My encounter with my psychiatrist was heavy. Thoughts about love and death have been doing the fandango in my mind. I need pills to stay up and pills to go sleep , it’s been a crazy week. Dr Michael suggested I share some of the things weighing on my heart.
There’s this idea floating around today. Love is taking the risk of heartbreak.
I think it’s badly, fatally wrong. And subscribing to it is why many of us are stuck failing miserably at love. Romantic, friendly, a general attitude of kindness — all the kinds of love.
If you want to experience love, true love, big love, mighty love, then you must know the human heart in a truer way.
Let’s note first that this idea is basically emotional capitalism. Like an entrepreneur, you are taking a “risk” to earn a payoff. The risk is heartbreak, a negative. The payoff is positive, which means it’s some kind of pleasure. When the benefit, the pleasure, exceeds the cost, the displeasure, you have found “love”.
Does that sound like a reasonable description of love to you? To me, it sounds like going to the movies. It’s a trivial way to evaluate and to think about human relationships. If we reduce them to pleasure seeking, where do we end up? Well, where many of us are: endlessly dating, breaking up with, trying to fix people, hurting them and ourselves and never quite getting why. But never really feeling the Grace of love.
So what are we missing? Everything.
This theory is backwards. Love isn’t risking heartbreak. Love is heartbreak. When your heart breaks every time you look at someone — not just that you feel desire, longing, and so on — that is love.
So: Heartbreak doesn’t happen after, maybe, as a “risk”. It happens before, while, during — as a necessary, critical element of love. And because it’s missing in many of us — no: it’s not just desire, anger, fear, jealousy, but something much deeper and truer — is why love eludes us.
I’m going to give you my own example. When I used look at the person I loved, what happened? I didn’t “risk” heartbreak. I was heartbroken. I saw her grief, her suffering. Her pain and longing. The scars upon her very own broken heart. I saw all the disappointment and hurt etched on it. And that is how I was able to hold her.
Why did I want to see her so deeply?
I was not just looking for pleasure from her. If I was, what would that be? Not love. Just self-gratification.
I was looking deeper. Trying to really see her. The truth of her. Even though it broke my heart every single day. Why? Because that is what love is.
The beginning of love is really see someone. Anyone. When we really see someone, what we are looking for is their broken hearts. How do I know?
Just ask yourself: what does it feel like for you to be loved? Is it when someone uses you as a vehicle for pleasure? Not really. If anything, then you feel unloved. You feel loved when your wounds are seen. And held.
That is love. It is seeing the heartbreak in someone. Willing to have your own heart broken in sympathy, in grace, by necessity of just seeing the truth of them.
Then and only then can we hold them.
So this theory of modern love as emotional capitalism. It’s trendy. Most of all, it’s easy. It reduces us to pleasure seekers. Much easier to chase pleasure than really see people. But for that reason, it also prevents us from really finding love. How?
You’re there thinking: “wait. What if I get my heart broken? That’s the downside of love! I better not let it happen!” You’re avoiding heartbreak, which means you can’t see people, which means you can’t hold them. So love — true love — never finds you.
So let this theory go. It will lead you down a garden path.
Love is heartbreak. When you are genuinely ready to have your heart broken, love will find you.
The people putting forth this theory have probably never had their hearts broken. They think heartbreak feels bad, and life is a game of pleasure. They are wrong.
Heartbreak feels like the sky. It is the suffering of the flower opening itself up to the spring. Greater than pleasure, the unfurling of possibility.