It seems that love is a sincere concern and empathy for another person, feeling badly for their sorrows and glad for their successes in life. It is so many other things—an attachment that respects the feelings and independence of the other person, doing things so that you can enjoy the person’s surprise or happiness—and it is not the same as the being “in love” phase, during which people project their fantasies onto the other person. No, love is what remains after seeing the flaws and imperfections, the disappointments, the very humanity of the person versus the fantasy, and if love remains, it is real love.
The famous British analyst, Donald Winnicott, talked about the “good enough” mother, the first love in most people’s lives. If the experience is more good than bad, the person learns to integrate feelings, accept imperfections in self and others, and does not split, alternating between extreme idealization and helpless rage. When we have had a good-enough background, or have corrected it with therapy, a good-enough person to love, as opposed to using the other to prove something about ourselves, is more the real thing.
We are very geared to making money, and unfortunately companies influence our culture and way of looking at things to a great degree. Not because they care about us and our values, or the way children grow up, but motivated by a desire for profit. We know the message about Christmas being a time of great love surrounded by our families, and that is something that simply is not true for a great many people. Now, with Valentines Day, there are people who feel awful about being single, not because they are really unhappy, but because they feel they are not part of the way things are “supposed” to be. I have sat with numerous clients as they cried because they wanted to get flowers where they worked. One client sent them to herself, but at least she understood that what she wanted was different from love. With this holiday coming up, I wish everyone self-love, compassion, and respect. There are many ways to love with different people, and with animals, and I wish everyone love, whether or not it is stereotypical. While I am not putting down exchanging cards and sentiments with loved ones, I urge people to think of love that is not romantic as well, and to not compare their lives with a fantasy.