Most of what we think of as “love” is bullshit

Here’s how real love does and does not go.

“Young man, why are you eating that fish?”

“Because I love fish,” the young man answers.

“Oh, you love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it. Don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and because the fish tastes good to you, therefore you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.”

So much of what we think is ‘love’ is really this.


“Beautiful” is not love

When I was breaking up with my boyfriend of five years, he responded with a heartfelt, “but I want to be with you!”

As though that makes sense as a rebuttal.

As though his needs alone were enough. As though saying that would somehow make me forget my own dissatisfaction, like “oh! well damn, aiight.” As though that was an appropriate, loving response.

I sighed. And then I asked him “why do you want to be with me?”

And he looked me in the eye and actually said to me, “because you’re beautiful.” Full stop.

And that’s how he broke my heart and confirmed my decision in about 1 second flat.


“Whenever someone tells me I’m beautiful, they’re telling me they love themselves. They’re telling me that they want to be around people and things that give them pleasure, and that my physical appearance gives them pleasure. But, they’re not telling me that they care about me.” — Emma Lindsay, Fish Love

So many women are ready and willing to accept “beautiful” as the highest compliment; embrace it as the pinnacle of their person. But it’s not.

That comment really says nothing about you.

“Finding someone beautiful is not love, it is self love. Because finding someone extremely pleasurable is not love, it is self love.”

I still struggle with what to do when being called “beautiful.” Most days (and it is most days, being a bartender) I can brush it off a little and laugh; I can accept this low level of discourse from someone across the bar, who doesn’t know me, never will, and, frankly, isn’t invited to; for whom I’m paid to be how they want to see me, “beautiful” included.

But part of me still bristles every time a partner or potential partner says this, especially because they always fucking list it first.

Every time it happens, the music stops for me a little, like: oh. yeah. that’s right.

I have to triage — either push through it; ask and look for other things; deliberately stack things in their favor regardless of their indiscretion; do the work and paint a prettier picture for us both… or pretend and look the other way.

Because “beautiful” is never, ever love. We romanticize this culturally, but we’re wrong.

“If you spend your life looking for love by trying to find someone who thinks you’re crazy beautiful, you won’t find love. If you spend your life trying to find someone you think is beautiful, you won’t find love.”

If someone thinks you are beautiful, but doesn’t care about your feelings or your reality — or, more specifically, if they prefer that your feelings and reality simply mirror their own or otherwise be uncomplicated for them — then they do not love you. They like you as fish.

Same goes for being liked for “security” or any number of other major features you may offer.

“If you believe you can be nourished by this kind of love, you will be disappointed.”


Attachment is not love

We confuse these two, accepting the former as a demonstration of the latter and bastardizing the whole idea of love in the process.

Love is relaxed. Love does not “leash.” Love would never even consider tethering their beloved. Love does not expect or make demands.

Love is not fucking “grabby.”

These are all attachment, and they are weak and toxic demonstrations of affection at best, loaded with insecurity and ego-centeredness.

Wanting to be together or text all the time is not love. Wanting consistent reassurance is not love. Yearning for or pining over is not love. Wanting — at all — is not love.

Love is give, not take.

Love is pushing energy toward them, not wanting or pulling their energy to you. Not sometimes, or “for as long as it seems fair.” Always. Love is never keeping score on energy exchange. Love is only offering. Anything else is attachment and ego.

When you make demands that benefit you, it is not love. If you think in terms of your own desires, even if you think your interests are “mutually beneficial” or for “the good of the relationship,” it is not love.

Pulling, grabbing, demanding, coercing… is never love.

Allowing and liberating and giving are.


Heartbreak is not love

It is focusing on your own feelings, not theirs. This is especially true if you are heartbroken following a breakup or divorce — i.e., something one or both of you decided — rather than an incident over which neither of you had control (i.e, death.)

If you are more concerned with your own emotions, negative and challenging as they may be, than seeking to understand, empathize with, and accept their reasons, then this is not love. It is self-interest.


Parent-Child Love

Every time I break up with a boyfriend, I break my mother’s heart a little too.

And sure, it’s partly because she “just wants me to be with someone” (an inclination that we’re all so quick to chalk up as “love” when it isn’t, given that it directly usurps my own, actual life decisions) but mostly because: the woman just can’t fucking deal with change.

She gets to know someone and suddenly thinks I owe her their permanence in my life and hers. And when that ceases to be the case, she piles more emotion onto my breakup than I do, clinging to my exes and continuing to stay in touch with them (sometimes for years), occasionally turning to me and saying things like, “you messed up; you made a mistake.” Even when it was bullshit love and, knowing that, I’m better off without them. Mama, she don’t fuckin care.

My mother also hates it when I change jobs. She hated when I dropped my startup — because she just “liked telling people” I had my own business. Nevermind it wouldn’t scale and wasn’t what I wanted in the longterm.

How she fails to see that any of this is a far cry from real love astounds me. Maybe she just doesn’t care. That I can believe.

We think this sort of shit is okay — endearing even; “motherly” — simply because “all moms” think and act this way. But that’s just our societal (and, frankly, women’s “Feminine Mystique”-esque) insecurity speaking.

And it sure as fuck isn’t love.

I care for her, but I’m also pretty sure I tolerate this simply because I choose to honor my social obligation to.

I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love you
According to my bond, no more nor less.

Cordelia, King Lear

And I think she fails to realize how quickly I will cease to tolerate it the minute that scale tips in favor of “zero fucks.”

We think the parent-child relationship somehow saves love — maintains it in some pure form — but we’re often wrong. Every reason to have a child is fundamentally selfish or socially-construed, and everybody lives with this dynamic hanging over them from a parent.


Marriage

Is like the pinnacle of fish love. A wedding is the frying pan; all the years after, the plate. (Divorce and falling out, perhaps, the disposal.)

“I’m gonna make her my wife,” we say, and accept as the measure of romantic achievement.

Because we want to mark them as our own; want some legal binding to make this thing more like “forever.” God forbid they continue to roam the earth as an individual, with no legal obligation not to stray. God forbid we love them as their own person without a sense of ownership or agency over them.

With our goal first being marriage, and the person only being the means. Or with another person being the object of our desire, and marriage being the vehicle through which to get that shit on lock down. And sure, it isn’t always the case — I know there are people tightly tethered to their own True Love Story, who will get defensive about the Real Romance that they have, and that’s fucking fine. But, outside of you two Genuine Lovebirds, this shit is often fish.


Self-love

It’s not that self-love is wrong. In fact, genuine love requires you to first love yourself. The problem is that too many of us don’t self-love using ourselves, and we instead use other human beings to achieve it.

And the even bigger problem is that that’s the only way so many of us seem to know how to interact, and it’s perpetuated by what we see from other people, media, and society.

So often we approach other living and breathing human beings looking to reduce them to a set of characteristics; pick and choose how to see them and collect from them what makes us feel good and keep us company on a Friday night.

Love is care, not consumption. It is about first loving yourself; having a whole existence with enough sustenance that you do not need to pull love off of those around you.

And when we finally direct our attention at others, love is about give and not take.


Love is not a feeling. Love is an act.

We’ve all heard this and some of us even believe it, and yet when we’re asked why we love our beloved, we continue to dumbly reply: “because she/he is ___.”

i.e., we love them because of what they represent for us — and provide.

But good love has nothing to do with what they are or what we harvest from them. Good love is the way in which we love them — it’s us loving their very being, us loving their essence, us loving their ups and downs and imperfections and dumb complaints and irritations and short-comings and differences, for fucks sake, us loving their decisions — each day.

We fail to realize that the answer to “why?”, in true love, is something more like “because I choose to.”

And that the bigger question in love is more like “how” we’ll love as an act so hard and fast and deep, and less about “to whom” or “why.”

How I’ll love you (both lightly and forever)

You were free to stay or leave. I am free to love you either way.

Lightly

For me, love is always a carefree sort of affair. I love lightly. (And when things stop working, I say something, and then I leave. As you’ve seen.)

One explanation is that I’m love avoidant. But the other explanation, or perhaps a deeper one, is that: I have no dominion over you.

The only claim I have is the one I choose for myself — it is my prerogative to wake up each morning and feel how I’ll feel about you; to feel any which way I’d like and continue to recommit if I so choose. But that doesn’t mean I can ask the same of you.

Ultimately, it was me who left. But if you had, I would have let you.

But at the same time, you leaving is just one half of it. In the same way that you decide your feelings, I can go on deciding mine.

Forever

You have agency over yourself. But I have agency over my feelings toward you. Those are mine to keep.

I’m grateful to have at least had some time together, which will fade into a pleasant, pretty blip in what is otherwise the fabric of our lives.

How to get love from someone who’s guarded

Breathe.

Step 1.) Understanding attachment styles

In all, there are four attachment styles: secure, fearful, anxious/preoccupied (love addict), and dismissive (love avoidant). Let’s focus on the second two.

On the surface, the “love avoidant” seems to be afraid of intimacy and the “love addict” afraid of abandonment.

But deep down, the avoidant is actually afraid of abandonment and the addict is actually afraid of intimacy.

THE LOVE AVOIDANT’S GOAL

Is the same as the love addict’s: to get our needs met.

THE LOVE AVOIDANT’S NEEDS

Are the same as the love addict’s: for things to be okay.

The only difference between them is how we go about them. While the love addict desperately seeks this validation from their partners, the love avoidant has learned its best to depend only on themselves.

“INTIMACY” vs. “INDEPENDENCE”

Are both only cover-up demands; the way our needs manifest by way of explanation on the surface.

Nobody actually needs intimacy or independence — they are both just tools to get our real needs met; comfort zones where we feel most reassured that things are okay.

So it’s not that the love avoidant values “space” and “independence” in and of itself, though we may, but more likely that we’ve learned to lean on ourselves, and space allows us the domain in which to do that.

So the goal isn’t to strip away our space and independence. (It’s also not to push intimacy on us.) The goal is to build out a moat of meeting our actual needs so that we no longer crave independence and instead trust intimacy (both of which continue to be byproducts.)

OUR “FEAR” OF INTIMACY

Is not real.

Our aversion to “intimacy” is not an aversion to closeness — we want connection as much as the next guy. It’s actually an aversion to:

1. Being drained — which is a very real, not imagined, risk

What happens is that because the love addict does not have enough self-love, they instead demand it from others and become an energy suck on those around them.

2. Being left high and dry

Because when we let you in, we’re trusting you. And our greatest (learned) fear is that when we rely on others, they let us down.

As a love avoidant, my primary fear isn’t intimacy — it’s being fucked over. I may have a very low tolerance for clinginess, but my real deal is with “bullshit.”

Because while I may consider clinginess to be a dealbreaker, dodging it is simply a “deactivation” strategy — doing so is emotionless, with little negative impact on me beyond irritation.

What really hurts me, however, is when I make myself vulnerable and my partner drops the ball: letting me down, being toxic, dragging me through the mud, or bullshitting (including exaggerating their own feelings, especially to themselves.) That’s an actual aversion (with a lot of potential emotion), so I have far less chill for “fuckery” than I have for “neediness.”

We don’t need to know that we’re okay. We already know that. We need to be reassured that you’re okay — without always being the one to reassure you.

A WORD ON “SEFLISHNESS”

The love avoidant gets the bad rep for selfishness, but the reality is that the love addict is just as guilty of it. It’s just that “intimacy” is a more socially-acceptable demand.

But both of them encroach on or violate the comfort zone of their partner to prioritize their own interests.

Don’t just try to get your needs met, or project and pretend a love avoidant should want the same thing. You may crave intimacy, but this doesn’t mean the avoidant ever will. They may learn to appreciate or enjoy it, but they will never need it like a love addict believes they do. Again, intimacy (and independence) are merely manifestations and channels; personal preferences — and prerogatives.

Step 2.) How to behave

How to ask a love avoidant to open up

Don’t. Remember: the goal isn’t to get us to open up. The real goal is to feel okay. You want us to reassure you; we want to not feel drained.

You want love? Love isn’t focusing on your wants — it’s focusing on your partner’s.

All a love avoidant wants from you is to know that you’re “safe” to let into their space. (And this is their idea of “safe;” not yours.) Show them that by giving (demonstrating sanity, consistency, composure, and reliability) — not by taking or making demands — and they will.

Don’t demand communication. (This includes everything from “daily texts” to “tell me what you’re thinking” and “don’t you love me?”) Don’t push intimacy on us (again, that’s your thing and not ours.)

What you want is reassurance that we’re thinking about you and care — that everything’s okay. But all you get when you make demands is obligation and resentment. If you want genuine love, let it happen organically.

Don’t just allow us independence and All Of The Space — because again, that’s just our excuse on the surface. Focus on and satisfy our (real) needs and we’ll oblige you on yours.

How to respond when we do open up

Rule #1: Don’t grab more than what’s offered (see above)

Don’t make sudden claim to an area of our life just because we shared.

To you this feels nice; to us it feels pushy. Imagine a situation where someone made you feel uncomfortable, realize that unwelcomed advances always read as “oblivious” at best (and “selfish” at worst), and avoid it or reap the fallout of our subsequent avoidance.

Also, do things without plea bargains or strings attached, such as pleading for excessive gratitude or tit-for-tat repayment beyond a simple “thank you.”

Rule #2: when we finally open up, take care of it and do not drop the ball. (Never, ever violate this if you want us to continue doing so.)

We may start with low-risk things. Even small, seemingly “un-intimate” things — letting you help with everyday errands and other acts of service — can feel vulnerable to us, so take care with them. If we allow you to help us, always follow through. Lighten our load rather than piling more shit on.

When we start sharing bigger stuff: Listen, be calm, don’t drain, demand more than we’re giving, or add more to our plate. Don’t interrupt when we’re sharing. Don’t tell us we feel something different than we say. Don’t express more emotion than we do. Don’t demand reassurance on our shit. Don’t use our shit against us in a fight. Don’t make our shit your insecurity. Don’t share our shit with your friends. Don’t pile more on to our shit. Be calm.

Create a positive experience: when we give you what you want (talking, texting, opening up), you have to give us what WE want in response. Create space rather than crowd; respond lightly or not at all. When you do, we’ll develop comfort in doing it more on our own, and you’ll get what you wanted (love) in an actual genuine way.

Invest in your own growth

The love avoidant’s growth is letting people in. The love addict’s growth is learning to stand on their own two feet — to develop emotional self-sufficiency and self-esteem.

Meet us halfway, here — or at least make an effort.

In short

If you want intimacy from a love avoidant, you can’t sell us on intimacy in and of itself (and you shouldn’t be selling yourself on this, either.) You have to use intimacy, when we allow it, to a.) help us meet our real needs and b.) demonstrate that you’re trustworthy and won’t violate that space (by clawing our emotional “eyes” out.)

Why I never said I love you even though I probably did

I wasn’t sure what authentic love is, and the last thing I wanted to do is bullshit.

“Intuition” isn’t good enough. It wasn’t so much a fear of intimacy or vulnerability as it was a fear of fuckery — I don’t trust my judgment.

On the one hand, feel is:

He was very dear to me.

I wanted him to feel loved and cared for. I wanted him to have whatever made him happy, both short and long term. I asked about his day because I actually cared. I listened when he talked; heard between the lines. I touched him often and never pulled away when he touched me, because I know doing so pains those with the “physical” love language and pain is the last thing I wanted for him.

I wanted to protect him. I didn’t like when he had bad days at work or hit traffic on the way home. It wasn’t cute when his buddies gave him shit. God help any bartender who brought him the wrong drink. I would have had it out with anyone who had it out for him. I wanted him un-maimed and unhurt.

I made friends with his friends even though they’re not my kind of people. We frequented his favorite bars and avoid the ones he hates.

He was singular, and not a stand-in. My care for him was not dispensable or transferable. If it hadn’t been it would have been no one, and I hope he knew that.

Loving him felt as easy and as obvious as grabbing beers with him. Like, “of course — you’re my boy.” Cheers to this.

He was so heartwrenchingly deserving of love, and I wanted that for him so hard.

I didn’t want him to hurt, ever.

But feel is also:

I was what hurt him.

I couldn’t promise I’d always be there. I couldn’t swear I’d never leave. I couldn’t assure him I wouldn’t break his heart or otherwise fuck him over, and it seems like we don’t do that sort of thing to people we love.

Everything I gave him was authentic, and that includes the numerous times I told him: I’m a runner.

I love lightly. I leave. I do things like move to Asia.

Do we knowingly accept that we might hurt people we say we love? Do we admit this shit out loud?

Is it love if it’s as easy to walk away as it was to give? I don’t know. And the hard part here is being torn between this hit-me-over-head obvious affection, and the other inclinations I know I also had.

I’ll take cheap coffee but not cheap love

I get up 20 minutes after he leaves for work, long enough that if he forgot something and came back in, he’d still get to have the imagery and fantasy of me in his bed. And long enough that I can pretend my getting up is a separate act from him getting up, so that I can still imagine the start of my day is not influenced by the start of his. (When of course it is.)

But not so long that I can’t still get up early. Because I want to get up early, too — I miss that. Because that’s his thing and not mine right now.

I am dutiful when he leans over me just before leaving every morning, says goodbye and tells me to “have a good day;” dutiful when I say “thank you — you too” and then give that soft, contented sigh as I roll back over against his sheets. Dutiful for those few minutes I wait, check my phone, until the time is right and I get up.

I pick up his t-shirt from last night off the floor, turn it right side out, and pull it over my head, then wander into the kitchen and pad across the hardwood to make myself some cheap coffee in the cheap coffee pot I bought for his place.

It’s the only thing of mine that’s permanently here. The only other traces are the cheap backpack slumped on the floor, the boots haphazard near the door, and the motorcycle key, with its faded service shop fob, tossed onto the counter. And all of that goes with me each time I leave.

I think he hates it when I leave.

I think this because he’s told me — with increasing directness — that he wants me to live there with him. But I think he doesn’t quite understand how these “living together” things work — namely, that they require sacrifices, like closet space. And compromises, on things like the household rules and idiosyncrasies, all of which are currently his. But, above that, that both people have to want to and he doesn’t understand that I simply don’t, because I can’t yet bring myself to say so and explain the real reason why.

I tell him I want to bring him into my neck of the woods — which is in the literal woods, which I fucking love — even though I don’t want to actually show him the house. He’s disappointed that I’m “guarded” and “not opening up.” I’m disappointed that he doesn’t understand that me bringing him even that far into my world is, for me, opening up. Because the house isn’t about the house — it’s about the trees, the drive, the time, the space, which nobody else has ever seen. He gets things I don’t share with any others, but sort of rejects them and then gets grabby about not seeing “enough.” And that’s hard.

I have watched this scene play out before.


I struggle with the question of personal agency in relationships. Namely: I want agency over my own self. I want final say over the definition of my person, and I want that same person to be the one that’s seen and cared for by others. I don’t think it’s fair for other, separate beings orbiting you in the universe to claim to care about you while simultaneously assigning things to you you don’t want, or taking from you what wasn’t offered.

The romantics and sentimentalists and, let’s be real, 99% of people, look at this and chastise me. They swoon over the possibilities and want this rosy picture; they spell out the word “Love” with a capital “L;” make long, heartfelt explanations about the fact that I’ll never have It if I don’t “let people in” or “open up” or “share.” And I listen and nod but I’m really thinking: I have no issue with the sharing part. It’s the taking, not the giving, that causes concern. The real problem isn’t being seen, but being seen differently, or lesser, or wrong.

I share the side of me that matters most, that I don’t share with anyone, and they want something else, and everyone else is pushing me to go along, and the whole thing makes me feel cheapened, both overlooked and under-seen.

I still have the oval, off-color mark on my right calf from when I pressed it against the hot pipe on an ex-boyfriend’s bike. I was fucking around; being stupid — climbed into the saddle in cut-off shorts and grabbed the handlebars, mocking as though to ride, and for a split second brushed my leg against the pipe.

He said it’d eventually go away, but two years later, it’s still there. Part of me still believes him that it will; part of me doesn’t. Most of me doesn’t bother about it too much either way.

We make ourselves vulnerable for others; we get burned. It almost doesn’t matter whether those marks do or do not fade away. What matters more is not doing it again.

I still read blogs and sites intended for mid-20’s people, and I guess I should feel weird about that. But then I consider what my women my age are maybe “supposed” to be reading — shit about weddings and babies or corporate ladders — and that feels like bigger bullshit than finding a purpose and wandering around would-be love.

On the one hand, I’m lingering around in a group that increasingly won’t be mine. On the other hand, however, I’m already eons older; some little old bitty leaning over the railing of a boardwalk somewhere, white hair loose and ragged in the wind.