Recently my psychiatrist asked me about a romantic relationship I had been in a while ago. Before long I began telling her about all the ways I thought I had failed or fallen short. When I said that I wanted to do better at my next relationship, she told me not to say “better”, but to say “differently”. A phrase that I constantly apply to myself is “not good enough”, but my psychiatrist says one should not think of life in terms of “good or bad”, one should rather compare situations as simply “other/different”.
The reason I have an issue with this is that if I can’t define something, or put it into a box marked “good” or “bad”, then how do I make sense of the world? How do I live up to someone’s expectations? How do I get full marks? How can I fit in and be accepted and win approval?
I told my psychiatrist that I have now been worrying and pondering whether I had really given my ex love or if I had just been needy. She replied that “it felt like love at the time”. But love can’t just be a feeling that is whatever you say it is because you want it to be so. Lusting after someone isn’t the same as loving them. Idolising someone isn’t the same as loving them. Etc.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines love as “a strong feeling of affection”, but I have a feeling many a married couple would rile against such a simplified synopsis of a lifetime together. As a romantic at heart, I certainly hope to get a commitment of more than “strong affection”. Or am I a fool, believing in something that may not exist?
After this conversation with my psychiatrist, I realised that I was comparing my attitude and behaviour during the relationship to the definition of love I had learnt years ago at church:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
– 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)
Does this mean that to love someone we must be all of these things all of the time in equal measure? Can I be patient today and kind tomorrow? Can I protect a little and trust a lot? It is humanly impossible (in my humble opinion) to truly love anyone in our lives if this is what we are aiming for. But if this is not love then what is? At which point can we accept that we love each other enough? What is good enough? Or do we just realise one day that this is different and it feels like love?