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Our horrible notions of love

Is love too twisted to ever recover?

by Janet L. Jacobsen

Esquire magazine published an interview with O.J. Simpson, who said, about the killing of his ex-wife, "Even if I did do this, it would have to have been because I loved her very much, right?"

Simpson has since told ESPN that his remark was taken out of context, that he was merely speaking "hypothetically."

Hypothetically, theoretically, whatever twisted justification one might make, the basic premise is wrong, even sick.

Please grasp this now; If you think love justifies violence against the loved one, any form of violence, at any time, under any circumstances, you are wrong, you are confused, you are deceived. You are not in love.

You are wrong, you are confused, you are deceived. You are not in love.

It is our enemies who commit violence against us or, in this day and age, strangers who care nothing about us. Harming someone is the opposite of love, a sign of dislike, of uncaring. As Antoine de St-Exupery wrote, "Love does not cause suffering: what causes it is the sense of ownership, which is love’s opposite."

If one thinks of a person as something one possesses —"my" girlfriend, "my" wife, even "my" ex — then one "loves" the person’s role, the job they are supposed to be doing, but not actually the person. This, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, is the difference between loving the person, and loving the relationship.

It may be that the person becomes so attached to the relationship, that if the "loved one" does something to change it, we attack them for threatening the relationship. But the relationship is in reality an illusion and exists only based on the mutual caring between the two people. Lose sight of that, and you no longer love.

Simpson is not alone in his delusion, of course. As R. D. Laing explains, "We are effectively destroying ourselves by violence masquerading as love." Saul Bellow indicates that the difficulty stems from our lack of training at the real thing when he says, "In expressing love, we belong among the undeveloped countries."

Katherine Anne Porter agrees that love must be learned, noting, "Hate needs no instruction, but only wants to be provoked. Love must be learned, and learned again and again; there is no end to it."

Columnist Ann Landers, who’s spent a lifetime dealing with people’s notions of love, explains, "Infatuation might lead you to do things you’ll regret later, but love never does. Love is an upper. It makes you look up. It makes you think up. It makes you a better person than you were before."


Love is not about what comes back to us, but what comes out from us.

If we are beginning to grasp what love is not, how can we recognize what love is? Fyodor Dostoevsky explains, "In order to love simply, it is necessary to know how to show love." Perhaps our emphasis on love as a feeling, rather than an activity, is where we’ve gone wrong.

Erich Fromm, in The Art of Loving, wrote, "Because one does not see that love is an activity, a power of the soul, one believes that all that is necessary is to find the right object - and that everything goes by itself afterward. This attitude can be compared to that of a man who wants to paint but who, instead of learning the art, claims that he has just to wait for the right object, and that he will paint beautifully when he finds it."

In the current best-seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey explains, "Proactive people make love a verb. Love is something you do; the sacrifices you make, the giving of self. If you want to study love, study those who sacrifice for others, even for people who offend or do not love in return. Love is a value that is actualized through loving actions."

The notion of being happy while loving despite not being loved back is alien indeed to Simpson’s notion of violence as love. Yet many would agree that love depends not at all on the other person’s response. As Johann von Goethe put it, "If I love you, what business is it of yours?" And Alfred Lord Tennyson’s quote is certainly the most famous on the subject, "’Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all." Anne Morrow Lindbergh concluded, "Him that I love, I wish to be free - even from me."

In I Corinthians 13: 7-8, St. Paul reinforces the notion that love is not about what comes back to us, but what comes out from us, in that love "Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails."

Would it make a difference in our lives, and in the world, if we in fact could develop a healthy understanding of love? Mother Teresa saw the lack of love as a major cause of despair, saying, "Pray also for the people who have suffered so much not because they are hungry for bread but because they are hungry for love."

In I Corinthians 13:1-3 St. Paul writes that real love is, in fact, the one essential thing. "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Note that I Corinthians does not say that we are nothing without love (which might lead some of us to violence) but that love is the motivation that makes all things significant. "Love is, above all, the gift of oneself," said Jean Anouilh. James Thurber emphasized the long-term experience, "Love is what you’ve been through together."

Learning to love, then, in it’s truest form, promises us not that we will necessarily be loved back, but that the act of loving itself improves our lives. As John Dryden put it, "Love is love’s reward."