“Young man, why are you eating that fish?”
“Because I love fish,” the young man answers.
“Oh, you love the fish. That’s why you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it. Don’t tell me you love the fish. You love yourself, and because the fish tastes good to you, therefore you took it out of the water and killed it and boiled it.”
So much of what we think is ‘love’ is really this.
“Beautiful” is not love
When I was breaking up with my boyfriend of five years, he responded with a heartfelt, “but I want to be with you!”
As though that makes sense as a rebuttal.
As though his needs alone were enough. As though saying that would somehow make me forget my own dissatisfaction, like “oh! well damn, aiight.” As though that was an appropriate, loving response.
I sighed. And then I asked him “why do you want to be with me?”
And he looked me in the eye and actually said to me, “because you’re beautiful.” Full stop.
And that’s how he broke my heart and confirmed my decision in about 1 second flat.
“Whenever someone tells me I’m beautiful, they’re telling me they love themselves. They’re telling me that they want to be around people and things that give them pleasure, and that my physical appearance gives them pleasure. But, they’re not telling me that they care about me.” — Emma Lindsay, Fish Love
So many women are ready and willing to accept “beautiful” as the highest compliment; embrace it as the pinnacle of their person. But it’s not.
That comment really says nothing about you.
“Finding someone beautiful is not love, it is self love. Because finding someone extremely pleasurable is not love, it is self love.”
I still struggle with what to do when being called “beautiful.” Most days (and it is most days, being a bartender) I can brush it off a little and laugh; I can accept this low level of discourse from someone across the bar, who doesn’t know me, never will, and, frankly, isn’t invited to; for whom I’m paid to be how they want to see me, “beautiful” included.
But part of me still bristles every time a partner or potential partner says this, especially because they always fucking list it first.
Every time it happens, the music stops for me a little, like: oh. yeah. that’s right.
I have to triage — either push through it; ask and look for other things; deliberately stack things in their favor regardless of their indiscretion; do the work and paint a prettier picture for us both… or pretend and look the other way.
Because “beautiful” is never, ever love. We romanticize this culturally, but we’re wrong.
“If you spend your life looking for love by trying to find someone who thinks you’re crazy beautiful, you won’t find love. If you spend your life trying to find someone you think is beautiful, you won’t find love.”
If someone thinks you are beautiful, but doesn’t care about your feelings or your reality — or, more specifically, if they prefer that your feelings and reality simply mirror their own or otherwise be uncomplicated for them — then they do not love you. They like you as fish.
Same goes for being liked for “security” or any number of other major features you may offer.
“If you believe you can be nourished by this kind of love, you will be disappointed.”
Attachment is not love
We confuse these two, accepting the former as a demonstration of the latter and bastardizing the whole idea of love in the process.
Love is relaxed. Love does not “leash.” Love would never even consider tethering their beloved. Love does not expect or make demands.
Love is not fucking “grabby.”
These are all attachment, and they are weak and toxic demonstrations of affection at best, loaded with insecurity and ego-centeredness.
Wanting to be together or text all the time is not love. Wanting consistent reassurance is not love. Yearning for or pining over is not love. Wanting — at all — is not love.
Love is give, not take.
Love is pushing energy toward them, not wanting or pulling their energy to you. Not sometimes, or “for as long as it seems fair.” Always. Love is never keeping score on energy exchange. Love is only offering. Anything else is attachment and ego.
When you make demands that benefit you, it is not love. If you think in terms of your own desires, even if you think your interests are “mutually beneficial” or for “the good of the relationship,” it is not love.
Pulling, grabbing, demanding, coercing… is never love.
Allowing and liberating and giving are.
Heartbreak is not love
It is focusing on your own feelings, not theirs. This is especially true if you are heartbroken following a breakup or divorce — i.e., something one or both of you decided — rather than an incident over which neither of you had control (i.e, death.)
If you are more concerned with your own emotions, negative and challenging as they may be, than seeking to understand, empathize with, and accept their reasons, then this is not love. It is self-interest.
Every time I break up with a boyfriend, I break my mother’s heart a little too.
And sure, it’s partly because she “just wants me to be with someone” (an inclination that we’re all so quick to chalk up as “love” when it isn’t, given that it directly usurps my own, actual life decisions) but mostly because: the woman just can’t fucking deal with change.
She gets to know someone and suddenly thinks I owe her their permanence in my life and hers. And when that ceases to be the case, she piles more emotion onto my breakup than I do, clinging to my exes and continuing to stay in touch with them (sometimes for years), occasionally turning to me and saying things like, “you messed up; you made a mistake.” Even when it was bullshit love and, knowing that, I’m better off without them. Mama, she don’t fuckin care.
My mother also hates it when I change jobs. She hated when I dropped my startup — because she just “liked telling people” I had my own business. Nevermind it wouldn’t scale and wasn’t what I wanted in the longterm.
How she fails to see that any of this is a far cry from real love astounds me. Maybe she just doesn’t care. That I can believe.
We think this sort of shit is okay — endearing even; “motherly” — simply because “all moms” think and act this way. But that’s just our societal (and, frankly, women’s “Feminine Mystique”-esque) insecurity speaking.
And it sure as fuck isn’t love.
I care for her, but I’m also pretty sure I tolerate this simply because I choose to honor my social obligation to.
I cannot heave
My heart into my mouth. I love you
According to my bond, no more nor less.
— Cordelia, King Lear
And I think she fails to realize how quickly I will cease to tolerate it the minute that scale tips in favor of “zero fucks.”
We think the parent-child relationship somehow saves love — maintains it in some pure form — but we’re often wrong. Every reason to have a child is fundamentally selfish or socially-construed, and everybody lives with this dynamic hanging over them from a parent.
Is like the pinnacle of fish love. A wedding is the frying pan; all the years after, the plate. (Divorce and falling out, perhaps, the disposal.)
“I’m gonna make her my wife,” we say, and accept as the measure of romantic achievement.
Because we want to mark them as our own; want some legal binding to make this thing more like “forever.” God forbid they continue to roam the earth as an individual, with no legal obligation not to stray. God forbid we love them as their own person without a sense of ownership or agency over them.
With our goal first being marriage, and the person only being the means. Or with another person being the object of our desire, and marriage being the vehicle through which to get that shit on lock down. And sure, it isn’t always the case — I know there are people tightly tethered to their own True Love Story, who will get defensive about the Real Romance that they have, and that’s fucking fine. But, outside of you two Genuine Lovebirds, this shit is often fish.
It’s not that self-love is wrong. In fact, genuine love requires you to first love yourself. The problem is that too many of us don’t self-love using ourselves, and we instead use other human beings to achieve it.
And the even bigger problem is that that’s the only way so many of us seem to know how to interact, and it’s perpetuated by what we see from other people, media, and society.
So often we approach other living and breathing human beings looking to reduce them to a set of characteristics; pick and choose how to see them and collect from them what makes us feel good and keep us company on a Friday night.
Love is care, not consumption. It is about first loving yourself; having a whole existence with enough sustenance that you do not need to pull love off of those around you.
And when we finally direct our attention at others, love is about give and not take.
Love is not a feeling. Love is an act.
We’ve all heard this and some of us even believe it, and yet when we’re asked why we love our beloved, we continue to dumbly reply: “because she/he is ___.”
i.e., we love them because of what they represent for us — and provide.
But good love has nothing to do with what they are or what we harvest from them. Good love is the way in which we love them — it’s us loving their very being, us loving their essence, us loving their ups and downs and imperfections and dumb complaints and irritations and short-comings and differences, for fucks sake, us loving their decisions — each day.
We fail to realize that the answer to “why?”, in true love, is something more like “because I choose to.”
And that the bigger question in love is more like “how” we’ll love as an act so hard and fast and deep, and less about “to whom” or “why.”