If you truly loved the fish, you wouldn’t be eating it. You’d let it swim in the river. You probably mean that you love yourself.
Isn’t it interesting that so many of us feel so lonely and unloved, feeling that we don’t receive love from others while at the same time we put out so much love, we love so many things. It seems that for many people love only flows out and it doesn’t flow in. Perhaps this is all part of our misunderstanding of what love is.
Love is one of the most misused words I know of. We talk about things that we love and people that we love. We talk about things and people we’re attracted to as being in love with them. Yet there’s a world of a difference between being attracted to someone and being in love with someone. When we’re attracted to someone, we are the subject. It’s about me. When I see that person, I get a certain feeling within me. Something happens to me. It’s a feeling that makes me feel good and therefore attracts me to them. When we love someone in the true definition of love, I want to give to that person, I want to bestow upon them. In the truest definition of love, I want to give to them for them. This is how I would define love in its pure, idealistic definition. Giving to another for the other.
There’s a story told about a man who goes to a restaurant and orders fish. His favorite fish, salmon. While he’s enjoying his dinner, a friend walks in and asks him what he ordered. He says, “Can’t you see? Fish. I love fish.” His friend tells him, if you truly loved the fish, you probably wouldn’t be eating it. You’d let it swim in the river. You probably mean that you love yourself.
You see, very often what we’re really saying is that we love ourselves. When we eat fish, it’s surely not because we love the fish, it’s because we love ourselves. Any vegetarian will be happy to tell you that you don’t eat steak because you love the steak, you eat steak because you love yourself. When it comes to food, our misuse of the word love has little ramification. We eat foods because we like them and if we are more elevated, we eat food because it sustains us. However, when it comes to our relationships with other people this distinction is very important. With things, we have a one-way relationship. The brownie is not going to get hurt or feel violated by the fact that you’re eating it out of your own self-interest. Relationships with people are of course very different. It would be worthwhile for us to analyze our loving relationships with this perspective in mind. In fact, coming to terms with the truth of this distinction can be the key to improving many relationships with your loved ones.
Sometimes, before I marry a couple, I ask them each to write a one-page letter explaining why they want to marry the other person. Often, the entire letter is all about how wonderful their future spouse is because they make them feel different wonderful things. It is much less often that they share objective beauty about the other person without focusing on the benefits they gain from them. This is how love is taught in our society. My attraction to things that serve me or make me feel good are things that I love. As is quite obvious, this attitude makes our relationships all about me. This is actually, perhaps ironically, the exact opposite of what love is. True love is when my relationship with you is about you and your relationship with me is about me.
Think about it this way. Imagine if you were dating someone who you were very strongly attracted to. You knew you would get a tremendous amount of pleasure out of the relationship. Yet you also knew that you were not the true soulmate of the person you were dating. They really needed to marry a different type of person. What would you do? By moving along with the relationship and getting married to them you are actually demonstrating that you don’t love them. If you were to tell them, “Look, I am really attracted to you but I realize that you need someone a little bit different than myself. As much as I would love to get married to you, that would not be right for you. So, with a broken heart, I think the right thing would be that we break up.” Now that would be an unbelievably courageous and even more so, an enormously loving gesture toward the other person. Why? Because you are telling something to them which is entirely for them.
Love is me giving you for you. Sometimes we can give to another person but it’s not truly for them. There is a benefit that we are getting out of giving to them. It’s an exchange and when it’s worthwhile I’m happy to give to you so that I get my side of the deal. You may call it a purchase or a mutual agreement. What it is not is love. Love is when I am giving to you and it is for you. You may choose to give me something in return but if that is not the intention of my giving to you then I am truly loving you.
Of course, love does not need to be demonstrated in absolute terms every time we love someone. Sometimes we are doing for another person while also intending to be a beneficiary. The point is that the more we are focused on another the more we are loving them and the more we are focused on ourselves the more we are loving ourselves. It’s no big art to love ourselves, it’s quite natural. It is an art and requires significant self-development to learn how to truly love others. It’s no art to seek a loving relationship where someone loves us. It is an art to learn how to be loving in a relationship. The irony is that the best way to find a loving relationship is by being a loving to the other person.
This is true as well regarding love for our own self. When I give myself things which I am attracted to that make me feel good, all while I know they are not good for me, I am being unloving to myself. When I give things to me which are also good for me, then I am truly loving myself.
This is true as well when we talk about loving G-d. To love God is not to do what I want, it is to do what He wants. Oh yes, I can feel how difficult that is. Doing entirely for another really takes me out of the picture and I don’t really enjoy that. This is very true. True love isn’t always easy. Stick it out long enough and you will discover that the rewards of showing love to others are far greater than you can imagine. Almost everyone in the world is seeking true love. It’s a rare commodity because not many are ready to dedicate themselves to being true lovers. Become a true lover and you’ll be offering a very rare commodity. You will also suddenly find that you have real friends, a real spouse, and dedicated children. And you will be making an invaluable contribution to the world.
So I encourage you to take it on. Every time you have an interaction with your quote unquote loved ones, ask yourself who you are really thinking about. Just asking that question can give you the space you need to shift from thinking about yourself to thinking about them. It can change that moment from an unloving one to a loving one. Enough of these moments will transform your relationships and they will transform you.