Falling in love can feel like diving off a cliff.
For me, it’s exhilarating and terrifying, dizzying and dazzling. It breaks me open to a fresh view of the world. Suddenly, everything seems possible, and I overflow with hope and beauty and profound respect. My heart is tender and raw, and I am rich with love to share. I bubble over and laugh easily and look people in the eye. Something is different with you, they say. You are glowing.
When the object of my love does not love me back, this feeling is also profound. I sink. There is no hope; I will never find another. I get stuck yearning for this person to change, aching to be met in my affections.
What if love isn’t a crisis? What if we are falling in and out of love all the time, and that’s okay?
We have this mythology around love, that it’s special and rare and we only share it with a few people during our lives. Carsie Blanton writes about this mythology in her blog: This myth “says that love takes time to develop, and that the feelings you experience at the outset of a relationship are not love, but something else,” such as infatuation, or just a crush. “It also says that love is generally constant and reliable, and that falling in love is A MAJOR LIFE EVENT, about which SOMETHING MUST BE DONE!”
This makes love feel like a scarce resource. If I love a person, I must get them, because this opportunity is fleeting and precious. And if this person does not act how I want, I am going to be hurt.
No wonder we’re scared.
I can’t control the other person’s behavior, and yet I am depending on it. The truth is that we choose how we feel in each moment, and the feelings we have in response to another person are actually about us.
Brooke Castillo, on The Life Coach Podcast, declares that “loving never causes hurt. The reason we’re so hurt is because our expectation of how they would behave was so different than who they really were. Our expectation of being able to count on them to behave a certain way, that’s what’s so excruciatingly painful.” We get hurt “when people don’t behave the way we want them to and we feel so hopeless and out of control.”
Love is not weak. It is strong. So is vulnerability. “Love is fierce,” says Brooke. “You can love someone and say, ‘No,’ and in fact, you are being honest with them when you say no, when you mean no. It means you love them more.” (Check out my post about why you should disappoint people.)
Why love unconditionally?
Brilliant Sanity is a Buddhist concept that sits at the foundation of my therapy practice. It describes our basic nature – one of openness, clarity and compassion. Karen Kissel-Wegela Ph.D., a leader in the field of Contemplative Psychotherapy and author of What Really Helps: Using Mindfulness and Compassionate Presence to Help, Support, and Encourage Others, writes that “who we most fundamentally are IS brilliant sanity. It is our nature; it is what we are no matter what we might be feeling in any particular moment. We are brilliantly sane if we feel happy; we are brilliantly sane if we feel depressed. We are even brilliantly sane if we feel crazy and totally out of touch with reality.”
Falling in love connects me with this warm, compassionate nature. It breaks me open and exposes my raw, tender heart. We get a lot of messages that we should cover this up and protect ourselves. However, I believe that trying to protect our hearts only causes more pain. Withholding love because we think a person did us wrong, or they don’t love us back, or we think they don’t deserve it, this only cuts us off from our true nature.
Loving others unconditionally trains us to love ourselves. When I accept others as they are and decide to love them anyway, even when it hurts or I am disappointed (or pissed or jealous or devastated), then I say to myself that I am also loveable. You are loveable, right now, just as you are.
“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes.”
― Pema Chödrön