Love or In Love? Part 1 – The Difference
Have you ever heard someone whining about how much he loves a girl? Or vice versa?
When I observe people in this and many other situations, I’m convinced that most people don’t know the difference between really loving someone, and only being in love with someone.
It’s been a while since I wrote about relationships, and I’ve been wanting to write about this forever.
Here’s how I see it.
When you love someone, you care about their happiness and you do all you can to facilitate that. Your decisions, advice, and actions are based purely on what you think would be the best thing for them, and contribute the most to their happiness. Your own happiness do not come into the picture at all.
You act in a way that has no ulterior motives, without thought of where it will end up, or what YOU are getting out of it. Most telling of all, if you realise what would make them happy in life is for you to be out of it, then you leave.
Imagine you have a friend who’s a really great gal and you enjoy making her happy, from doing little things to writing her short, funny messages. You’re happy getting a smile out of her, and being a positive influence. You decide you really want to pursue a relationship here.
One day, she excitedly tells you about a guy she’s interested in. Your mind shift tracks. You consider that you’re a low income earner, don’t have a car, and have some depression issues you’re working through. Meanwhile you learn that the guy in question is a great, genuine person, has a thriving business, drives a big car, and could provide for her a lot better than you can.
So you encourage her, give her the best advice you can, and work hard to facilitate her budding romance. When they’re set up, you fade into the background.
Imagine you’re in a relationship with a girl, and you realise that she’s no longer happy being with you. Maybe it’s something you did, your paths diverged, or you’re not the great human being she thought you were. You realise the only reason she’s still in it is a sense of duty, honour, or loyalty.
So you initiate a breakup because you believe there’s someone out there who’s going to make her happier after the initial pain of separation ways. You don’t want her to suffer or waste unnecessary time.
That’s loving someone. There’s no sense of loss and no focus on personal happiness at all. Your love is unconditional. You may experience some emotion, but generally it’s overridden by a logical mindset. Some might call this pure love.
When you’re in love, you probably do lots of things for the other person too. You’ll offer support, give solace, provide comfort. You’ll try to make them happy and alleviate their burdens.
But at the core of it, you’re doing it because there’s an inherent need or hope for something.
It may be because you’re wooing a girl, hoping for a relationship, or because you’re in one already, and you’re getting love in return. Everything has a connection with your own happiness.
In other words, there is a selfish quality to being in love with someone, as opposed to loving them unconditionally. You really want this person to be a part of your Life. Indeed, you need yourself to be an integral part of hers.
The easiest way to see this? Think of any guy who is interested in a girl and hoping for a relationship. He does stuff for her, claims he loves her, and so on.
But observe what happens when she excitedly tells him about a guy she’s become interested in and wants advice. What becomes of his so-called love? His responses suddenly become curt. His advice becomes decidedly biased towards the negative. He may turn cold and unfriendly. Arguments ensue.
You see, here’s a guy who does things, says things, and every other action imaginable to make her happy, but the root motivation is not solely her happiness. He’s hoping to get happiness or be a part of that happiness. He may claim he just wants her to be happy, or what’s best for her, but his behavior doesn’t reflect this.
Compared to the first guy, there are two differences in his mindset.
1. There’s a yearning to have a significant, even dominant part, in the girl’s Life and happiness.
2. There’s a fear of loss of that possibility. He’s ruled by emotions and hormones he can’t control.
It sure sounds like just loving someone is more noble and enlightened than being in love, doesn’t it? It’s certainly more rational and logical.
So is it a standard we should aim for in a love relationship?
Yes and no.
Yes, I think it’s a good way to love someone you’re not already in a relationship with, or after you’ve ended one.
But if you’re in a love relationship already, or on your way in or out, no it’s not the best way.
Let’s see why.
The Case for Being In Love
Being “emotionless”, having “emotional mastery” or whatever the buzzword is has been in vogue recently. Together with the idea of pure love, it sounds even better, right?
The problem is loving ‘without emotion’ makes the relationship mechanical and isn’t really what most people want when they think of a loving relationship.
Being in love gives you an emotional investment.
There’s an ineffable quality in the bonds that form between two people in love. There’s something stronger in a relationship to which you do attach some of your own happiness. There’s risk, and fear, and that shared danger is an essential ingredient and element. Human nature is such, that when you have a stake in something, you value and protect it more. You’re willing to sacrifice more.
Will this last forever? Maybe not, but being in love lends a relationship something it will need later past the honeymoon stage… resilience.
Loving with logic and expecting nothing in return sounds good.
Except that logic works BOTH ways.
You might love without attachment, but when things don’t go well, it’s just as easy to drop it.
Now, I’m not saying you should hang onto a relationship that is toxic or isn’t working. But some people make the mistake of not differentiating between toxicity and the normal challenges that come with any relationship between two imperfect people. I even see some relationship ‘gurus’ get it wrong, advising that if someone gives you sad moments, they aren’t good for you so just dump ‘em.
Being too logical can cause people to mislabel a relationship or person too fast as “toxic”, and be too selfish in taking the escape route immediately. Personally I see some cowardice in it.
Having an “in love” component gives you the motivation and determination to explore, work things out, find the middle ground, and generally tide two people over when things get rough. It gives you the resilience you wouldn’t have if you decided to stay or go based on a binary 1 or 0 choice.
Dominance and Desire
Unless you’ve been tied up and blindfolded the last couple of years, you’ve at least heard of the film Fifty Shades of Grey. Now there’s plenty of rubbish in there most men wouldn’t put the girl they love through. BUT… there is some basis to the themes explored.
Two of these are desire and dominance. They are part of the psychology of any love relationship, especially the sexual side, even though the degree differs from relationship to relationship.
People want to both desire and be desired. At the same time, they also want to be dominant, and be dominated, to some degree. These two things contribute to the sexual energy essential to a relationship between a man and a woman. They’re also part of more primal instincts of masculinity and femininity.
In a love based purely on logic, devoid of emotion, they would be absent. That doesn’t work for most people. People may not want to say it, but they feel attracted to those concepts. 50 Shades indulges those feelings and fantasies, which is why it did so well.
What Does She/ He Want?
Finally, thinking in terms of pure logic and considering it the highest form of love neglects an important point: what does the other person want?
You deciding to leave out of ‘pure love’ (if you think she deserves someone better for example) neglects that very important point. The one you love has feelings, and making a decision based on your logic doesn’t take that into account, while satisfying yourself that it’s the right thing. There’s a kind of selfishness here, albeit different from the “in love” kind.
It’s not right to make some decisions unilaterally because it’s not just about you. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if people justify their own desire to leave a relationship by convincing themselves that would be the best thing for the other person.
Remember, if you’re already in a relationship, chances are the other person wants you in their Life.
What is ‘best’ isn’t to be decided by you. It’s to be decided together with your special other. To do so alone would be cold, ignores their feelings, opinions, and desires on whatever issues you’re thinking through.
There is a nobility to loving someone purely without expecting anything in return.
At the same time, there is a degree of selfishness to being “in love” that cannot be denied.
So what is the best way to go?
If you aren’t already in a love relationship, and have no intentions for one, or have a clear platonic relationship, a ‘purer’ form of love with no personal hopes or desires is a good starting point.
But if it’s a loving relationship that is to go places, together, you need BOTH. Where people tend to err is towards one extreme or the other. It’s easier that way. The better – and much harder! – way would be to retain the best of each, while keeping their negatives at bay. In other words, strive for BALANCE.
That’s what we’ll look at in Part 2.