If we’re lucky we grow up hearing our parents tell us they love us. We read fairy tales about finding our true loves. We love super heroes and super models, rock stars and movie stars. We fall in and out of love. We love our friends, our aunts and uncles, grandparents and some of our teachers. We love our pets. And if we’re really lucky, one day the stars align and we meet someone that we fall in love with and want to build a life with.
The cliches abound on the subject. Love makes the world go around (or was that money?). Love conquers all. All’s fair in love and war. Love is blind. Love thy neighbor. Misery loves company. You only hurt the one you love. Love the one you’re with. Love means never having to say you’re sorry. With love, all things are possible. Love hurts. Love of a lifetime. Everlasting love. Unlucky in cards, lucky in love. Love at first sight. Love is a many splendid thing. Head over heels in love. Love will find a way. Make love not war.
Many a song has been written about love. It’s the subject of books and movies. It’s in tv shows and even commercials. Every where we go, everything we do, we are reminded of love and its importance. It even has its own holidays and saint.
So why are so many people lonely and isolated from those they love? How is it that the very parents that say they love us throw us out of the house when we come out or date someone of a different religion or ethnic background or fill in the blank? Why is the divorce rate so high and long term successful marriages/relationships such a rarity? Why are so many families at odds with each other and, in some cases, can’t be in the same room with each other? If love really is all of those cliches then why do we have such a hard time finding and keeping love?
According to “Eight Steps to Happiness” by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, love is often confused with attachment. He says, “One is a real cause of happiness and the other is an inner poison that eventually leads to pain and anger. If we ever want to enjoy good relationships, we must begin to recognize attachment and make our love real. These two are easily confused, but it is vital to discriminate between them, because love will bring us only happiness while the mind of attachment will bring us only suffering.”
Here are the five signs our love is polluted by attachment according to Geshe Kelsang Gyatso:
1. Love says: I want you to be happy.
Attachment says: I want you to make me happy.
Love is an other centered mind, whereas the mind of attachment focuses on our wishes, what we want from the other person. While it is true that a healthy relationship consists of both giving and receiving, the more we focus on the happiness of others the happier we will feel as well.
2. Attachment keeps a tally of what has been given and received. With real love we find the joy in giving and are simply happy to make someone else happy.
3. Attachment always turns to anger. When our love is contaminated with attachment, we will get angry at our loved ones more than at strangers.
4. The mind of attachment is relating to a projection of mind and not to a real person. There is an exaggeration of good qualities that leads to expectation and ultimately disappointment. When the person doesn’t live up to our projection of them, we think “you’ve changed”. In particular we are projecting a person that has the good quality of being able to make us happy all the time. Real love accepts the person as they are–imperfect.
5. “Only You”–With attachment our love for everyone else diminishes, it is as if that person becomes technicolor and everyone else fades into black and white. We feel we don’t need anyone but that person. With real love, the person we love becomes a window to deepening our love for all living beings.
I’m not a parent, but I think about the love I have for my pets and I’m pretty sure it’s an unconditional, pure love. I can imagine that parental love is the same or even more intense. But, at some point, or maybe all along, parental love changes to holding expectations and attachments which are why some feel justified in dis-owning their children when they don’t live up to their expectations or even go as far as inflicting other types of abuses upon their kids. Spouses and partners enter into relationships with people they say they love with a lot of expectations of what the future with that person will be like. This is clearly attachment. We’re all spoon fed the fantasies of happily ever after and knights in shining armor from a very young age. Our parents expect us to marry a certain type person and live in a certain type of neighborhood and have a certain number of grand children for them to spoil. Where is love in any of this? It isn’t. It’s selfish and all about meeting someone else’s expectations.
Is it any wonder that marriages fall apart when genders change or careers change or expectations are not met in a myriad of ways? I think not. I don’t think this is unusual at all. I read about it all over the internet, so it must be true. And I see it on tv which is further evidence of it being a fact. Only on the Hallmark channel do you ever see those perfect happy endings we all dream about. I look at my own life and I know that attachment has been rampant in most, if not all, of my relationships throughout my life. I know that I have been on both sides of attachment. And, Gyatso is right. It does lead to misery and unhappiness.
So what do we do? According to Gyatso, we begin to be aware of attachment and build real unconditional love in our lives. We work to improve the quality of the love we give to others. We learn to truly love our neighbors. Cultivate love for the sake of love and not what we’ll get out of it for ourselves. The good news is that this can be done while currently in a relationship. Notice when you’re reacting out of attachment instead of love for the other person. Unconditional love does not put attachments on another soul. If we want to be unconditionally loved then we have to love unconditionally.
*note: the above website advertises CDs for sale. I have not bought these and am not promoting them in any way nor do I get any proceeds from their sale. Purchase at your own risk.
*note: I did not quote from this article because the material in it is copyrighted but I include it here for further reading. I think it’s a very good article and worth sharing. The material she presents certainly inspired some of my thinking on this subject.