The romantic myth of Valentine’s Day would have you believe that your love is delivered in a box of chocolates or bouquet of flowers. If only it were that easy.
Lasting love is built on a foundation of trust and intimacy. And that cannot be ordered on-line from FDT or Amazon. When mutual trust becomes established, you allow powerful feelings to surface knowing the shared, tender emotions make you vulnerable to the risk of potential heartbreak. Intimacy is sharing on a level of mutual understanding without elaborate intellectualizing, the connection evolving from ‘you and me’ into simply ‘we’ (with an important asterisk).
* It is vital to know at the start that you will remain whole whether the relationship flourishes… or subsides. To do that, you must love yourself.
It’s wonderful to be in love, the time together when feelings are so intense you literally feel overwhelmed. And therein lies the danger; the fear of disappearing; losing individuality to the overwhelming power of “the couple.” fearful of being hopelessly immersed in love’s coils, smitten numb and desperately afraid of being abandoned. Roses and bon bons cannot save you now!
Self-love is not being selfish. To the contrary, it understands that the “other” is also oneself. It understands that love stands alone without a prefix, inherently compassionate and empathic. It looks to the heart as the metaphoric seat of unconditional loving energy, the wellspring from which pours gratitude, compassion, optimism and expansiveness, flowing from grace, of its own will and timing. Self-love allows room for anger, grief, or pain but does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn’t get what it wants. Love cannot be turned on as a reward; it cannot be turned off as a punishment. Love does not say, “If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you.” Love does not say, “If you want to be loved you must be nice, or do what I want, or never love anyone else, or promise you’ll never leave me.” Paradoxically, the one characteristic always included when defining self-love, is wanting what is best for the other.
When you look in the mirror and see compassion and loyalty and integrity in the reflection, you can feel positive about the person you are, able to sustain an intimate relationship with another without losing yourself in the swirl of emotion that characterizes what the Valentine advertisements call love.
The positive traits you bring to a relationship enable you to dance joyously in the “feeling” of love and stay firm in the sustained commitment that true love requires. The vow intrinsic to “I love you” is the commitment to continue sharing emotionally meaningful communication, each with the other, unwaveringly betting on a positive outcome despite knowing the deep-rooted risk.
As Psychologist Erich Fromm maintained in his book The Art of Loving, the “feeling” of love is superficial in comparison to one’s commitment to love as a concept; thus, love is ultimately not a feeling at all, but rather is an adherence to loving actions towards another, oneself, or many others, over a sustained duration. Love, then, is an activity, not simply a feeling.
So think twice as you send out the Valentine’s Day card that gushes love in flowery verse. Candies and flowers are lovely gifts, but the real gift is delivered long after the chocolates are gone… sharing the joys of a close, loving relationship while simultaneously remaining whole unto yourself.