A major principle of Grown, self-loving decision-making, in pursuit of healthy relationships of honor, esteem and respect, is not just having a clear idea of what love is, but also being clear on what it is not. The ability to recognize and reject what you don’t want is often more important than knowing and getting what you do want, because failure to do the former can eliminate the possibility of the latter.
Yet, so much of what is taught, defined and even celebrated as love is not love at all. When we see unloving, neglectful and even abusive behavior among our friends, family, and even between parents (our primary role models, for better or worse), we are told that it’s just part of what love is about. Songs, books, TV and movies blame love for all manner of messy, destructive choices, ranging from unprotected sex and extra-marital affairs to violence and criminal behavior. People even claim “love” as motivation for murder and suicide, a theme often romanticized in popular culture (see Romeo & Juliet).
Disrespect. Abuse. Violence. Murder. Infidelity. All in the name of “love.” No virtue is more falsely accused. To find love, and gain a clearer picture of what it is, here are a few examples of what is often called love, but is anything but:
Grown, healthy love is not a disease. If “catching feelings” is causing you to engage in relationships that cause you to make adult-and-messy choices, accept mistreatment or sacrifice honor, esteem and respect for self, it’s not love.
True love does not require you to pay a “ransom.” If you must spend/lend money, lose the peace of your home, give up your body or neglect your heart (i.e. surrender emotional security) to prove your love or keep a relationship, it’s not love.
Love is not crazy. So-called “crazy love”—cycles of verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse punctuated by tearful reconciliation, grand declarations of commitment, and intense sex—is not love. (Yet both abuser and abused will explain their relationship as a case of one loving the other too much.) If it’s filled with hurtful words, emotional drama and blunt force trauma, it’s not love. (It’s just crazy.)
Love is not sex. If love is professed only when there is sex or the potential for it, it’s not love. Or to paraphrase a favorite tweet from Indianapolis church pastor Jonathan Miller: “If they only tell you they love you in private places, they probably only love your private places.”
Love is not a secret. Keeping it on the low? If a relationship is an act of shame, deception or betrayal (a clue: it requires lies and secrecy to maintain), it’s not love.
Love is not a threat. If a relationship keeps you anxious, fearful, exhausted, weakened and drained (including physically, emotionally and/or financially), it’s not love.
Love is not a non-prescription pain reliever. Consensual sex between adults is a popular, socially acceptable way to self-medicate. But it’s not love. When the orgasms subside, the pain—or loneliness or anxiety—return, requiring more and more “love” to cope. That leads to (without an intervention) dependent, compulsive, obsessive, addictive behavior.
Love is not an addiction. You know it’s wrong, but you can’t help it? If a relationship is compulsive, obsessive or addictive—you’ll do anything, including engaging in immoral, criminal, self-destructive or unhealthy acts to have or maintain (at least) one—it’s not love.
Love does not transform wrong to right. If behavior injures, violates, deceives, abuses, harms or disrespects, it’s not love.
Love is not a prison. If a relationship is rooted in possessiveness and control, it’s not love. It’s a hostage situation, with both parties held captive.
Love is not terrorism. If a relationship is rooted in manipulation, punishment and retaliation, it’s not love. That’s a terrorist situation.
To be Grown is to recognize that while love is expressed and experienced differently by every person, love itself is a very specific concept, consistently and universally defined as much by what it is not as by what it is. At the root of that definition is that loving treatment is safe, patient, truthful, trustworthy, empowering, uplifting, non-judgmental and life-affirming—in a word, healthy, without exception.
To find love, you must recognize it—and what it is not. Accept no substitutes.
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