort to make people happy, sometimes putting their needs before your own. It’s selfless. There is no trade, it is a gift.
The first kind hurts when you don’t get what you want. It has the potential to make you upset, petty, afraid, lonely, depressed and even physically ill. It can be incredibly destructive for everyone involved. It causes conflict, jealousy, anger, separation and violence.
The second kind is light. It only hurts when you see other people hurt. It makes you beautiful. It makes you warm and connected. It can put an end to wars and hate. It brings peace.
The first kind is possessive love.
The second kind is true love.
Crazy In Love, With A Capital C
Maybe that sounded like some serious New Age hippie-bullshit to you. Possessive love is instinctive and habitual to us. We think of it as natural, and therefore we conclude that it must also be good. There isn’t necessarily anything good about the natural, though. I’ve explained why in my previous article.
Nevertheless, probably for the same reason, possessive love is praised and applauded in Western culture. This is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, it sucks for those who like being single. Novels, movies, sitcoms, commercials and music videos all suggest that being in an obsessive-possessive relationship is the main ingredient for happiness. You’re being told that if you’re single, your life sucks and there must be something wrong with you. If you don’t feel this kind of love for someone, you lack passion.
Secondly, since possessiveness and obsession drive people to absolute insanity, romanticizing and glorifying them can only make matters worse. There is seemingly no limit to what people might do when they don’t get attention from the object of their “love”. Maybe they just casually stalk them or buy them expensive diamonds to win them over. Maybe they spread ill rumours about them, or get plastic surgery to look like them. Maybe they take a shit in front of their door and set the turd on fire, set their whole house house on fire, shoot at their house, shoot them, shoot their lover, ask to get shot by a friend to gain sympathy, or shoot themselves.
Ah, sweet romance. If it causes us this much misery, why is possessive love so common?
One of our most fundamental emotional needs is to feel lovable. So long as we do not fully love ourselves, we measure our worth by how well we compare to others, and we especially want approval from those who seem better than us. The more attracted we are to them, the more their approval matters. This is the root of possessive love. It arises because of low self-esteem. “I need you to like me before I can like myself.”
There’s a good reason why we think possessive love and physical intimacy go hand in hand: One of the strongest types of approval we can receive from the outside world is through sex. Sex is one of the most intimate and vulnerable experiences people can share, so if someone is willing to have sex with us, they must find us rather attractive and desirable. We may even seek an extra nod of recognition by showing a picture of them to our friends, hoping it’ll elicit an “Oh wow, (s)he’s hot. Good job!”-response.
We will experience many times that the two kinds of love exist simultaneously. There’ll be someone whom we wish happiness, but we mostly want them to be happy with us. Feeling possessive love for someone doesn’t necessarily mean that we wish to own them forever, though. Sometimes, one night is all. We just wanted to seduce them and receive their approval once. Not because they fixed our low self-esteem overnight, but because we subconsciously believe that being approved by more partners will do more for our self-esteem. So we forget about the latest sexual conquest and go look for the next. This belief is particularly common in men, myself included.
Yet it takes no master analyst to see that external validation can never be more than a temporary fix. It’s like pouring jam into a sieve. We try to fill our inner void with something sweet, but so long as the sweetness comes from outside, it will never last. No matter how often other people validate us, true self-worth can ultimately only come from ourselves.
The Real Fix
The solution comes from loving the second way. “But if true love is unconditional and doesn’t discriminate, does that mean we have to become polygamous and sleep with everyone?” Of course not.
You need to dissociate sex and the desire to own someone from real love. Love can be expressed in many ways. Committing to a partnership with a person and being physically intimate with them is just one way of doing it. How we should express our love depends on what we think the receiver needs and what we are able to give.
Just as you wouldn’t offer a toy to an adult or a car to a child, you needn’t get physically intimate with someone you aren’t sexually compatible with. You can express love by doing someone a favour, giving them a compliment, your full attention, the truth, or a smile. You can express love by setting boundaries or by telling someone when they are wrong.
Think even bigger. Loving someone may be to raise money for charity. It may be to write a book that helps people. It may be to open a restaurant where visitors can experience a welcoming atmosphere and good food. To become a teacher and shape the next generation with good values. To dance, sing or paint in a way that moves the spectators and gets them in touch with their emotions.
Viewing love as a way to do good for other people is the cure for possessiveness and low self-esteem. The more love you give to others, the more your self-esteem will grow. Through your good deeds, you become your own source of approval.
Even if very few people recognize or appreciate your loving actions, you’re spending your life making the world a better place, which is in any case far better than spending it desperately looking for validation from others.
It’s less about what you do than about what your intentions are when doing it. This is very important. You can give money to a beggar on the street because you hope she notices and thanks you for it, or because you hope the universe will repay you with good karma. This isn’t love; it’s a deal you’re trying to broker. You could also give them money just because you’d want the money if you were in their position. The principle also applies to showing affection. You can compliment someone because you want them to repay you with approval and sex, or you can do it because you want to make them feel good.
“It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action.”
— Mahatma Ghandi
That being said, here’s the real beauty of giving love: In almost every case, it will come back to you. If doing good for others becomes your main goal in life, and if you’re able to love others unconditionally, you’ll eventually attract some amazing people. Not all of them will want to date you, but some of them will. And I’m pretty darn sure you’ll meet someone where that feeling is mutual.
In case you really want that person to stick around, the way to do so isn’t by telling them that they aren’t allowed to speak to other people and getting jealous when they do. Nor is it by making them sign a paper and promise their loyalty in front of a priest. It is by being so fucking awesome and loving that they wouldn’t want to leave you.
“If you try to change it, you will ruin it. Try to hold it, and you will lose it.”
— Lao Tzu
Replacing possessive love with real love is an ideal that we will probably never fully master in our lifetime. We may not even come close. It’s like that with all ideals. But it’s still worth striving for. No matter how short or slow your stride, moving towards this ideal will always be worth the while.