The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, April 16, 2000
Your Option

The only way to love
By Taru Bahl

CAN love last forever? Can true love help us scale the peaks of emotional, spiritual and physical ecstasy? Does it empower the individual to have faith in himself and in others, pulling out all his hidden talents and putting him on the high performance route? Can it still the mind and exorcise all the demons of uncertainty and insecurity? Can the derivatives of love — happiness, contentment and compassion — filter into the other spheres and relationships of our lives, making our world that much more beautiful?

People who have felt, experienced, found and most importantly ‘retained’ love will tell us that the only way a love story can end on a they-lived-happily-ever-after note is when two mature people commit themselves to loving each other, standing by and being there for each other not because they have to but because they want to. Here the loving relationship is not necessarily between two lovers or husband-wife, it could be between father-son; grandmother-grand daughter; brother-sister; class buddies; mentor-disciple or, for that matter, even man-animal.

To love without having the compulsive need to lay down directional dos and don’ts, preconditions, ifs and buts may sound preachy and may be difficult to implement. But those who have experienced unconditional love have discovered the potency of real love. Interestingly, the best written and filmed love songs, plays and books capture only fleeting glimpses of love, the complete picture often eludes for it resides only in the hearts and minds of those who love.

  When we make deposits of unconditional love, we encourage others to live the primary laws of life. In other words, when we truly love others without conditions and strings attached, we help them feel secure, safe, validated and affirmed in their essential worth, identity and integrity. We make it easier for them to live the laws of life, finding cooperation, contribution, self-discipline and integrity, giving them the freedom to act on their own inner imperative rather than react to our conditions and limitations. When we violate the primary laws of love by attaching strings and conditions to that gift, we encourage others to violate the primary laws of life. We put them in a reactive defensive position where they always feel they have to prove something. Most of all, love makes a person believe that he matters as a person, independent of the other.

Unfortunately our mass media, whether it is television serials, films or pulp fiction, encourages images which propagate an unhealthy concept of love. Obsessive and violent love smoulders and scorches with its intensity, jealousy and possessiveness. As a result we find people ‘suffering in love’ trying hard to conform, bend, and compromise as they seek their (im)perfect love story. The ‘if you love me’ pre-condition makes outrageous demands — a man forbids his girlfriend from wearing short skirts; a wife translates her loving feelings by moulding her husband into an image she finds suitable, making him wear clothes she feels are ‘right’, and establishing social contacts she is convinced would do him good. While sentiment of love is laudatory, what isn’t is the discomfort and pressure that is exerted on the person who has to prove his love. This relationship can be tedious, counterproductive and regressive. It leads to mental sickness. The fear, tension and nervousness of doing the wrong thing pushes the ‘loved one’ to lie, camouflage and be terrorised, on the one hand, and to turn rebellious, defiant and shockingly non-conformist on other hand. Haven’t we seen wilful sons breaking away from the tyrannical hold of their father; daughters running away from a ‘too loving and controlling environment at home’ and getting married on the rebound, knowing fully well that they are making a wrong choice?

Kahlil Gibran added depth to the scope of unconditional love by advising: "Love one another, but make not a bond of love. Let it be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Give your hearts but not into each other’s keeping for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow."

Can we learn to love unconditionally? Although there are no ground rules for finding and keeping ‘perfect love’, if one follows what philosophers, thinkers and seers had to say and observes what the truly-happily-in-love people demonstrate, there emerges a certain pattern which most of us can learn from and adapt to suit our specific situations.

Acceptance is the most important element of unconditional love. When they say love is blind, it means love transcends all limits, barriers and man-made boundaries. A man could find romantic love in a woman ten years his junior or six inches shorter. A mother could love her erratic and violent stepson more than her gentle and caring biological son. Without getting into the moralistic rights and wrongs we have to penetrate deeper to understand the feeling which makes such loving possible. Love is all about loving in spite of and not because of.

When we find our love blinding us to the other’s faults, shortcomings and personality flaws, we are heading for disaster. Why do they say that a long happy courtship does not ensure a long happy married life? It is because when two people are courting they put their best foot forward and are overwhelmed by the feeling of love. They push away unpleasant signs and ignore what they don’t want to see. After marriage when these irritants surface they get upset and demand an instant changeover. If that happens then it is usually accompanied by resentment and acrimony and if it doesn’t then it still contributes to the destruction of the relationship.

To be realistic about the person we choose to love is the foundation on which our love builds and grows. Acceptance leads to an intuitive understanding of the person. It throws open all channels of communication, helping two people bring out the best in each other. It is no exaggeration to say that love has the power to miraculously transform and heal. Acceptance brings spontaneity which, in turn, helps people relax and be themselves without fear of being measured up, rejected, ridiculed, compared and assessed. A period of introspection and search into the self begins, all passages which were earlier blocked and choked are aired and activated, motivating one to make positive changes signalling happier times.

Acceptance leads to release. The loved person is ready to take flight. Freedom is crucial in a loving relationship. Isn’t it said that if you love a thing, set it free, if it comes back it was always yours, if it doesn’t then it was not meant to be? To be dependent on another is not love. Most of us confuse love with being provided for, looked after and being treated well. The search for such love often takes us through a series of relationships which are not really loving. When we say, "I can’t live without X" or "without his love I’d be a dead duck", we are believing and living a cardinal lie. This dependency is parasitism.

There is no quid pro quo in love. It eliminates the need to feel and say, "I did this for you, so you do this for me" or "since I have never let you down, how can you". One doesn’t measure how much or what the other person has done, one does what one has to, unconditionally and without any expectations. The beauty is that when two people find love, there is no need to seek approval and appreciation. It is felt all the time, nothing is lost, every little gesture, spoken word and action adds up to the love that they share. And when one finds oneself unable to deliver what the loved one may be expecting there are is neither guilt nor any apprehension of the love diminishing. Love enhances self-esteem, making one feel better about oneself and instilling a deep sense of voluntary responsibility and commitment.

This feature was published on April 9, 2000