Love songs and poetry are very fond of putting love on a pedestal, isolating it from the rest of reality. Love is all you need. Love is conquers all. Every so often, I feel like my brain is going to explode with all the responses such lyrics stir in my mind, and I have to unpack them yet again. Much of what I have to say here I have said before, and will say again. Maybe there is something new here, maybe there is not. It’s enough sometimes just to let it out again.
Love is not all you need. Love is the least you need. Love by itself solves no problems. Love does, however, provide excellent motivation for solving the problems you may have.
Love is the strong foundation of a house that can be as grand or as airy as you then built it to be. Without a solid foundation, even a beautiful house may crumble, but without walls, a roof, floors, windows, and doors, a foundation is no house at all.
So no, love is not enough – you also need respect, admiration, validation, compassion, honesty, interdependence, understanding, trust, and for any of that to occur in the first place, you need some openness.
Making yourself worthy of love isn’t about changing who you are, it’s about learning how to express yourself in a way that is both honest, and respectful of others. This can be terrifying, because so many people believe they will not be loved if they are truly known, and thus hide part or all of themselves in order to be loveable. But this does not work. You must be honest about who you are in order to receive love, because if people do not have the opportunity to truly know you, then the love they have isn’t for you, it’s for the person they imagine you to be.
There is no such thing as being worthy or unworthy of love at all. There is readiness for love. There is perception of love. There is openness to love. And yes, there is rejection of love. But there is no way to unearn love. There is no way to stop love.
However, this is exactly why it is dangerous to think that experiencing love for someone else is itself a sign you can or should trust or admire them. To love a person is to recognize that their existence has value, and that value – that Beauty – is something you appreciate and are moved by. You can still disapprove quite vehemently of their actions. You can still realize that they are incompetent, or incompatible. You may still need to avoid interacting with them. It’s hard when it happens, but the fact that you still love them – or even that they still love you – is entirely separate from whether you should condone their behavior.
Love is an excellent reason, but a very poor excuse.
A lot of advice hinges on independence – that we can not survive emotionally if we are not centered within ourselves. Ultimately, I believe this is true. However, being centered within yourself does not preclude focusing outward, and contrarily, lacking a strong sense of self can lead to being centered outside yourself, while being focused on yourself from the outside in, which is the problem usually being identified when people say it’s bad to seek validation only from others. If you are not centered within yourself, all that validation is essentially going into a void, because there’s nobody there to take it in and keep it – so you end up seeking it over and over again, like trying to collect water with a sieve.
It’s true that loving yourself is very important. So is respecting yourself, and learning to both trust your own judgement, and to have judgement you can trust. What is not true is the idea that if you don’t love yourself, nobody else will love you. You are loved whether you love yourself or not. What makes love so hard when you don’t love yourself is that it’s very difficult to believe you are loved, it’s very difficult to accept and thus experience that love. Worse yet, it’s very difficult to respect someone who loves a person you find unworthy of love. If you don’t respect someone, you’re likely to treat them poorly. If you don’t believe you are worthy of love, and thus do not respect those who love you, you are likely to push away exactly the people who you are seeking.
So yes, if you want to experience being loved, you may find it necessary to first find love for yourself. But you can try to tackle that from other directions instead. You can try respecting people for loving someone you find unlovable, even if you don’t really understand it. You can try trusting that others do actually love you whether or not you agree that you are lovable. You may find it easier to love yourself by first realizing that those who love you are not somehow all crazy in this same isolated way – or if they are, that being that kind of crazy might rather suit you.
Gods are especially helpful in this. They get on with their ineffable loving us and when we balk and claim our unworthiness, They are ever so fond of pointing out that it is not up to us who They love, nor do we have any business questioning Their judgement on the subject. They love us whether we like it or not, whether we understand it or not, whether we believe we are worthy of it or not, whether we can handle it or not. Maybe we have to learn to suck it up before we can learn to appreciate it. Maybe we have to learn to appreciate it before we can learn to emulate it. Maybe it takes a lifetime to reach a point where we have learned to love what the gods love because we love the gods, and therefore to finally love ourselves in Their honor. If we’re lucky, maybe it doesn’t take so long at all.
(This bit of message, by the way, is part of what makes Jesus so popular.)
“I don’t understand,” you may say. “If love is all that you say and nothing you say it is not, why does love matter at all?”
Let me ask you this: In all that you do each day, how often do you take an accounting of whether there will be air where you go, whether you must be breathing while you do whatever else you do?
And how many of those things could you do if there were no air?
Well, whoever said it first was right – Love really is like oxygen – it’s so essential to our existence that we die without it, but most of what we must focus on and make choices about is several levels above that basic need, and thus more complicated. Love is almost too basic to be bothered with, right up until we feel it’s missing, or in danger of going missing, and then it’s the only thing that matters.