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What is Real Love?

Imagine that I tell you I love you. I smile at you, speak kind words to you, and perhaps even present you with a gift of some kind. Understandably, you enjoy this, as we all would. Five minutes later, however, I storm into the room describing a mistake that has been made, and while shaking my finger in your face and scowling with rage I say, “Are you the one who did this?!”

How loved do you feel now? That great feeling disappeared the moment I entered the room, didn’t it? We’ve all experienced moments like this. For most of us, in fact, this has been a lifelong pattern. This kind of “love” is very disappointing and unfulfilling, because it vanishes when we make mistakes and when we fail to meet the expectations of those who “love” us. This kind of “love” is conditional. There’s only one kind of love, however, that can fill us up, make us whole, and give us the happiness we all want: unconditional love or Real Love.

It is unconditional love or Real Love that we all seek, and somehow we recognize that anything other than that kind of love isn’t really love at all—it’s an imitation of the real thing. Unconditional love – Real Love – is so different from the kind of love most of us have known all our lives that it deserves both a name and definition of its own.

Real Love is caring about the happiness of another person without wanting anything in return.

It’s also Real Love when other people care about our happiness unconditionally. With Real Love, people are not disappointed or angry when we make our foolish mistakes, when we don’t do what they want, or even when we inconvenience them personally. Real Love is unconditional.

When I use the word happiness, I do not mean the brief and superficial pleasure that comes from money, sex, power, or the conditional approval we earn from others when we behave as they want. Nor do I mean the temporary feeling of satisfaction we experience in the absence of immediate conflict or disaster. Real happiness is not the feeling we get from being entertained or making people do what we want. Real happiness is a profound and lasting sense of peace and fulfillment that deeply satisfies and enlarges the soul. It doesn’t go away when circumstances are difficult. It survives and even grows during hardship and struggle. True happiness is our entire reason to live, and it can only be obtained as we find Real Love and share it with others.

With Real Love, nothing else matters; without it, nothing else is enough.

What is the difference between Unconditional and Conditional Love?

The Love We've All Been Looking For
(True Love, Real Love)

There are few subjects to which more books, movies, and conversations have been devoted than that of love. We all want to feel loved. We think about it, hope for it, fantasize about it, go to great lengths to achieve it, and feel that our lives are incomplete without it.

It is not unreasonable to state, in fact, that the single most important requirement for our emotional health and happiness is to feel loved. Our souls require feeling loved in just as real a way as our bodies require air and food.

It is sorely regrettable, therefore, that on the whole we really don’t understand what love is. Ask a hundred people what love means, and you’ll get a hundred different answers. As a result, we also don’t know how to find it. That is a considerable source of frustration, considering how badly we all want this elusive essence.

Conditional Love

Sadly, few of us have sufficiently received or given Real Love. From the time we were small children, we observed that when we didn’t fight with our sisters, didn’t make too much noise in the car, got good grades, and were otherwise obedient and cooperative, our parents and others smiled at us, patted our heads, and spoke kindly. With their words and behavior, they told us what good boys and girls we were, and we felt loved.

But what happened when we did fight with our sisters, made too much noise, got bad grades, and dragged mud across the clean living room carpet? Did people smile at us then or speak gentle, loving words? No—they frowned, sighed with disappointment, and often spoke in harsh tones. Just as the positive behaviors of other people communicated to us that we were loved, we could interpret the withdrawal of those behaviors only as an indication that we were not being loved. Although it was unintentional, our parents and others taught us this terrible message: “When you’re good, I love you, but when you’re not, I don’t—or certainly I love you a great deal less.”

Unconditional Love

This conditional love can give us brief moments of satisfaction, but we’re still left with a huge hole in our souls, because only Real Love can make us genuinely happy. When someone is genuinely concerned about our happiness, we feel connected to that person. We feel included in his or her life, and in that instant we are no longer alone. Each moment of unconditional acceptance creates a living thread to the person who accepts us, and these threads weave a powerful bond that fills us with a genuine and lasting happiness. Nothing but Real Love can do that. In addition, when we know that even one person loves us unconditionally, we feel a connection to everyone else. We feel included in the family of all mankind, of which that one person is a part.

What is Imitation Love?

When we don't have enough Real Love, the emptiness is intolerably painful, and in order to fill our emptiness, we use money, anger, control, sex, alcohol, food, drugs, violence, and the conditional "love" of others, all of which are variations on only four general themes: praise, power, pleasure, and safety. When we pursue these things as substitutes for Real Love, they all become forms of Imitation Love.

Many of us spend our entire lives devoted to the pursuit of Imitation Love. Because the effects of Imitation Love are always temporary, however, we have to work very hard to maintain an adequate supply, and eventually we discover that no amount can ever make us happy.

We tend to establish relationships with people—and fall in love with them—based on their ability to give us Imitation Love. When a man falls in love with a woman because she is beautiful, for example, he is actually declaring that he loves how she makes him feel with her beauty, not how he unconditionally cares about her happiness.

When two people are in love, the exchange of Imitation Love is abundant and feels more satisfying than anything the couple has known before. It's only natural that both of them usually develop the expectation that the other person will continue to make them happy for the rest of their lives. In fact, most people get married for that very reason—to guarantee that they will have a partner who will make them happy for a lifetime.

After a time, however—perhaps months, maybe years—the satisfying effects of Imitation Love always wear off, and the subsequent disappointment is overwhelming. Each partner naturally concludes that the other partner is the cause of his or her unhappiness. They both feel let down and betrayed by the other, and an enormous sense of blaming then poisons the relationship. Neither partner understands that the real cause of unhappiness in the relationship is not the other person, but the fact that both of them came to the relationship without sufficient Real Love, thereby lacking the one ingredient most essential to genuine happiness and healthy relationships.

What are Getting and Protecting Behaviors?

When we lack sufficient Real Love, we feel empty and afraid, conditions that are unbearably painful. In order to eliminate our emptiness, we use Getting Behaviors to fill ourselves with Imitation Love. The Getting Behaviors include:

Lying — Although it's usually unconscious on our part, any time we do anything to get other people to like us—by accentuating our positive physical, mental, social, or occupational qualities—we are lying. With our lies, we earn the conditional approval of others (praise), and often we get other forms of Imitation Love as well.
Attacking — We're attacking people when we use any behavior designed to modify their behavior with fear. We frighten or intimidate people with anger, authority, physical intimidation, guilt, and so on. When we attack people, we feel stronger. We feel a sense of power, which temporarily can be quite satisfying in the absence of Real Love.
Acting like victims — We're acting like victims when we point out what other people should have done for us. When we act hurt and maintain that we have been treated unfairly, we're using guilt and obligation to persuade people that we are victims and that we deserve more than we are presently getting.
Clinging — When we find people who give us some of the Imitation Love we crave, we often cling to them for more. To illustrate just one of many ways we can cling, imagine that a spouse or friend has decided to part company with you earlier than you had anticipated during an evening or weekend. If you say, "Do you really have to go now?" you're clinging to him or her for more attention.

In order to diminish our fears, we use Protecting Behaviors, which include:

Lying — From the time we were small children, we learned to hide or diminish our mistakes, flaws, and fears, because then people tended to withdraw their approval less.
Attacking — Anger gives us a rush of power, and then we feel less helpless and afraid. In addition, when other people are attacking us, we can often get them to stop attacking us if we attack them in return.
Acting like victims — When people are attacking us, they will often stop if we can act sufficiently wounded and accuse them of hurting us. Victims also frequently use variations on the expression, "It's not my fault."
Running — One effective way to diminish our pain is simply to withdraw from it. We can run by physically leaving difficult situations or relationships, emotionally withdrawing from interactions or relationships, burying ourselves in our careers, and by using alcohol or drugs.

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