Common beliefs of what it means to love are often filled with expectations for reciprocity that can get us into trouble. I know this personally. I remember times in my past when I felt I had “freely” given my love, and it was not returned, this brought me face to face with my resentment.
This has been especially true of my close relationships. I have wanted the people who fall into this category, in particular, to reciprocate my love. And I expect them to. However, as the quote above from Thich Nhat Hanh points out, love is expansive, not constrictive.
For example, I had a boyfriend, who seemed to genuinely like spending time with me, but didn’t make our relationship much of a priority in his life. This was a guy who was pretty laid back in general and so I discounted his aloofness and tried to be patient, thinking we’d eventually turn a corner.
What became clear, over the course of a few years, is that my patience was covering up a multitude of disappointed expectations for him to give back what I had so generously given. And in the end I felt angry and betrayed.
The big question is: by whom really?
After some time had passed, I was able to look back on the situation with a little more objectivity, and it became clear I’d entered into the relationship with typical expectations for attention, time, comfort, and affection—in other words, an agenda.
Now please understand, there is nothing wrong with wanting to be loved.
We all deserve to be loved from our significant other and should be conscious to choose partners whose love for us is a natural and abundant outpouring of their feelings, and who also, want to invest in us and our well-being.
The desire to be loved when it is fueled by any underlying agendas or feelings of isolation and loneliness—can be very difficult. Because it often turns a relationship into some version of, “I’ll scratch your back, if you’ll scratch mine.” Real love isn’t contractual.
This kind of “hidden agenda” along with unspoken expectations only creates a weak foundation for a relationship. Just like in my previous relationship, he failed to invest in the relationship, and I failed to draw good boundaries; I settled for being used, rather than being loved.
Revealed in all this was the fact that I hadn’t exactly been looking after my own needs very well. I’d neglected and betrayed myself, in some sense, and needed to assume greater responsibility for my own personal happiness.
To that end I began a quest for finding the sense of inner contentment and satisfaction I so craved, but was not in possession of. I read books, attended trainings and seminars, watched films, and made note of what resonated with me and what didn't—what stirred my passion and enthusiasm for life.
I became more curious about my inner life. An act of love in itself.
What I have learned the hard way is that a healthy, resilient love stands the best chance of materializing between people who have been on a path of self discovery and, most importantly, know who they are as individuals. And this is a work in progress.
Just as life is always moving and reshaping itself, this is true with love.
Therefore, loving in such a way that the person we love feels free is as simple and straightforward as it is complex.
One of my favorite quotes from Rumi really gets to the heart of the matter.
“And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth
‘You owe me’.
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”
Ultimately, to give love is its own reward. Be Generous. Be Expansive. Be Inclusive. Be Receptive. Be Liberating.