Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Rob Boucher on his lessons in love. I’ve worked with Rob for many years at Microsoft, and he was one of my early mentors. Rob is more than a colleague. He is a good friend, and one of the most insightful people I know.
In the spirit of Valentine’s day, I asked Rob to write a special guest post on the best lessons he learned in love. I asked him to put down on paper, the most insightful lessons on love that he now knows, that he wish he knew back when he was starting out in life.
Rob delivered. And he dives deep. His insights are powerful on multiple levels. No matter how much you already know about love, you are sure to find some new ideas, fresh perspectives, and brilliant “ah-has” that you can use in your own life, or share with someone you know.
Rob’s post is organized in three main sections: lessons in love, ways to grow, and an approach for fear and wounds. I think you will find each section to be an incredible gift, as Rob shares his lessons of the heart, from the heart, in a very raw and real way.
Without further ado, here is Rob on what he learned about love …
I’ve been through a lot in my lifetime with love. Valentine’s day brings the concept of love to the forefront, but I know that in my past I’ve been confused about what love really is and is not.
Our heart knows what love is, but the messages from society have often diluted our inner wisdom, at times even misleading us entirely. What we believe about love will greatly affect our experience of it.
I came from a place of need and trying to make people love me into a place where I understand what’s happening and can more readily flow in life. As I’ve gotten better, I can open more and more and even handle complexities of love that I couldn’t before.
12 Lessons Learned in Love
The following is a list of some of the learnings that have helped me over the years. This is what I wish someone had told me while I was growing up. While at first it might seems that all this kills the fun of love, I’ve found that it actually frees me to have more fun because I understand the mechanisms of how I feel loved and I can love others.
Lesson #1 – Love vs. Fear. Don’t Confuse Them.
Ultimately, we have the ability to choose between these two. The most succinct contrast I’ve seen is
“Fear is the energy which contracts, closes down, draws in, runs, hides, hordes, harms. Love is the energy which expands, opens up, sends out, stays, reveals, shares, heals. Fear wraps our bodies in clothing, love allows us to stand naked. Fear clings to and clutches all that we have, love gives all that we have away. Fear holds close, love holds dear, Fear grasps, love lets go. Fear rankles, love soothes, Fear attacks, love amends.”
Lesson #2 – Separate Love from Need and Wanting.
Ignore popular culture. Separate love from need and wanting. Do not confuse these even though songs, TV, and literature often make them the same. They are not.
- Need is the belief that you cannot possibly live without that someone or something.
- Wanting is the belief that you do not have something and the desire to obtain it. When you grasping for a want, you are saying it’s a need. e.g. “Please don’t leave me. I can’t live without you”.
I say belief here because I’ve noticed that in changing my mind about what I need, some things have fallen away. They were never needs or wants at all. I was after something else that I thought that the want or need would bring me. Like asking for a soda because I was thirsty and only after realizing that soda actually dehydrates me in the long run.
Certainly attraction is part of love, but when you start to grasp and become desperate, you’ve left the realm of love. You simply cannot force or manipulate someone into loving you. Wanting is fine in that it can expose our desires and motivations, but if you have an expectation that your wants will always be fulfilled, you are crossing the line into need. The more you need from another, less you can truly love them. You are generating your internal energy and well-being from trying to control your outside world.
Controlling the outside world is always a struggle. You end up running your life like it’s a juggling match, trying to arrange it so all your needs and wants can be met. How are you going to love someone if they do not show up how you need them too? You get bitter, resentful, or at the least, drained. Naturally, you will fear losing the outside source of your well-being and you attempt to control the other person(s). This suffocates your relationship(s) over time. Confusing love and need leads to mistaken ideas like jealously is love, drama in a relationship is love, codependence is love, love hurts, and other such confusion. While these are common and normal, they are not at all related to love.
Love is NOT need.
Lesson #3 – There is Only So Much Love to Go Around.
This is a fear based idea. There may be limited time or resources to spend on people, but when you give love to one person, you don’t have less to give to another. If anything, I’ve found that it can increase your capacity to love elsewhere. Jealousy is our ego saying “I’m not getting enough” . This should be addressed in the relationship by accepting it, loving it and then moving on from it. Concentrate on what you want to create with the other person and who they are being with you vs what else they are doing with their time or energy. Get out of the scarcity mentality.
Lesson #4 – Unconditional Love. No Conditions. Not trading.
Give to empower with the birthday present model Unconditional love means “love without condition”. Much of this confusion can come from religious beliefs since many tell us that we have to meet some criteria for “the Creator” to love us. Entertain that it’s possible to love someone without conditions and the more whole you are, the more that’s possible. Most of us have rarely experienced that because of the confusion with love and need.
Unconditional love can only be given when the giver is not dependent on the other person for something. The givers love has to be generated internally. It follows that true love is freely given without requirement or expectation. It’s a gift. This doesn’t mean the giver doesn’t have needs as well, but a giver can remove the expectation of receiving when they give. Do not turn “I love you very much” into “I trade you very much”. If as the giver you are getting drained, then concentrate on what will give you energy. Don’t demand that that energy come from your lover. Ask for it, but don’t demand it. If you are tired of giving, stop and recharge. If you notice the giving is disempowering someone and making them more dependent, stop giving and help them to learn to meet their own needs.
I try to remember this by thinking about getting or giving a birthday present. I give with no strings attached and I try to give what the other person says they want. It is easier if they tell me what they want instead of my trying to guess, but I’m willing to try either way. That gift should mean something to them, not necessarily to me. The other person may throw the gift out, that’s fine. I draw energy in that I gave. Then if I need something myself and I don’t get it for my birthday, I go out and buy it for myself. I encourage the other person to do the same and not rely on me to give them everything they want. This frees everyone up to receive and to give without putting expectations into the picture. We don’t expect to get our basic needs met on our birthday. I’m not going to rely on someone to feed me via birthday presents.
Lesson # 5 – Fearful Protection is Only Necessary Because of Our Needs and Wounds.
Heal them and you reduce the need to protect yourself. As mentioned in point 1, love expands and opens itself. What about being hurt? Where does that come from? That’s pretty common in our close relationships. If someone physically hurts us, that’s a bodily response. But most of the pain around love in relationships starts or remains in the emotional area.
I’ve used the model of “emotional wounds” in myself. It makes it easier to think about what I should do because it seems more obvious if I had a physical wound. When someone touches an emotional wound in me, it’s like they’ve brushed up against an open wound on my skin. It hurts. We are hurt when someone reinforces judgments we may suspect about ourselves. Those judgments show up as our wounds.
Use caution, but not fear. Caution here means that you realize that you have these sensitivities and you don’t needlessly expose them and get hurt. Fear would mean you are in a constant state of dread that someone will hit them and so you run away or seal up.
If you suspect that someone is likely to reject you, factor that in to how you proceed. Caution acknowledges natural consequences. You want to play football, but you’ve got a wound. So you put on a band-aid or even a plastic covering taking into account the environment you are entering.
However, when the need to protect yourself or another comes along with anger and emotional drama, it’s from fear. When there is a desire for retribution, that’s fear. Often when we open up, we at the same time fear that another will not. Others behavior can inform you. It doesn’t have to hurt. You can actually be open and not be hurt. The hurt comes from needing another to return that same feeling, thus proving you are lovable. If you believe that you are lovable, this is not a problem. You simply move on to those where you can express love and receive it back.
Lesson # 6 – The More Needs You Have About How Someone is Supposed to Show Up, the More You Have to Protect Yourself.
Personally, I make it okay that my mate can change her mind about what she wants in the future and so can I. This allows for growth. The less you give yourself from the inside, the more requirements you have about how others show up. The more you love and accept yourself, the less necessary it is to protect those inner parts and you don’t resist change.
Lesson # 7 – Ultimately, Love Lets Go.
If you’ve followed what’s above, then you understand that “needing” and “grasping” is fear based. When you don’t need as much, you can see that you can continue to love people even when their wants and desire conflict with yours.
Lesson # 8 – Be Dedicated to the Quality of Your Relationship, Not its Longevity.
We all know people who probably should not be together because the energy they create together is toxic to them and/or those around them. If you concentrate on how to heal yourself, meet your own needs, and make your relationship healthy, you may either stay together or separate. One is not better than the other. If you figure out how to be healthy and stay together, your relationship deepens to the next level and you have a greater capacity for trust and intimacy. If it does not, you may separate, but you will not have the bitter, no holds barred, damaging divorces that seem to happen on a regular basis. These are caused by needs and expectations. You may separate with or without sadness, but never malice. You may actually find that your love relationship with that person still grows. The love doesn’t (have to) go away. The relationship just changes.
Lesson # 9 – Love Another as Yourself, not Instead Of, or More Than.
A misinterpretation of the ethic of giving has led people to believe they can love themselves only through others. “Love your neighbor as yourself” means keep the two as equal as possible. “Love your neighbor and yourself” “would be a better translation to me. When giving progressively drains you over time, you are not giving from a sustainable place. Eventually, you give yourself away and then there is nothing left. Love considers the well- being of those doing the loving.
Lesson # 10 – Reject the “Complete Me” Model. Think Three, not One.
Don’t try to be one person with your mate. This leads to a belief of needing another to be whole. Relationships change and move. Have you, your mate, and the relationship. Think of a relationship as something you both have to feed with time and energy. When one person doesn’t want to be in the relationship anymore, then it affect two parts, but it doesn’t take you with it. You let go and you are intact.
Lesson # 11 – Understand the Difference.
Understand the difference between intimacy, connection, infatuation, lust, touch, sex, nurturing and love. Be clear on what you are trying to experience. Most people fold these all together in some way. It’s not that these things can’t go together with love or enhance it, the same way the food in a recipe comes together to make something greater than the whole. But if you think that milk and eggs are the same and then you keep adding more eggs to a recipe, you are going to come out with something that’s not likely to taste good. In the same way, your relationship will seem like something is missing or you have too much of something. Later in this post, I go through definitions of each of these and how to draw distinctions.
And don’t expect your desires to matches your mates. You are two different people. There has to be some overlap obviously, but respect that people have different tastes and so want different proportions in their recipes.
Lesson # 12 – What Makes Us “Feel Loved” Varies.
Lesson #11 doesn’t include every possibility of course. Feeling loved often boils down to a set of attributes like those listed in lesson #11. When you experience them with your lover, you naturally become closer.
We each have our love languages. There is even a book called “The 5 Love Languages”. Take the time to figure this out and express it to your mate. Don’t make your mate responsible for figuring it out.
4 Ways to Grow in Life and Love
I’ve grown from my experiences. I’ve learned a lot of lessons the hard way. I continue to grow. That’s just it though … It really is a journey. Here are some ways that I’ve learned to grow throughout my journey:
Way to Grow #1 – Be Aware and Look Inside.
Our motivations are often mixed. Pay attention to how you are feeling. If you pay attention (be aware), you see more about what is driving you. Your body and indeed your heart will feel like it’s opening or contracting. Accept when you are coming from fear and look at what you think you need. With more awareness comes the ability to choose your response and avoid behaviors that feed painful relationship drama. Actions like bullying, threatening, verbal attacks, name calling, passive aggressive behaviors, etc, fall away as you see they are not effective and add to the contraction of both parties. Your inner compass will naturally start want to make decisions from love and your inner stability will not be based on the other persons feelings or reactions.
Way to Grow #2 – Own Your Emotions, Actions, and Needs
You slowly dissolve need by realizing you aren’t always going to get what you want from other people. You take responsibility for your own emotions, actions and the ability to meet your own needs, even if not fully. You work to find the right people who can give you what you desire. My wife likes to say “You can’t get bread at Radio Shack”. No matter how much you jump up and down and scream, it’s not going to happen.
Try expressing that you do not need something and see what happens. Ultimately all needs are a strategy for us to feel peaceful and complete. We may have a belief that we have to do something to be someone and feel complete, but in truth the other way around is more effective. Be someone, feel complete and have your doing flow from that. If I’m loving and lovable, how would I express that? How would I feel? Would I be what I’m doing now?
Is it not wrong to need things or someone, but be clear on the difference. I still need my wife, but I’m slowly removing those needs by healing myself. And the point of decision comes when you can’t get that need met anymore. Do you hold on or do you shift and readjust? Get more support from around you. Don’t place all your needs on your mate. Note that you don’t actually need drama to feel passion. There are other healthier ways to create the tension and release cycle that many people get addicted to. Instill the belief that everyone is worthy of being loved, and start with loving yourself.
Also, find out what is not negotiable in yourself. Be careful and pick as few things as possible. For example, I made it clear to my wife that if I had to choose between music and her, music would win because it’s such a part of me. That means being able to listen to it, play it, etc. I chose someone who respected and appreciated that need, even though it may not be “real” in the sense that I may transcend it at some point. I only learned this was a non-negotiable part of me by expressing that I did not need it and seeing what happened inside myself. I started to wither and be less happy.
However, other things I thought I needed have fallen away just from changing my belief or as I’ve obtained them and realized that I wanted something else. I’ve had attachment to how someone is supposed to look, act, jobs, feelings, etc. Now I’m more careful about what I say I need. Need leads to greed, since I need this is often a justification to take it at whatever cost. I ask myself questions when I say that I do need something. What am I trying to experience through this need?
Way to Grow # 3 – Have You, Your Mate, and the Relationship.
Make this principle more important than staying together. It’s okay for things to be going badly, but notice their general direction and get help to make sure you are resolving your issues. Be wary of conflicting values and don’t make the other person wrong for having a different way of relating or different needs. Recognize the general societal reward for the longevity of a relationship over its quality (“we’ve been together 50 years” <clapping> ) and remind yourself that’s not the best measure.
Way to Grow # 4 – Get Clear on What Characteristics You are After
Earlier I talked about how people can confuse many different characteristics with love. Get clear on what you are after. Put yourself in different situations, even if only in your mind to find out what you are really after. If I had this, but not that, would I be getting what I want? You may not be sure or you may be. Either way you learn something. Understand that certain aspects are short-lived and may be inherently unstable in that they put your energy outside yourself. That is, you are basing how you feel largely on your interaction with another person.
- Intimacy – Best said by separating the word – “Into me you see”. This implies transparency and honesty with yourself and another. It does NOT mean that what you see will be pleasant. Seeing your mate on the toilet or struggling after surgery is as intimate as is knowing their deepest wishes, dreams and pains. Usually, people can only handle a certain level of intimacy. It stops at the point when they find something in someone else that they are not comfortable with and they resist it. Test if this is what you want by asking yourself if seeing things that are undesirable or even painful still somehow make you feel closer. If you do, you are likely after intimacy. If not, then you are after something else.
- Connection – The feeling you get that you and someone else are close and safe in that closeness. This doesn’t require intimacy, as is often evidenced by people being able to tell total strangers things they wouldn’t tell their own mate. Certain drugs have been known to create this feeling as well, even when a person is not connected or even safe. One can feel connected and not be. One can be connected and not feel it, as evidenced when people who are loved and cared about commit suicide. Ultimately, I believe that we can all tie into a spiritual form of connection with ourselves, but it’s something I’ve only glimpsed at this point. Since this is partially about safety, acceptance seems related in my experience.
- Attraction – The desire to be around someone or something. Usually due to some sort of shared interest or appreciate for a quality that another shows that we value. Things like beauty, talent or a certain skill, a manner of being.
- Infatuation – Attraction with an emotional component that’s usually addictive at some level and fed by the novelty of the experience. This is typical in the early parts of a relationship when we can project who we want a person to be in all the places where we don’t really know them. We assume the best. Unstable and likely to dissipate over time because the novelty subsides and intimacy grows. A friend of mine calls this “New Relationship Energy”. Most people mistake infatuation for “falling in love”. This can be extended when the infatuated person doesn’t ever really get to know the object of his or her infatuation. You become sort of an obsessed fan of the other person.
- Lust – Much like infatuation, but focuses on physicality and/or sexual energy of another. Also likely to dissipate over time as novelty subsides.
- Touch – Physically touching someone. This can be pleasurable to most people (regardless of gender) and may be more desired by some people vs others. Touch is not sex. Touch a pet, cuddle a child or baby or even a person of the gender you are not attracted to and you’ll start to make this separation.
- Nurturing – Giving your presence and energy to another to provide safety and encourage them to grow.
- Sex – The feeding and release of sexual energy. I use the word energy here because you can have sex with someone and never experience any of the other items above. I can feel this difference, though it’s easy to get it mixed up with other things. I found that when I started to experiment with the other items in this list, 80% of what I was after was actually not sex. This was the beginning of my understanding that these are different characteristics.
- Love – love doesn’t require any of this, though it may be expressed through one or more of these characteristics. I’m sure you can find times in your personal experience where one or more of these qualities was not present and you still loved that person. During the times when you are most loving someone, you may not feel any of the above. At that time, love is an action. It’s a choice where you use the energy you get from other sources to give to whom you are loving. During those times, it’s most important to keep track of your internal energy and balancing loving yourself with loving another. I’ve had this experience several times. When your mate is in a coma on a respirator, they can’t give you anything. Similar experience can occur due to other traumas or the slow decline of a relationship.
Some common patterns that happen where the confusion between these items shows itself.
- Falling in love and then not lasting long. A relationship starts based on lust or infatuation, which naturally dissipate over time. People say they “fall out of love”. If they think that initial spark is love, then they have nothing to transition to. Even the concept of “falling in love” implies they have no control and it’s created from outside themselves.
- Trying to get intimacy from sex.
- Resisting sex – A mate resists sex because they are not getting what they need through it.
- Trying to meet non-sexual needs with porn – Not going to work of course, but it’s common to keep trying and get addicted because they aren’t clear what they actually want or need.
- Belief that lust is love – A person feels that their love is based on the physical beauty of their mate. When that fades, so does their love.
- The Cinderella fairy tale - Someone will come to love and save me. We live happily ever after. We never experience a time when either of us doesn’t feel loved by the other.
A Model for Fear and Wounds
Fear and wounds can hold us back. I’ve had to learn to deal with fear and to heal my wounds of the past. I use this model which works for me.
- People are going to hit your wounds. Expect this. You can’t be intimate and not hit them at least once. Eventually as you get more intimate, someone will hit these wounds and you’ll react, but they won’t know what’s going on. So the trick is to own them as where you are right now and then heal them. My belief is that all wounds can be healed, though I’ve had to work decades on some.
- Own your wounds. Don’t make others wrong for hitting them. Own them as something created from your past.
Teach people how to be sensitive. If you had a broken arm and you were going on a hike, you’d have to tell someone and give them some advice of what you can and cannot do.
- Heal it. Believe that you can. Own it and then transcend it. Don’t assume that the wound is there for life.
With this model, it makes more sense how to act:
- Wound from past? You can see how life is different now and the wound left over.
- Wound happening in present? If your life is not different, then you can take action. Change your beliefs, thoughts, behaviors and who you interact with so you are not continually wounding yourself or letting other wound you. Don’t stay in situations or mental states that keep you wounded or create new ones. If someone is really trying to hurt us (including ourselves), this reinforces the wound and keeps the sensitivity cycle going.
- Get good at healing and you don’t have to protect. Remember Wolverine in the X-Men? He can heal almost instantly? When you can heal faster, you don’t have to protect as much.
- Accept that pain doesn’t mean something is wrong. It’s information. When you feel pain, you can follow that down to where you are wounded if you ask questions. If you run away from the pain, you cannot find the source and you stay wounded. It’s like taking a drug for a headache, covering up that you have a brain tumor. Also, pain can be part of the healing process. You can also evaluate if another is trying to help you with emotional equivalent of physical therapy. It may hurt, but it’s for the intention of healing. The intention makes a difference.
- Have caution around the formation of new wounds. In my case, my now wife has almost died 5 times over the past 9 years. I hadn’t had a wound around death and in this case I was consciousness enough to keep a deep one from forming. Otherwise, I’d run around being afraid of that happening again, thus removing my ability to connect with her while she’s alive and taking a lot of energy to heal it. It did affect me, but I went through most pain in the moment vs. continually for months or years after. I’ve also watched over time as commercials try to generate new wounds (wants) in myself around the size of my penis or how much hair I have on my head. While these may be actual factors that people use to choose (which is fine), they have nothing to do with if you are lovable or not. Appreciate yourself and be the person you like. Then find someone who appreciates what you like about you.
- Be careful of mislabeling wounds in others. A drawback of this model is that you may label a wound in someone else inappropriately. Use this on yourself and keep it in mind for others, but be careful of boxing them into your way of thinking. You telling them who they are can be what’s causing them to be wounded.
Those are my lessons, my ways to grow, and my model for fear and wounds. While we each have to learn our own language for love, and go on our own personal journeys, I hope that my lessons help you see your own love life in some new and helpful way.
Photo by Julien Haler.