I’d like to end my series on the obstacles to love with a few last thoughts about what love is. We’ve been talking about obstacles to love as tangled patterns of desire and then trying to get ourselves untangled by learning that desire itself is triangular (we learn what to desire by imitating the desires of others). We looked at five different patterns of desire to better understand how the triangle of desire operates in our relationships: Best Friend Forever, Celebrity Chef, Super Hero, Rock Star and Sidekick. In this last post of the series, I will focus on the last two chapters of my book which are devoted to freeing ourselves from the tangled rope by realizing that real, honest to goodness love is a gift with no strings attached. In fact, love is not just a gift, it is Gift itself.
Competitive Gift Giving: Not Love!
What does that mean? Well, a gift is something we give one another that somehow or other seems to tie us into an obligation to give something back. Think of whom you exchange birthday presents with. It’s always someone who gives you a gift on your birthday and if someone outside of that circle happens to give you a gift, don’t you feel obligated to find out when their birthday is and return the giving? A gift always involves a reciprocal obligation. What happens when the person you gave a $15 wall plaque to that said, “You can pick your friends, you can pick your nose but you can’t pick your friend’s nose” and on your next birthday they give you a pair of tickets to a concert worth $150? Don’t you feel embarrassed and very much in debt to them? The expensive gift feels a bit like one-upmanship with you on the bottom and your friend gloating over you in his generosity. You can’t wait till his birthday to make things right by giving him a $200 cashmere sweater with his initials embroidered on it. A gift has turned into a game of “can you top this” and it’s all about making sure your gift earns you more prestige points than your friend’s earned him.
Giving With No Strings Attached: Love!
Okay, that is NOT what love is. Love is Gift, not a gift. Gift is giving without any expectation of getting something in return. It is simply the giving itself with no strings attached. When you give that way, you form a different type of relationship with the person you are giving to. With a gift, it’s a competitive relationship disguised as generosity that creates tensions and resentments. To avoid this, friends and family will often put a spending limit on gifts or decide together that the gifts must all be home-made or better yet, dispense with the gift giving and just spend some time together. That at least avoids the risk that someone will get caught up in the game of competitive gift giving. Love is giving non-competitively.
Love Creates Something New: Relationship
When two people engage in this kind of giving, something remarkable happens. They begin to build something, actually create something new that did not exist before. Often we call this thing the “relationship” though it’s different than the competitive type of relationships we usually have. The love relationship is bigger than the sum of the parts, as the saying goes. When you find someone whom you decide to love, which means you will be giving the gift of yourself to them with no strings attached and they will be giving the gift of themselves to you with no strings attached for the rest of your lives (that part is important), you begin to build this “relationship” which is the two of you and more than the two of you. I like to think of it as a safe place where you can just be and no one is going to judge you, or hold anything against you, or keep tabs on who has been giving more or less than the other person.
How Deep is Your Love?
Now this kind of thing requires a great deal of trust, which is why you can’t enter into it thinking that it has the shelf life of ripe avocados. No, this thing you are entering into together better last longer than Twinkies® or there’s no way you’d be that open, that vulnerable, that giving with someone. Love is making yourself as open to another human being as you can be, and if you can’t trust that they will love you no matter what they see behind your carefully groomed facade, then the experiment is doomed to failure and the “relationship” will be a sham. The only way it can work is if the both of you decide that the “relationship” is a treasure that is more valuable to you than any earthly treasure you can imagine, even greater than any earthly treasure you possess which you willingly give to your lover with no strings attached (that means no pre-nups). Even worth more to you than finding relief from the hard work and pain of self-discovery that being in a relationship inflicts on you from time to time.
In this video, Adam Ericksen and I discuss love as gift and I share a time early in my marriage when things were so bad no one would have blamed my husband Keith for leaving me. And if you follow this link you will find a wonderful description of the Custodian pattern, the one we are all striving for in our love relationships, along with a video dramatization of a Custodian couple (the couple is played by two actors who just happened to be in love!).
Editor’s Note: Are you in a love tangle and having trouble figuring your way out? Find out your own romantic pattern with The Wicked Truth About Love Questionnaire!
The Wicked Truth About Love: The Tangles of Desire contains a full discussion of the triangular nature of desire and all the tangles, including advice on how to get untangled and back on the path to love. Just in time for Valentine’s Day!
Images: Susan Drawaugh