Valentine’s Day is coming up soon. I always find myself confused at this time of year, unsure of whether I really want to participate in the big spectacle of what the advertisements call “love.”
Must love be proven? If you have to buy something to show it, is it really love? Can an object denote intimacy? Can a gesture bridge the gap between two souls?
Everywhere we go, we’re bombarded with tips and tricks about relationships. The most popular relationship advice of our time pushes this idea that it is important to prove our love, to show it again and again, in order to keep a relationship healthy.
This idea descended to us from old-time chivalry, romance novels, and, more recently, relationship books like Gary Chapman’s The Five Love Languages.
It’s a wonderful book. It’s a useful tool. The basic message is that each of us has a “love language”—a way in which we prefer to have our partners express their love for us. Some people receive love in touch, others in words, some in gifts, etc. He suggests we fix our relationships by learning and speaking our partner’s love language.
It’s an amazing book, yes. But there’s more. Perhaps Chapman did not write more because the little bit that’s missing is so automatic to him that he does not feel it’s worth mentioning. And yet, that little bit changes everything.
Yes, showing love is important, but it’s not all there is. If all you do is prove your love, you will always be stuck on the surface, never knowing how to get deep beneath. And when we don’t get deep with each other, we suffer all the shades of love deprivation, including loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
To build genuinely compassionate and intimate relationships, we need to reconnect with what love really means.
On some level, we’re all struggling with making this transition from surface level changes to deep, meaningful, lasting ones.
I once knew a brilliant, radiant woman, with one big problem—she did not feel loved by her partner. Day and night, she would worry and complain about how her relationship was falling apart. She went through relationship book after relationship book. Then, she found Chapman’s book. She thought it was a godsend.
And, for a while, it really was. (Because, as I said, it’s a wonderful book, a great tool.)
She read the book, shared it with her partner, and they set to applying the strategies. She asked for words of affirmation (praise, compliments, and such). He asked for acts of service (cooking, cleaning, and such).
They went on wonderfully. For a little while. Then, that honeymoon ended.
Suddenly, things were back to where they were before.
She was back to feeling unloved, yet it was not the same feeling as before. Now, it was worse. Now, she could not tell herself that it was some accident. Now, she knew he was well aware of what she asked for, and he still refused to do it!
She was crestfallen.
Things were worse. Was it Chapman’s book that made things worse? That would be too easy.
I think the real culprit is the popular, troublesome, and dangerous idea that lovers must constantly “communicate love” to one another.
Is there anything more frustrating than having to say something over and over again? Yet this is what modern-day relationship advice tells us to do—communicate your love. Show it, express it, and don’t you dare miss a day. Your partner will be terribly unhappy if you do.
Imagine that you were in a relationship with a person who kept forgetting your name. Imagine having to tell them, again and again, year after year. How exhausting!
Imagine being in a relationship with someone who cooked for you and forgot, again and again, that you despise the taste of coriander. Imagine that this person continued to put it in your food. How frustrating!
Must you communicate your feelings every day simply to prove they are true? Must you speak the truth again and again for it to be believed?
There is something inherently flawed about the idea that, to make a great relationship, we must force ourselves to repeatedly communicate something that should already be known.
Think of how strange this is: if I don’t remind you of my love, you’ll forget I feel it. Even worse, if I don’t tell you, you will doubt me. You will doubt my love.
Is that not disheartening?
If I do not tell you, each day, each moment, that I still love you, you lose faith in me. This makes me feel as if you do not trust me. You doubt my words. You doubt me.
Who wants to be in such a relationship?
Yet imagine the opposite. Imagine being in the sort of relationship where you simply do what you please, and your partner does what he or she pleases. You enjoy soft music and rose petals, and your partner couldn’t care less. Your partner enjoys praise and gifts, which you never give.
Who wants to be in that sort of relationship?
Both seem awful.
This is why much of relationship advice works for just a little while. It takes us from one extreme to another. We feel better simply because of novelty. We swing on the pendulum from extreme selfishness to extreme selflessness. Neither state is sustainable.
And yet, The Five Love Languages would work very well with one small adjustment—motivation. The important question is this: why should we try to meet one another’s needs?
If we want to build long-term, healthy relationships, we must learn to transcend the idea of doing things for each other to prove our love, and instead learn to facilitate each other’s already existing experience of it.
Love is my own responsibility. Love is all around me. Love is the food of my soul. In order to live happily and peacefully, I must learn to harness my own food. I must learn to feed myself.
It is no one’s responsibility to feed me. How dangerous to leave the responsibility for my own hunger in someone else’s hands!
When I am with my lover, I relax enough to remember who I am. It is easier for me to feed my soul. He helps me to return to the peace that is always available.
I do not, however, need him to make me feel loved.
How can I feel unloved if I love myself?
Love is like air. I never doubt that there is air all around me. I do, however, sometimes get short of breath. I cannot blame my partner for this, nor can I make him responsible. I can, however, ask for help.
This is the potential within our relationships. In order to experience the love all around us to the utmost, we must relax. When we feel closed off and uptight, we can ask for our lover’s help.
If you relax when you are touched in some way, then by touching you, I help you relax. If I relax when I am spoken to in a certain way, than speaking to me in this way will help me relax.
Our relationship can then be a vessel for awareness.
The highest awareness comes in times of complete surrender, and that is what we can do—help each other surrender.
Like this, we can learn about each other. We can learn to live together. We can learn to help one another become more aware and more open.
Love does not come and go as we tense up, nor as we relax. Love is always here. We do not blame one another for being open or closed off to it. We simply help each other come back.
Using your partner as your only method for opening to love and then blaming him or her for slipping up—this is slave-driving. Is it not? Is this a respectful way to treat a human being? Is this not using someone to fill the spaces created by your own insecurities?
When two people come together with an understanding of their own truth, there is no need for one person to feel unworthy and the other to feel pressured. Both can play the helper and the helped, yet beyond those roles lies a deep, loving self-awareness.
This is the real love language—two souls speaking to one another through two people who allow themselves to see who is really there across from them.
It is a language we do not need to learn because it is already flowing from within us.
We must simply trust and allow.