There’s a guy. He’s having a really bad day because this girl he likes a lot decided to stop seeing him.
She thought they were two people who enjoyed one another’s company.
He thought they were madly in love, boyfriend and girlfriend, and going to get married someday.
Dude’s a nice guy, as the story goes. One of those guys with an inferiority complex about women breaking up with him or rejecting him, because it seems to happen to him a lot.
There are probably some young women out there who want a super-clingy dude with hyper-codependent tendencies who smothers her physically, mentally and emotionally. But near as I can tell, most don’t.
This guy’s default state of being—how he shows up in the world—is THE RECIPE for triggering discomfort and mistrust in a potential romantic partner. You can still be liked. You can still be appreciated. Perhaps even genuinely cared for.
But very few—I’d argue zero—healthy people are going to intentionally commit to being a couple and/or pursue marriage with someone who needs, needs, needs all the time. Someone who leans so heavily on OTHER people to achieve balance or to feel good about themselves.
People Have Load-Bearing Limits
I kind-of know those feelings. Not because I’m overly co-dependent emotionally—I’ve got that only-child thing going for me—but because I do have a distinguished marital history of leaning heavily on my spouse to “take care of stuff.” It’s hard enough for most of us to take excellent care of ourselves under optimum circumstances. When you start adding career responsibilities and children to the equation, any extra bullshit being dumped on you from another adult is going to feel even heavier than the regular kind of bullshit.
Many divorces happen because one spouse is willing to carry that extra bullshit early in the relationship because intense feelings of love are present, and because they have the mental, physical and emotional bandwidth to take that on, BUT then five to 10 years later, when there are children and financial pressures and stale, if not non-existent, sexual routines, and years of tiny resentments piling up, and some major life trauma like the death of a loved one… that person who was carrying so much of the emotional and mental burdens of marriage or the relationship becomes too exhausted to carry it anymore.
It’s a sad story, and one I regret subjecting my ex-wife and son to.
But there’s another element to codependence as well.
And that is the idea that how OTHER people feel about us—whether they think we’re attractive, or want to play with us on the playground, or want to sleep with us, or want to hire us at their company, or want to accept us into their graduate schools, or want to go out on a date with us, or want to be friends with us, etc.—is some kind of legitimate gauge for how we should feel about ourselves.
I spent most of my life hung up on the Majority Rules concept. That when things are subject to vote (whether that be at the ballot box, or which store they shop at, or which food they like, or which movie or music artist is best), that what the Majority says is best is a reliable indicator for what actually is best. (I know. Concepts like subjectivity were totally lost on me.)
Mark Twain is famously quoted as saying: “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it’s time to pause and reflect.”
I learned that quote while working as a reporter for my college newspaper. I’ve been (very slowly) inching my way down a new life path ever since.
Without getting political or philosophical, let’s just use pop music as an example.
Can we all agree that at least ONE super-popular song you’ve heard in the past 10-20 years—something that topped the music charts and sold millions of records—was a steaming pile of suck in your opinion?
There you have it.
Only ONE person gets to decide what we’re worth and how we feel every day when we wake up. And that person is ourselves.
If You Don’t Know What Love Actually Is, How Can You Know Whether it’s in Your Life?
Captain Whiny Guy feels like a victim today.
He’s not celebrating the quick end to a relationship that NEVER had a chance of evolving into a healthy love or marriage or family or anything that he claimed he wanted in life.
He’s lamenting that he, once again, feels like a loser in the Pick-Me Dance game, because a girl he liked didn’t like him as much as he liked her.
His sadness and disappointment and feelings of rejection predictably turned to anger.
“I love you,” he told her. (I don’t think he knows what that means. Weeks, not months went by.)
He cited all of the nice things he’s done for her. All of the gifts he’s given. He expressed fake-unselfish concern that he was worried that she would eventually “end up settling for someone who won’t treat you the way you deserve.”
The implication from everything this dude said was: I will be nicer to you, give you more things, and do more stuff for you than anyone else, thus you’re wrong and making a mistake if you don’t choose to commit to me and love me forever.
This guy thinks love is a meritocracy.
This guy thinks who you date and marry is a math equation rooted entirely in behavior.
As if the biggest sack on the planet could simply out-gift and out-favor and out-sweet-gesture every other guy in someone’s life and guarantee himself her approval, sexual connection, and lifetime commitment.
I feel sorry for him. But the truth is, he’s simply going to have to keep getting his nuts kicked in until the lightbulb goes on and he starts asking better questions about how he shows up in the world.
Love Cannot Be Earned, Nor Bought, Nor Taken
Love is a complicated thing to discuss because so many people define it differently.
People commonly associate love with emotions, with feelings—romantic and sexual.
People think of love in conjunction with the loyalty and foundational structure of their family of origin—the love that exists between parents and children and siblings and their pets.
People love things. Like music, art, sports, traveling, literature, cinema, and various activities of personal interest.
Generally, in the context of dating and marriage, use of the word love typically characterizes that feeling. It’s not a sane feeling. It’s not a rational one. It can’t be bottled or boxed up. We can’t trap love, stow it away, and break it out later whenever we want.
Love—the feeling—may not be the biggest factor in whether couples last forever or fizzle out fast, but let’s not pretend that it doesn’t matter. Love is UNQUESTIONABLY the most potent and influential of human emotions, and the one most likely to compel a person to do something big and otherwise unusual—hopefully something insane like moving far away to be with someone, and NOT something insane like murder in some bizarre love triangle, like that crazy astronaut love triangle that involved adult diapers and a long murdery road trip.
Because love is the most potent and influential human emotion, I think it’s important for people to truly KNOW what it is.
Let’s start with the obvious.
You cannot buy it. If you buy people roses, and write them love notes, and take them to dinner, and are super-affectionate and thoughtful, physically and emotionally, there are not units of love that can be earned or given in return.
Love is not measurable. It cannot be counted.
Love is NOT conditional. That is not to say that love won’t dissipate under certain conditions, but simply that love ceases to be love when it’s exchanged only under certain circumstances.
Companionship can be bought. Sex can be bought. Love can’t be.
“Love is inherently free. It cannot be bought, sold, or traded. You cannot make someone love you, nor can you prevent it — not for any amount of money. Love cannot be imprisoned, nor can it be legislated. Love is not a substance, not a commodity, not even a marketable power source. Love has no territory, no borders, no quantifiable mass or energy output,” said Dr. Deborah Anapol in her book The Seven Natural Laws of Love as shared in Psychology Today. “This doesn’t mean that love allows destructive and abusive behaviors to go unchecked. Love speaks out for justice and protests when harm is being done. Love points out the consequences of hurting oneself or others. Love allows room for anger, grief, or pain to be expressed and released. But love does not threaten to withhold itself if it doesn’t get what it wants. Love does not say, directly or indirectly, ‘If you are a bad boy, Mommy won’t love you anymore.’ Love does not say, ‘If you want to be loved, you must be nice,’ or ‘Do what I want,’ or ‘Never love anyone else,’ or ‘Promise you’ll never leave me.’”
I like the way Anapol characterizes it.
Love is inherently unselfish.
Did the whiny guy give the girl What?! Pick Me!!! roses because he loves her? I mean, maybe. I guess. But isn’t it more likely that he sent the girl who rejected him roses because he was hoping for a desired response—one intended ultimately to benefit him?
Wasn’t it a tool to make her change her mind, or at least feel regret about ending it with The Super-Nice Guy Who Sends Her Flowers?
And doesn’t that make him kind of a dickwad—whether it’s intentional and self-aware or not—for saying “I love you”?
Sure, it does.
It wasn’t a selfless act of love. He of course said the cliché thing people think they’re supposed to say I just want what’s best for you! I just want you to be happy!
But he didn’t act like it.
He acted like a petulant whiner with an exceedingly flaccid and unused penis.
And when you act like that, girls tend to find the behavior unattractive. And I hope he figures it out someday, because there is a place in this world for a husband and father who loves to demonstrate his love through gifts and thoughtful acts of kindness.
But I think we have our fill of human beings who don’t actually know what love is.
We don’t love our parents or our children or our brothers and sisters or our best friends because there’s some reward in doing so.
We just love them.
Romantic and sexual love are different.
I think the fabulous philosopher and author Alain de Botton might have said it best in The Book of Life.
“In general, civilisation requires us to present stringently edited versions of ourselves to others. It asks us to be cleaner, purer, more polite versions of who we might otherwise be. The demand comes at quite a high internal cost. Important sides of our character are pushed into the shadows.
Humanity has long been fascinated – and immensely troubled – by the conflict between our noblest ideals and the most urgent and exciting demands of our sexual nature. In the early third century, the Christian scholar and saint, Origen, castrated himself – because he was so horrified by the gulf between the person he wanted to be (controlled, tender and patient) and the kind of person he felt his sexuality made him (obscene, lascivious and rampant). He represents the grotesque extreme of what is in fact a very normal and widespread distress. We may meet people who – unwittingly- reinforce this division,” de Botton wrote. “The person who loves us sexually does something properly redemptive: they stop making a distinction between the different sides of who we are. They can see that we are the same person all the time; that our gentleness or dignity in some situations isn’t fake because of how we are in bed and vice versa. Through sexual love, we have the chance to solve one of the deepest, loneliest problems of human nature: how to be accepted for who we really are.”
Love is a feeling—wild and unpredictable.
But love is something else. Something more pure and absolute.
Love is an action, even if only in our hearts and minds.
Love is freely given, without agenda, because for reasons we have never thought through entirely or been asked to explain, we truly love someone and seek to improve them and their lives completely independent of our own emotions, or how it might impact our own lives.
Love is kind. Patient. Compassionate. Empathetic.
You don’t get to take love from someone. You don’t get to convince them they should love you and have it work out. You can’t EARN it.
It’s acquired one way only.
As a gift.
And when we’re blessed enough to receive it, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of it. To treat it with the care and importance it deserves.
The care and importance that you deserve, when you finally decide to love yourself, because you finally realize that you’re worth it.
This post was previously published on Must Be This Tall To Ride and is republished on Medium.
The Good Men Project gives people the insights, tools, and skills to survive, prosper and thrive in today’s changing world. A world that is changing faster than most people can keep up with that change. A world where jobs are changing, gender roles are changing, and stereotypes are being upended. A world that is growing more diverse and inclusive. A world where working towards equality will become a core competence. We’ve built a community of millions of people from around the globe who believe in this path forward. Thanks for joining The Good Men Project.
Support us on Patreon and we will support you and your writing! Tools to improve your writing and platform-building skills, a community to get you connected, and direct access to our editors and publisher. Your support will help us build a better, more inclusive world for all.
Photo credit: iStock