It’s Who You Are, Not What You Do In Love

Once upon a time I dated a guy who was aces at the “romantic gestures.”

There were flowers for no reason, long walks holding hands, picnics in secluded spots, and amazing home-cooked meals.

Jackpot, right?

I have always been one for thoughtful behavior myself, so I responded in kind with surprises and gifts and mini-holiday celebrations for two. Believe it or not, when we eventually broke up, this was stated as one of our “issues.” He told me: “You always do so much for me, there is NO WAY I could EVER KEEP UP!”

Talk about a first world problem!

But I was young and didn’t lose too much sleep over the fear that I may have been too generous. I was just being myself, I reasoned. So the problem was not what I was DOING, but rather that he didn’t really love who I AM.

I was right, of course. But that didn’t stop me from repeating the pattern and it certainly didn’t convince me to stop (over) doing it in my subsequent relationships. I took the bold stand that I AM a person who likes to do nice things and take care of the people I love, so TOO BAD if that makes anyone uncomfortable.

Right again. But where I went wrong, in both cases, was in thinking that my “good” behavior was what made me worthy of someone’s love. I was also wrong in believing that if only I did MORE people might love me MORE.

I have often repeated that love is an involuntary reaction—you fall for who you fall for, rules be damned. We’ve all had suitors or friends who were so sweet to us it could make our teeth ache…but that never made us fall in love with any of them, did it? Love is such a strange and wonderful and complication response to another human being; trying to explain the why and how of it is pointless.

But I think a trap many of us fall into, whether we are seeking love or already in a relationship, is believing that what we DO is more important than who we ARE. I’m not talking about employment here, I am talking about the actions we take to woo or please our beloved. Nobody on planet earth ever fell in love with someone for buying them a diamond ring; she might marry the guy but whether or not she is in love has nothing to do with the rock. But that’s another article entirely.

What we can learn from children about love

I have to admit, it’s a bit ironic that our children teach us this most valuable lesson about the nature of real love AFTER we are (theoretically) already in a committed relationship. Your kids repeatedly show you that they do NOT love you for all of the things you do for them. Hammer it home, actually, the ungrateful little brats (jk). Your kids love you because you are Mom or Dad; this is true (unfortunately) whether you are abusive or you are taking them to Disney World. They love YOU, not what you do; and you return that favor, loving them through all kinds of bad behavior and growing pains.

So look at the relationships in your life—friendships, romantic, business, family—and be honest with yourself: in how many do you give more than you get? Everybody has at least one (most of us have several). Now consider this: is it the people you do the MOST for who make you feel the MOST loved? Most often not, right?

So why do we persist in our belief that it is about what we are doing rather than who we are? To go back to my example—I am, by nature, a person who enjoys doing thoughtful things for people I care about, which is fine. But I have to do those things to please myself and live up to my idea of myself rather than to be more “lovable.”

Because if there is one thing my years on the planet have taught me, it’s that if you don’t love me when I’m cursing another driver out for their obviously idiotic and dangerous driving? You don’t love me at all, and nothing I “do” is going to change that.

I can’t make you love me if you don’t (or won’t)

Now, this is not a call for all of us to start behaving our worst while taking a “love me or leave me” stance about it, but it is a gentle reminder that love cannot be earned and often the more we chase after it, the more it eludes us. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: you can’t make yourself love somebody and you CANNOT MAKE SOMEBODY ELSE LOVE YOU. So put down the credit card and take off your Spanx…if somebody doesn’t love you, fitting into those skinny jeans will not be persuasive. And conversely, if somebody does love you? You can go ahead and puke in their car.

And any relationship that either challenges you to “earn” love or approval or worse yet pits you in some kind of COMPETITION for love (parents do this too) is not a healthy, loving situation. Anyone who makes you play by their rules doesn’t understand that you can only “win” by working as a team. Balance and respect are the keys.

And ultimately this is also an acknowledgement that a broken or unhealthy relationship cannot be fixed by “behavior”. Behavior is just that, conforming to a standard we ***think*** will be pleasing; it is inauthentic pandering most of the time. Once trust or connection is broken (or was never there, let’s be honest) you can ride the straight-and-narrow for eternity without ever recapturing love. We must be ourselves; imperfect, yes, but genuine and sincere. AND we must return the favor of allowing others to be who they really are.

I think one of the greatest barriers to love humans have, in fact, is this idea that “if only” we were “more” this or that, people would love us more; we get hung up on superficial standards and forget that if we are not really okay with who we are, it makes it pretty hard for anyone else to be. Self-improvement must be JUST that…a way of improving the relationship with yourself. Make-over movies be damned, nobody EVER fell in love with someone just because they lost weight, got a tan, new wardrobe, haircut or plastic surgery.

If you are okay with who you are, it actually won’t matter anymore if someone else loves you or not. You are the most important relationship you will ever have, so make sure it’s a good one. Be yourself, and be amazed at how lovable you actually are.