The questions and comments around love are piling up in my inbox faster than my brain can process, so I’m just going to keep typing at the pace my fingers will allow and hope that eventually I end up writing my way through them all.
Today I’m tackling the thorny question of whether love ever feels bad. But first let me say that as much as I try to teach people how to get in touch with the feeling response of their bodies, when it comes to love, what ultimately concerns me is action. This is because I’m not interested in sentimental notions of romantic love. I’m not interested in love that turns people into insular little dyads; I’m interested in the expansive characteristics of love.
This is not to say that there is no place for romantic love in our world. As someone who has been married for over a decade, keeping things fresh in the romance department is definitely a priority, but it isn’t what holds my marriage together. What’s central to the relationship is the daily challenge of seeing my husband in the fullness of his personhood and giving him the benefit of the doubt whenever something inside me gets annoyed, defensive, or triggered in some other unpleasant way. This is the exact same definition of love that I’ve been writing about in relation to my work life. Sure, it feels very different when I practice it with the person who lives with me and sees me at my very worst, but at its core, the love I try to give my husband is the largely the same kind of love I try to give everyone else.
So let’s talk about how love feels. This may look like an infuriating game of words, but when I wrote that if it doesn’t feel good, it probably isn’t love, my point wasn’t that love should always “feel good.” Stay with me here. Love is not a narcotic, though a great many of us (myself included) use certain notions of love to make us feel good about ourselves.
This is what I’m arguing: When love truly makes us feel good, it doesn’t make us feel bad in its absence. Love feels absent—and hurts in that absence—when we expect love to come from one or another individual (a parent, a lover). Of course you can miss people, but when you’re secure in their love (or, secure about loving and being loved in general), their particular absence doesn’t hurt.
Somewhere else in this blog I think I’ve written on internal pain or discomfort and how those unpleasant feelings are very good indicators of something that needs attending to. So let’s not run away from painful experiences of love. What they’re telling you is that something else is getting in the way of the pureness of love. Feelings such as insecurity, jealousy, anger, and guilt or obligation muddy up the waters of love. They’re the source of all of the awful pain we associate with love.
Love becomes the scapegoat for all the things in ourselves that we refuse to look at. We blame love (“Love hurts.”), we blame our loved ones (“Why can’t s/he love me more?”)—we do everything, in short, but examine the wounded parts of ourselves that look to external sources of love to feel good and whole.
So does love ever feel “bad”? Yes and no. What we think of as love can hurt, but that hurt is rooted in something other than love. And when we stop looking to love to make us feel “good” and blaming love for making us feel “bad,” we can actually get down to the real work of figuring out what all that pain is asking us to heal.