What if real love life is not perfectly straightforward and organized?
Get born into a loving family with many siblings. Integrate among your peers and lay the foundations of some solid friendships. Become best friends with the people who attract you the most. Date some of them and pick one for physical intimacy. Stick with your lover, have some babies if you can, and/or build something else and see the world then through different eyes. The panoramic view will keep on getting better as you climb. This sounds so idyllic and so simple that we may wonder where we went wrong and why when it is so easy when you read it and so hard when you actually do it. The truth is we all make mistakes all the time, and/or we come from a background of some sort of "inherited" disadvantage such as a single parent, no parents, no siblings, no grandparents, no school and peers around, no peers from the opposite sex around, no money from our family to go and socialize in our teens, infertility, etc.) We have all experienced a fair share of misery so that we can develop compassion, forgiveness, modesty, kindness, socio-emotional intelligence, prudence, and self-regulation. We learn how things should be after seeing how they shouldn't. Having experiences on the dark side of life in the past does not mean we cannot do anything about it at present. You can, and you have to trust that even though you cannot change the past, you can change the present right here, right now. So here are
15 ideas of what you can do to improve the quality of each kind of love
we discussed in the previous post, "The 10 Kinds of Healthy Love and How we Get to Know them." So, let's start fixing:
Familial love (for parents and grandparents) - storge
If you were not born into a loving family environment, apply understanding and forgiveness to those that took care of you at the beginning of your life so that you are not part of the child mortality statistics. Recognize that, like all humans, these people did their best with their limited understanding, made mistakes, and suffered immensely out of them so that you can acquire wisdom not from the scars on your back but from the scars on theirs. Sometimes it is much more valuable than having the perfect start in life and getting progressively worse from there out of excess comfort and carelessness. Your parents' immaturity speeds up your maturation if you apply intentional reflection and search for meaning. It is easy when you have good role models for parents to follow, but it is the most elevating to forgive and love them more than they managed to love you in their own misery. (Remember that misery makes people selfish, and it likes company - more miserable people, and so it breads!)
"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius
Most disadvantaged of all people in the world are the children in orphanages and war combat zones who were brought up without a single positive role model to follow. They are the real martyrs of humanity, and if you are reading this blog, chances are you are not among them.
Self-love - philautia
Unfortunately, you cannot arrive at self-love before you pay the "debt" of your family - transform the vices of their characters into virtues of your character. (For example, if your mother couldn't function as such because of her addiction to alcohol, make sure you will always stay sober.) Fortunately, our family has equipped us unknowingly with everything we need to fix their mistakes. We have the genes, the bad example, and probably many siblings to share the responsibility with. If you suffer from low self-esteem and self-love because of your disadvantaged family background, recognize that there is more to your identity than what you have or have not inherited from your family. You are not an automatic copy of any of your predecessors but a creative selection of traits in an absolutely one-of-a-kind combination that makes you the unique YOU! - there never was, and there never will be another one quite like you, which opens room for hope for a different future. Believe it or not, your parents hoped and will always hope that their children will do better than them. They wish you to succeed even if they are not able to make this hope of theirs obvious to you at the time. After all, it took them immense courage to give you life and bring you out into the world. You'd better recognize it and be grateful to them before they leave this world and populate the world of your memories in your head.
brotherly love (for siblings and cousins)
If you had a poor relationship with your sibling(s), you could always put more effort into fixing it. Recognize that your siblings are your potentially strongest allies in life, not your competition, because they are among the people who (usually) know you for the longest while, and this provides you with someone who can remind you of who you were in the times when you do not remember yourself; some sort of a living diary and chronicles of your best and worst. Just dare to access it in conversation with them and see how the memories you share with them will warm your heart or point your attention to the parts of your life in need of the most urgent reconstruction.
companionable love (for classmates, companions, and colleagues)
If you have never been popular among your peers, there is always an occasion to bond with them (team building activities, a night out, a soccer game, a weekend in the countryside, or else), provided you are ready to try to like them. Suppose you want not to be judged by them, to be understood, welcomed, and appreciated. In that case, you will receive all that the moment you start emitting those things toward them by refraining from judgment and showing appreciation, gratitude, and hospitality. If peers feel intimidating, try training your socio-emotional intelligence first with other younger or older people in your world (neighbors, the cashier at the store, the mates of your siblings, and everyone who could help you get rid of your timidity, negativity, or hostility around peers).
friendly love (for a friend) - philia
The way to check the quality of your existing friendships is to think about your darkest secret and see if there is anybody with whom you would gladly share it without fear or shame. If you have at least 1 person, outside of your family, with whom you can share it, you have a friend. Bartenders and the people in a bar are notoriously used as substitutes for besties. Lonely, friendless people go to open up their hearts to a stranger with the help of some alcohol because it feels the least scary. If you catch yourself practicing this bar psychotherapy, you may need to find a real friend or a psychotherapist who will tell you to do the same. Luckily, there are plenty of ways to establish friendships provided you have the main ingredients for a start: 1) Give yourself enough time to bond with them (friendships are not created overnight, they are not a one-night stand, and they require you to prioritize them in your agenda and calendar: buy each other presents on time for the holidays and birthdays you take care to remember, organize events together, pay each other visits at the hospital during working hours, go shopping together, hold each other's hand at a funeral, help each other with finding a place to live or a new job, etc.) If you are not ready to be there for them, they will not be ready to be there for you, either. It doesn't matter who makes the first move as long as it is made. => 2) Be that someone who approaches peers with the best intentions, and those who are at your level and want to join you at the playground of life will respond positively; you can start the fun immediately. If you get a negative response, take it and move on but don't hang around waiting for that person to change their mind - it is a waste of time! The world is full of people who would like to be your friend for who you are. Remember that you do not want to be inauthentic with anyone, which prevents friendships from forming. When you wait for the one that refused your offer the first time and believe that they did so because you are under their level, you have already lost the chances of being authentic as all of your future actions will be concentrated around proving yourself to them. The reality is that this person was most probably under your level. The more advanced in friendships people get, the more open they are to making new ones, and the more readily they provide a positive response to friendship invitations. So don't bark under the wrong trees while life is going on elsewhere.
romantic/intimate love (for a date)
Some people start looking for a romantic partner before they have ever developed a single true friendship. This mistake causes dissatisfaction with dating reality because the prerequisite friendship skills are not in place. In such cases, the dating scene may appear unfriendly, unapproachable, stupid, boring, exhausting, psycho, or plainly absurd. The reality is simply that we have not developed friendship skills to know how to be first friends (have fun and melt the ice) with the one we date. As a side effect of premature dating, we may even question our sexual orientation when we perceive that we would rather be alone than on that utterly unexciting date. Instead of waiting for that electric thunder to strike you to the bone after the love-at-first-sight lightning (which signals the start of a toxic relationship, however sweetly served), be ready to take your time to get to know the person so you can establish a level of "Platonic" intimacy where you share each other's deepest ideas, dreams, and visions for the future before you engage yourself in physical intimacy. Physical intimacy simultaneously clears and blurs our vision metaphorically. Hence, it is a good idea to declare your deal-breaker points before your senses betray you giving it all up under the influence of chemistry. Unless you get an honest and clear check with yourself on your values, wants, needs, hopes, and dreams prior to romance, you will automatically cling to those of your romantic partner, and you may find out with delay that you do not like theirs to some catastrophic effect. If the person you date has been a friend of yours for a while, dating should be easy, as many of the important talks on life, love, and the universe have been discussed openly and safely under different forms and pretexts throughout the years. But suppose the friendly foundation is barely there. In that case, there is a chance that you try to gloss and sugarcoat your real views just so that you progress faster to the phase of infatuated love (especially when you find the person physically attractive and all sorts of erotic scenarios run through your clouded head).
erotic/ infatuated love (for a lover) - eros
If not raped, pushed, seduced, or talked into it, the first voluntary surrender to another human being with full trust/ without contraception ("safe" sex does not involve the risk that tests trust to its limits) is so symbolically charged that it leaves deep imprints in our psyche. So deep, in fact, that females' capacity to get infatuated and be authentically affectionate and faithful is the purest and strongest with that first sexual partner. This voluntary surrender is possible only when the woman has recognized such qualities in the man that she would like to commemorate and extend them into the creation of offspring. Usually, these are qualities she finds complementary to hers or qualities she shares with him that she would like to save for the sake of evolution. If misfortune strikes and the two separate, the woman will always unconsciously contrast and compare everyone next to the advantage of the first and the disadvantage of the late-comer(s). For all of its importance, it is vital to address the question of whom to lose virginity to with utmost care and responsibility. But how do we women solve such a question?
- For women who believe in the concept of meant-to-be, it is both easier and harder. "Easier" because it does not require any actions to be taken (If we are meant to be, we will be, regardless of myself. Somehow, I will be notified to recognize The one when he comes around.) - it is the lazy autopilot option. Still, it costs a lot of faith and trust in that supernatural sorting things-out instance. It is harder because even if we do grant faith and trust in that instance instead of ourselves, we can never know for how long we need to wait for the meant-to-be love = our savior, to arrive. So we keep on postponing and postponing investing our time in exchange for a hopeful promise of the perfect love coming, just not yet. In the meantime, we are provided some more time to craft further our beautiful fairy tale fantasy we make up of the thin air of would-be "signs" so that it becomes ever harder to be satisfied with any real thing - even if it is greater than what we have imagined. Even when it is exactly what we have imagined, it is now real. We feel robbed of the fantasy we get addicted to spending time fantasizing about. We do not really want to be deprived of this pleasant pastime by having our fantasies materialized in the world. We then gladly (may that be unconscious) embrace the nothing-ever-happens state of affairs because it allows us to keep on fantasizing without ever getting the fantasy destroyed by the action-reaction feedback of reality. Paradoxically, what keeps things still, is the swinging between two kinds of thoughts: 1) when apart from the main character of the fantasy - "He is perfect in every sense, we are soulmates, and I thank the earth and sky for being alive at the same time as he. Our potential for perfection blows my mind, and I would do anything to be with him. I can't wait to give him the world." 2) when actually together - I see from where I stand that he has a long way to go to deserve me, but he is not any close yet. I am not sure he will manage, so I will just wait patiently without moving my finger in my tower of a sleeping beauty while he is out there alone, slaying dragons for me. If he is the one, he will survive his way to me. If not, I can keep sleeping for centuries, waiting for the best. I don't mind loneliness, for perfection in the future is better than imperfection in the present. What does time mean after all?" or "I see from where I stand that I have a long way to go to deserve him, but I am not any close yet. I am not sure I will manage, but I will get to his level even if this is the last thing I will do tomorrow." We may sell these kinds of thoughts as love to ourselves and friends, but in fact, we are not in love with a person; we are in love with a fantasy. We've never allowed him to connect with us, connections are real, and we don't want that because we were always too busy being in love with our fantasy about them for which sustenance we do not even need the man anymore. He did his job as a trigger, and we do not even need him alive to keep the imagination going wild. (Many people experience platonic love for their partner only after the partner dies!) So this is how the concept of meant-to-be works when we look around for a partner or once we have persuaded ourselves that we have "recognized" him. But it keeps on distorting our lives away from the sobering judgment of our senses and perceptions based on experiences in reality. Even worse, when we start a healthy relationship and then somewhen down the road, we entitle our partner to the honor of The "meant-to-be" soulmate of ours. We may start refusing to admit anything that suggests things being otherwise than divinely planned. Even when the relationship becomes toxic, as it inevitably does because the concept of "meant-to-be" has driven our locus of control so far away from us that we are no longer having our hands on the wheel, we stick with its nasty ways because they were "meant to be." In short, the sooner you realize that the meant-to-be concept leads to a form of a sickness of the mind with its sweet escape from action, thus - from the responsibility for those actions, the more time you will have in real life and real love. If my account is not persuasive enough, try Jack London's short story Flush of Gold.
- For women who do not believe in the concept of meant-to-be by the divine design of a match made in heaven, the ideal workaround for never questioning their choice of a mating partner is 1) to casually date the most appealing among the people they have already developed friendly feelings for but to pick only one sex partner and stick to this single choice. The dating phase of some intimacy provides enough material for evaluating the potential physical compatibility. If the woman is in touch with her female intuition and instincts, she will be able to make an informed decision based on that limited sample well enough. The key is to keep it simple: 2) do not promise or expect more than you can give to avoid hurt feelings and broken hearts. It is a huge accomplishment to remain friends with someone you have been romantic with but have not wished to have sex with (progress to the next kind of love together). It might still be possible if you allow each other to explore your chances with others freely and without a sense of ownership and jealousy after you end your romance. If you realize that nobody, not even your future spouse, owes you anything, you can be friends with virtually anyone. It may sound difficult, limiting, or irrelevant to modern days, but in all cases, these two short and easy-to-remember rules make personal life as drama-free and emotionally well-organized as possible. However, a romance that is terminated and prevented from becoming a sexual relationship can never be 100% harmless, for one would always have some hopes destroyed and wishes unfulfilled. Try to date a number of friends that you can afford to lose forever or take care of if you cause them damage you feel responsible for. The best kind of care is to introduce them to someone they can be happy with and let them be, meaning you then disappear from their lives, carrying with you the burden of being a big wound on their pride, potentially for eternity. Messy emotions may not bother you at first, but they grow bigger and more dangerous as the number of romances you have prevented from ending with sex goes up. On the other hand, you cannot have sex with all of your dates just to be sure everyone is pleased because this would break rule 1) and betraying yourself into faking affection is cheap - no one really wants that, you the least. Of course, you may decide to ignore rule 1) as too Platonic and be negligent about the number of dates and sex partners you have. Still, if you care about your long-term happiness, it would be helpful to be familiar with the Institute for Family Studies research that found that (American) women with one sexual partner in their lives are the happiest. Their happiness decreases with the increase in the number of sex partners. This may be caused by many factors, as discussed in the research. Still, most significantly - you will never doubt whether you are experiencing a relationship the best you could if you have invested your energy wisely into it instead of spreading it thin in many places. You really don't want to sabotage yourself by constantly changing projects/ sexual relationships. Of course, I do not suggest that only virgins can be happy in love and that you are doomed if you are no longer. Still, unfortunately, until fidelity becomes one of your priorities, you will not be able to commit really, which closes the doors to the next kinds of love before you. The way to overcome the panic around the self-fulfilling prophecy of "I will fail in my next relationship because I failed my previous, and that's what I do - I fail relationships from the first to the last." is to embrace the gift that your current partner is in your life and put your whole heart into believing that they are the best one you could ever get from now on. If you cannot embrace this idea wholeheartedly and you rebel against it, you do not have any right to expect and demand fidelity from them. Your hesitation and disbelief only waste your time and the time of your lover. To do things right in love, you simply have to stop hesitating. It is risky, but "If you do not risk anything, you risk more." - Erica Jong. Nothing good in life is safe; that's why it is exciting. The paradoxical truth is that if you overcome your doubts and put all of your eggs in one basket and trust that basket to carry them with you down the long road, you will have double the number of eggs in the end. This is the paradox of sharing your real thoughts and feelings: you both come along with 1, but you leave with 2 or more each after the exchange. The more you practice this exchange, the more you will enjoy it.
committed love (for a spouse)
Some people believe that the way to make committed love right is by signing a paper (and vowing in a temple) in public during the traditional marital ritual represented in every country around the globe. While I am not against this formal and official way of committing yourself by once declaring out loud (in an expensive, pompous, and maybe not entirely pleasant and stress-free ceremony) your best intentions to stay true to yourself and your partner for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death, I believe there is more to commitment than this formal and official but only superficial envelope around the essence of commitment. As good as a wedding can be, it could never make out of thin air a substance if the substance is not there previously. A wedding without the essence (=the informal, unofficial core of commitment - the unspoken/ silent testifying of hope, faith, and love for each other) is like a shiny package of a present without the present inside. On the other hand, packages are necessary to keep the present safely stored and hidden away from curious eyes. (Although a very shiny package may attract unnecessary attention among those who are looking for the good stuff to steal or try buying.) Just as formally declared commitments are a 2-edge knife, so are the informal, unspoken commitments - both their power and weakness lie in their demand to constantly prove one's love for self and the other, not by saying one time I do- But by practicing its meaning in silence long before and long after the signature and the vow: every minute, every hour, every day, every night, month after month, year after year silent actions. No ceremony, no guests around, no fancy clothes, no champaign glasses and wedding cakes, no orchestra, no priest, no golden crowns, no red carpet - just you and your partner in the utterly unglamorous everyday life that is more real and more exciting an adventure than any perfectly planned wedding. As the main character in La-la Land says, "This is the dream. It is conflict and compromise; it is very, very exciting!" The statistics show that it is easier to get married than stay married. It might have to do with the fact that it is easier to ask one time The question, "Will you marry me?" but it is harder to keep on asking the same kind of questions about our partner's intentions, wishes, desires, and dreams on a permanent basis - it requires a lot of courage to be ready to hear their answers and put your finger on the pulse of reality for a check that may not always be in your favor. In short, institutionalized marriage is not a guarantee for love (otherwise, divorces and domestic abuse among married wouldn't exist), and no marriage is not a sign of the absence of love. But two married people who recognize that marriage is re-done, re-signed, and re-vowed on a constant daily basis is perfection.
unconditional/parental love (for children and grandchildren) - storge
Some believe that grandparents love their grandchildren more than they love their children because they have earned with age a more favorable disposition: more time on their hands to enjoy family life without work, more life experience to face small incidents calmly, and more perspective to give the right advice and judgment from the point of wisdom. If you know many examples of such elderly people, you can consider yourself lucky, for you need not apply too much imagination to make up just an exemplary role model. If you know more of the opposite type: grumpy, bitter, and sour old people who never smile and always complain, you will have to put in some extra work to avoid following in their tracks. You can do this by making sure you stay in touch with your family, and your family is glad to take care of you because they consider you an important part of their lives; they pay due respect and honor. If you were not there for your children at the time, you could at least try to be around your grandchildren and provide them with all the attention and love you could. If you cannot provide heartfelt care but have accumulated a fortune, you could help them financially, for you will not need it in the afterlife anyway. Suppose you do not have children of your own. In that case, you may be able to experience unconditional love towards the children of your siblings or/and cousins and show emotional and material generosity towards them.
universal love (for everything in the Universe: animals, nature, people on the other side of the world you will never meet, black holes, exoplanets, "higher powers," etc.) - agápe
Here comes the top of the mountain, where you exhibit charity to yourself and others with every single thing you do. You are kind to all creatures, mind only your own business, heal the pain of strangers, and provide guidance, care, and shelter to the more inexperienced younger people. You are a storyteller, a living time machine, a breathing encyclopedia, a history book, a compass, and a model that consoles the young that they should not fear old age and should not wish to die young to avoid the punishments of time. You are a hero just by virtue of getting that far on the timeline. You are calm in the morning and calm in the evening, in summer and in winter, for you have seen them come and go, change and repeat so many times that nothing scares you anymore, and so you love it all - amor fati is yours! If this sounds nothing like you, you need to surrender to life and make peace with it before you leave, or the fear of death will poison you with every last bit of your existence. "Quien mal anda, mal acaba." is a Spanish proverb that literally means "The one who walks badly ends badly." In the second part of our lives, we are gradually revealed our worth by getting what we deserve as we lie on the (death)bed we made.