Love means that I know the person I love. I’m aware of the many sides of the other person----not just the beautiful side but also the limitations, inconsistencies and flaws. I have anawareness of the other’s feelings and thoughts, and I experience something of the core ofthat person. I can penetrate social masks and roles and see the other person on a deeperlevel.
Love means that I care about the welfare of the person I love. To the extent that it is genuine,my caring is not a smothering of the person or a possessive clinging. On the contrary, mycaring liberates both of us. If I care about you, I’m concerned about your growth, and I hopeyou will become all that you can become. Consequently, I don’t put up roadblocks to what youdo that enhances you as a person, even though it may result in my discomfort at times.
Love means having respect for the dignity of the person I love. If I love you, I can see you as aseparate person, with your own values and thoughts and feelings, and I do not insist that yousurrender you identity and conform to an image of what I expect you to be for me. I canallow and encourage you to stand alone and to be who you are, and I avoid treating you asan object or using you primarily to gratify my own needs.
Love means having a responsibility toward the person I love. If I love you, I’m responsive tomost of your major needs as a person. This responsibility does not entail my doing for youwhat you are capable of doing for yourself; nor does it mean that I run your life for you. Itdoes imply acknowledging that what I am and what I do affects you, so that I am directlyinvolved in your happiness and your misery. A lover does have the capacity to hurt or neglectthe loved one, and in this sense I see that love entails and acceptance of some responsibilityfor the impact my way of being has on you.
Love means growth for both myself and the person I love. If I love you, I am growing as aresult of my love. You are a stimulant for me to become more fully what I might become, andmy loving enhances your being as well. We each grow as a result of caring and being cared for;we each share in an enriching experience that does not detract form our being.
Love means making a commitment to the person I love. This commitment does not entailsurrendering our total selves to each other; nor does it imply that the relationship isnecessarily permanent. It does entail a willingness to stay with each other in times of pain,uncertainty, struggle, and despair, as well as in times of calm and enjoyment.
Love means trusting the person I love. If I love you, I trust that you will accept my caring andmy love and that you won’t deliberately hurt me. I trust that you will find me lovable and thatyou won’t abandon me; I trust the reciprocal nature of our love. If we trust each other, we arewilling to be open to each other and can shed masks and pretenses and reveal our trueselves.
Love can tolerate imperfection. In a love relationship there are times of boredom, times whenI may feel like giving up, times of real strain, and times I experience an impasse. Authentic lovedoes not imply enduring happiness. I can stay during rough times, however, because I canremember what we had together in the past, and I can picture what we will have together in ourfuture if we care enough to face our problems and work them through. We agree with ReverendMaier when he writes that love is a spirit that changes life. Love is a way of life that is creativeand that transforms. However, Maier does not view love as being reserved for a perfect world. ”Love is meant for our imperfect world where things go wrong. Love is meant to be a spirit thatworks in painful situations. Love is meant to bring meaning into life where nonsense appears toreign.” In other words, love comes into an imperfect world to make it livable.
Love is freeing. Love is freely given, not doled out on demand. At the same time, my love foryou is not dependent on whether you fulfill my expectations of you. Authentic love does notimply “I’ll love you when you become perfect or when you become what I expect you tobecome.” Authentic love is not given with strings attached. There is an unconditional qualityabout love.
Love is expansive. If I love you, I encourage you to reach out and develop other relationships.Although our love for each other and our commitment to each other might bar certain actionson our parts, we are not totally and exclusively wedded to each other. It is a pseudolove thatcements one person to another in such a way that he or she is not given room to grow. Caseyand Vanceburg put this notion well:
The honest evidence of our love is our commitment to encouraging another’s fulldevelopment. We are interdependent personalities who need one another’s presence in orderto fulfill our destiny. And yet, we are also separate individuals. We must come to terms withour struggles alone.
Love means having a want for the person I love without having a need for that person in orderto be complete. If I am nothing without you, then I’m not really free to love you. I love you andyou leave, I’ll experience a loss and be sad and lonely, but I’ll still be able to survive. If I am notfree to challenge our relationship; nor am I free to challenge and confront you. Because ofmy fear of losing you, I’ll settle for less than I want, and this settling will surely lead to feelingsof resentment.
Love means identifying with the person I love. If I love you, I can empathize with you and seethe world through your eyes. I can identify with you and see the world through your eyes. Ican identify with you because I’m able to see myself in you and you in me. This closeness doesnot imply a continual “togetherness,” for distance and separation are sometimes essential ina loving relationship. Distance and can intensify a loving bond, and it can help us rediscoverourselves, so that we are able to meet each other in a new way.
Love means selfish. I can only love you if I genuinely love, value, appreciate, and respectmyself. If I am empty, then all I can give you is my emptiness. If I feel that I’m complete andworthwhile in myself, then I’m able to give to you out of my fullness. One of the best ways forme to give you love is by fully enjoying myself with you.
Love involves seeing the potential within the person we love. In my love for another, I view heror him as the person she or he can become, while still accepting who and what the person isnow. Goethe’s observation is relevant here: by taking people as they are, we make themworse, but by treating them as if they already were what they ought to be, we help make thembetter.
We conclude this discussion of the meanings that authentic love has for us by sharing athought from Fromm’s The Art of Loving (1956). His description of mature love sums up theessential characteristics of authentic love quite well:
Mature love is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, one’s individuality. Inlove this paradox occurs that two beings become one and yet remain two.