Words are so shifty. Take love, for instance, one of those vastly overused words. It gets flung around without much thought. Some end their email messages to strangers with the word. Others can’t end a phone call without saying love you when that isn’t necessarily what they are feeling at the moment or when they mean see you later. The word often becomes disconnected from its true meaning, though even that designation is in question. I don’t necessarily feel deeply affectionate towards a friend in an email, especially if the contents have nothing to do with personal feelings, so I wouldn’t sign it “love.” Nor would I sign it affectionately unless it fit the communication.
I think often what we mean when we use “love” is the opposite. Many people seem allergic to the word hate and refuse to let themselves have such negative emotions. But it’s perfectly normal to hate someone at times that we might otherwise love. Or maybe we don’t love that person at all and never will. (I’ll never be capable of loving Donald Trump!) It’s still okay to hate him/her. Yes, it could be that the person we hate has some dark quality that we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves and we’re projecting it onto him/her. But we’ll never discover what it is if we don’t first allow ourselves to feel it.
I’m reminded of a therapist I worked with once who was very manipulative and new agey. Rather than let me feel and express anger about certain individuals, she believed I needed to let go of my anger and feel more compassion instead. I think compassion can be important, but not as a replacement for the anger I was experiencing. I needed to acknowledge and accept that response before being ready to move on to compassion. Yet I also think there’s something patronizing about claiming to feel compassion towards another person. It’s as if I’m gracing him/her with my human charity.
But what do we mean when we say we love someone? There is familial love that seems reserved for family members. We assume that because we were born into a particular family that we automatically should love all its members. But doesn’t someone need to exhibit lovable qualities to earn our love? Do we love family members who aren’t lovable, who push us away in multiple ways, who are hostile to us? Maybe love is the correct word here if it means that we continue to support or interact with a family member in spite of his/her failings. Yet is the glue that binds us together in families really love or something else. Necessity? Clan loyalties? Other motivations?
What about with friends? I’ve found that in my friendships, love was something that developed between the other and myself over time. It wasn’t an instant emotion, except perhaps in early romantic love when the other captured something important about myself that I had projected onto him.
Eros, the god of love, and his arrows, can create terrible situations for us. He can cause us to fall into traps that don’t have anything to do with love. It can be more connected to our own narcissistic needs. What are the ties that bind us together?
I’m still exploring them and will offer some answers in a future blog.