Love is Something that You Do

by Melissa Karnaze

two dogs running together with a stickLast week, we talked about four reasons to kill your Ego that aren’t very good, and how the Kill-Ego Crusade — that many self-help/New Age sects are obsessed with — is fueled by a misrepresentation of the Oneness and love of God.

And as promised, today we’ll talk about the concrete actionable steps of love.

Love is a verb

Love is probably the most talked about and idolized human emotion. But all the buzz around love isn’t necessarily true.

It’s easy to misunderstand love. Yes, it is a human emotion, a feeling, a state of being. But it’s not limited to that. And that feeling itself is only one element of love.

Love must be tested to be true.

You can sit in a room and feel love for the planet all day long. But if you use inaction to avoid the planet, or self-centered activities to avoid going out into the world and putting your love to the test, it’s questionable how much you really do love.

Because love is something that you do.

If you don’t act in loving ways, but claim that you feel it, you won’t fool anyone for too long.

Your actions speak louder than any “I love you.”

Because love is something that you do.

Love is a powerful verb

To illustrate how powerful a verb love is, let’s look back to an article from Valentine’s Day, Why Neither Monogamy Nor Polyamory are More Natural.

This is a controversial article, but the aim of it is very simple: to deconstruct what we commonly refer to as love, in the romantic context.

The takeaway point from the article is this: Loving someone romantically has absolutely nothing to do with relationship style; romantic relationships are co-consented social constructs.

(This takeaway point was also expanded upon in Two Gifts of Unrequited Love.)

What this means is that a man can love a woman romantically, incredibly, deeply, while still consenting to her seeing other men — essentially through an open, or polyamorous relationship.

And this means that a man can love a woman romantically, incredibly, deeply, while only consenting to a closed relationship, which entails exclusivity, or monogamy.

Why love is not bound by romance

Talk to happy monogamous and polyamorous couples, and they will tell you the same thing: they are romantically, incredibly, and deeply in love.

Sounds crazy, right? How could opposite romantic relationship styles be founded upon the same thing?

It’s because they aren’t really opposite, they’re different.

And, they are only romantic relationship styles, personal preferences — where both partners’ relationship needs are honored. Monogamy and polyamory only work when both partners consent, when both partners value and want it.

Again, what partners want in the romantic context has absolutely nothing to do with how good, righteous, noble, spiritual, conscious, or loving they are.

Romantic relationships are about the nitty-gritty practicalities in life, like boundaries, and having limited precious resources of time, energy, attention, and emotion. You have only so much of those things to share — who are you going to share them with first, second, third, fourth, and why? When? How? These are tough questions, but they define all of our relationships.

You can’t use the romantic context to define love as a verb, because love is so powerful, so universal — it’s not bound by romance.

And it’s simple. Because it’s actionable. And it has three concrete components.

Love is respect

Respect is taking extra care to honor another’s personal boundaries, whether they are explicitly stated or implied and intuited.

Disrespect is overstepping another’s personal boundaries, by trying to tell them what they need, trying to tell them what to think, or other behaviors that come with arguing, debating, and other monstrosities in destructive behavior.

Respect requires patience, mindfulness, empathy, kindness. Respect is honoring another human being for who they want to be and how they want to be treated — even if you disagree, think they don’t really know who they are, or think they’re not really sure how they want to be treated. Respect is keeping all this to yourself, unless they ask for your opinion, or unless you really do need to speak up.

Respect is giving them space… to be themself, without your negative judgment.

Love is acceptance

Acceptance is required for respect to blossom.

You need to accept a person, “flaws and all,” for exactly who they are, in order to honor them.

You also need to accept that it’s not your place to change them or fix them — those are codependent aspirations anyway.

Acceptance is really, really hard. It can be excruciatingly painful.

But it’s worth it, and it’s beautiful. And it’s the only way a relationship can blossom.

Love is surrender

Okay, surrender is like acceptance on steroids, but it does deserve its own category. Because accepting a person is one thing, but accepting all the crazy life events that get in the way of having a healthy relationship through which to express love to that person on a continual basis is another thing — that’s hard and the odds are often against you in some way.

Which means it requires some reinforces, heavy artillery, tough-as-nails resilience, or surrender.

When you surrender in love, you let go of the outcome completely. You simply do all that you can that is loving, and let the rest take its place. If that means the person you love hardly notices you as a blip in their world, so cry it. If that means facing to the fact that there is love, but that a relationship just isn’t possible right now, so be it. If that means letting go of the person you love because the relationship isn’t a priority for them, so grieve it.

When you surrender in love, truly surrender, you let go of the illusion of control, and the allure of the happy ending. In its place, you gain something far more valuable, far more real.

Real, true, deep, love. Not a lusty feeling or the three magic words. But the real thing.

That can be tested and weathered, and that can endure a lifetime of pain and strife and heartache and challenge.

That’s the heart of love. That’s is strength. It’s power.

And that’s why it’s a verb.

What is love to you?

Do these three components of love make sense to you? Do you have a different perspective on love?

Share in the comments, and let’s discuss the probably most talked about and idolized human emotion.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Cole Bitting October 21, 2009 at 1:40 pm

A very affirmative essay. You separate love from neediness, dust it off and toss it into practical circumstances.

Robert Sternberg is a great psychologist and writer on love. You would love his construct for the experience of love. He defined three qualities of this experience – intimacy, passion and decision commitment.

Intimacy is the feeling of connectedness. Passion is what we think it is. The third is the acknowledgement love and the commitment to maintain it for some period of time.

Love is absolutely a verb. And if you think about the qualities of intimacy, passion and commitment, you find a rich set of acts-of-love. Imagine the essays you could write!

Melissa Karnaze October 21, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Yes, passion is what’s often confused with love. To the point of lust, obsession even. (Whoops, upon re-reading I realized I misread your statement about passion — but it still works!)

Ah, I do have some drafts for intimacy, and the commitment of self-love! Thanks for the support Cole.

Thanks for mentioning Sternberg too, I’d love to learn about what he has discovered.

Odin Xenobuilder October 22, 2009 at 9:16 am

“Because love is something that you do. If you don’t act in loving ways, but claim that you feel it, you won’t fool anyone for too long.”

Lately I’ve thought about the relationship of these two things. To some extent, that feeling can be what drives you to act in loving ways. It’s partly compulsory actions inspired by a feeling and part deliberate actions taken just based on knowledge, or “decision commitment” I think is the same thing I’m trying to describe, as Cole quoted from Robert Sternberg.

So what I’ve though about is looking at it from the other direction. Can you build love through acting in loving ways without the feeling and thus create it. Or in other words, can you start with a commitment to someone and have the elements of intimacy and passion blossom later. Or maybe that’s just being on the other side of unrequited love.

Cole Bitting October 22, 2009 at 12:52 pm

Odin – To paraphrase Sternberg:

if love is only intimacy, it is liking

if it is only passion, it is infatuation

if it is only decision commitment, it is empty love

if it is both intimacy and passion, it is romantic love

if it is both intimacy, and decision commitment, it is friendship

if it is both passion and decision commitment, it is fatuous love

if it is all three, it’s consumate love

His framework, not mine.

Melissa Karnaze October 22, 2009 at 12:57 pm

Can you build love through acting in loving ways without the feeling and thus create it.

This is a great question Odin. It seems to me that you are referring to creating love in the romantic sense, is that correct? If so, then I don’t have a straight answer, but I do think that people experience the romantic feelings of being in love in various ways. So, acting in loving ways could create the romantic love feeling, but it does depend on the person. And at some point, there is a definite relationship between the feelings and the actions.

Or in other words, can you start with a commitment to someone and have the elements of intimacy and passion blossom later.

In 2006 I did an editorial internship with Dr. Robert Epstein. I just checked out a recent video on this part of his website, and it looks like he taught an upper division psychology class at UC San Diego this past spring, Interpersonal Relationships. But a more controversial class you’ll see, testing the common notions of “falling in love.”

I haven’t looked into all of his research, writings, or his Love Contract in depth… but I did conduct phone and email interviews with several happy couples in arranged marriages as part of one of his research projects. What I learned from those couples I spoke with on the phone was that they learned to love each other. They made a commitment to build a life together, and they did fall in love.

At that time, it expanded my Westernized notions of falling in love, and it was beautiful to hear their stories. Of course, not everyone wants to create love this way, but there are still cultures that treasure arranged marriage, or just a mindful decision commitment where both partners want to have a happy and successful relationship.

Odin Xenobuilder October 22, 2009 at 3:05 pm

Thank you both for those enlightening responses. I was referring to the romantic sense. I suppose people can arrive at consummate love in a variety of ways, though some of us have more choices about those ways than others.

Sternberg’s framework is interesting…. it’s at least helpful in thinking about your own relationships and how they fall into it, and to perhaps go forward with a clearer idea of where you want to be. In the department of love, experience seems the most effective tool.

Dr Epstein’s “Making Love” experiment quite perfectly hits the nail on the head of what I was considering. After reading a bit about it, I come away thinking that while the “four pillars” he describes may be essential or at least very important to maintaining a successful relationship, there’s still something to be said for the proverbial “spark”.

Melissa Karnaze October 22, 2009 at 3:39 pm

It’s that spark Odin, that is experienced in unique ways for different people. And there might even be people that don’t describe a spark, but more of a gradual process. Each person has such a unique way of experiencing the world that’s going to affect how, when, where, and why they feel that spark, or some variation of “it.”

I think the best you can do is try to understand how you experience it, without over analyzing it, because much if not most of that spark is subconscious.

Because in the end, a spark is just a spark. It can’t really make a good relationship, and it’s not the same thing as love-as-a-verb.

Thanks for sparking an interesting discussion. :)

Btw Cole, now I’m remembering the concept of consummate love from a psychology class or two, and those neat categorical blends.

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