True love is one of those all-important topics with a lot of questions and very few reliable answers.
What is Love? Whatever it is, does it last forever?
How do you know if you feel it? How do you know if someone else feels it for you? These are all things everyone wonders during the course of their life — but can never really know.
Or maybe you can know.
Maybe not all of these questions are impossible to answer.
Maybe a few of them are even more obvious than most people realize.
Or maybe most people don’t realize some of the most basic truths about “true love” because they don’t want to. Or know it, believe it, or especially accept it. Not if the truth hurts too much, and when the world makes it so easy to convince yourself there is no concrete way to be certain if that special person in your heart sees you as anything special at all.
This all can be even harder to deal with if you happen to be one of those highly sensitive people. You know the type? The emotionally intense, deep-bonding, sacrifice-all-for-love warriors of romance who cry at the end of the Notebook even after watching it 37 times, who feel a flooding swell of emotion in their chest every time they hear that powerful love song, and who very sincerely believe the most precious and valuable things they will ever possess or experience in life involves the people they loved most — and no mansion or sports car or bank account being sought after and worshipped by the rest of the humanity has the same lure to these people.
If this sounds like you then you’re probably thinking ” Yeah, but don’t most people feel that way? Don’t most people love ‘people’ more than they love ‘things’?” You actually believe, deep down, 95% of people in this world would choose true love for life over $10 million.
Amazingly, you believe this in spite of all the times in your life you’ve already experienced this NOT being true.
I can say that with confidence, because I’m one of you. I learned the excruciating way what I felt for someone I LOVED was almost never how they felt for me.
And as much as it always hurt to realize — I could always look back and remember so many moments. Moments when I consciously knew someone was doing, saying, or feeling something that proved to me they didn’t love me. At all.
But I never wanted to see it. So ironically enough, in the name of “love” I ignored it, excused it, rationalized it, and instantly forgave it.
I can still hear my own mental voice explaining it to my questioning mind by saying things to myself like “She doesn’t understand what she’s doing or saying is selfish because she’s never really been loved by someone until now. I can prove to her how forgiving and committed true love is by willingly taking the hurt and the uneven, unbalanced, and unacceptable behavior from her now — and this will show her how much she means to me. She’ll finally know how strong I am to take the cruelty, how determined I am to not give up on her, and how special I am to still be fighting for her heart. Surely she has to see how glaringly unfair our love is and admire me deeply for refusing to walk away.”
I was idiotic for many years — and with many people — in many situations — with a variety of versions of love. As a son, and a brother, best friend, and employee (yes — sad but true), and even a student a time.
But for the sake of this article and the story of my romantic life let’s stick to the main focus of my stunning stupidity in the role of BOYFRIEND/HUSBAND. That is where I really attained unbelievable heights of moronic self destruction. All in the name of “proving to someone else what true love is willing to endure and forgive”.
In fact, being a better husband was the motivation behind me going to therapy sessions. And it was in one of those sessions that I will always remember realizing for the very first time that I was, and had been for some time, a spectacularly oblivious dumb-ass. In the ways of love, admiration (one of the things I ached for most), and even bare-minimal-level respect one human being should expect to receive from any other human being.
I remember that fateful session, sitting in my her office and describing to my smiling, attentive, bright redheaded therapist the many details of the arguments I’d had with my wife over the last week. I remember hoping I didn’t sound too proud of myself for making sure to take the blame for the arguments and sharing my wise insights into all the ways I could have and should have been more thoughtful and understanding. If I would have done or said the right thing instead of reacting to defend my selfish idea of fairness then so many fights with my wife would be avoided and we could be happy again — in ways we had never actually been happy to begin with.
I was very proud of my humility — and impressed with my own insight into how to prove how enduring and long suffering real love is — especially when it’s been enduring so much suffering for so long. I mean come on, anyone would HAVE to be impressed with how much of beating I could take and keep staying around for more. As boastful as it sounds, I was nearly moved to tears just thinking of all the ways I inspired myself with my “heroic refusal to give up on our love” love story I was living out day after day.
I would’ve bet even my therapist was astounded by my dedication…maybe she wanted to ask me questions for a book she was writing to help others less insightful. Cough. I hope she knew I wouldn’t mind being interviewed or quoted…sure it would take extra time after our session but I wouldn’t expect to be paid. After all a man should make time to explain important truths when they have the chance to help others. In fact, I’d make sure to let her know sharing my story would be an honor if (when) she asked me about the origin of what I referred to as my “love-instincts” (spoiler alert: they were God-given). I bet she’d also want to know why I never became a world renown therapist (I often wondered this myself)
For a moment is actually seemed as though she were working up to asking these questions once I finished giving her my weekly marriage fight-update and she sat nodding in clear understanding with eyes locked on me with a smile.
“So…You believe when she screams horrible belittling things and really really loses her temper with you — calls you things like loser, and threatens to take away your daughter or make up things to tell the police tout you in jail,… and tells you how much she hates you, and the sound of your voice, and hits you in the face knowing you won’t hit or back — you believe you can see how much she secretly admires you for not giving up right?” She was still nodding and smiling, clearly impressed — as was I after hearing that list of outrageous unjust suffering I’d fought through. Here comes that damn tear again trying to make a break down my right cheek.
“Yes” I said in a soft humble voice (I always imagined most humble people speak softly)
“Yeah — I can see that. I can tell it’s what you really believe” she said (still nodding)
This was a mental healer who understood the courage and selflessness it required for me to willingly dedicate myself to teaching my wounded wife the Power of Love (whatever happened to Huey Lewis anyway…I wondered before reigning my thoughts back in)
After a few moments of what I sensed was mutual admiration for my selfless, marriage-saving, soul restoring goal
“So, even when she peed in the glass of drinking water you keep at your desk, turned the lights down with the dimmer, and then got into bed so she could be close enough to hear you take a sip, and spit it out with a yell of disgust — you can almost imagine the shame she feels when you can find the strength to understand why she does insane things like that, forgive her for taking out her childhood pain on you, and still be standing there willing and wanting to be the one man who loved her enough to fight through so many humiliating, profoundly insulting and publicly degrading moments?”
“Yes” I said…maybe even softer and more humbly than before (although I wasn’t crazy about her using the words “humiliating” and “degrading” for some reason…they didn’t sound very heroic)
“Wow…” she said (I bet she’s about to ask me for the secrets of my wisdom and strength
“Yeah…” I said in agreement with her “Wow”
(wait — why did she just stop nodding in amazed agreement. Why is she starting to shake her head slowly in a “stunned disbelief” kind of way?)
So…What if I told you she wasn’t actually impressed with you…or your strength…or your determination to demonstrate what real “true love” looks like? …Would that surprise you?”
(Awkward beat of silence)
On second thought and second glance this clearly might not be the kind of brilliant therapist mind I was hoping to find when I decided to go to therapy. The frustration at realizing she had misunderstood everything I had explained over the last 5 weeks hit quickly like a heavy tangible wave that knocked all the hopeful breath out of me. What a disappointment.
I really thought she understood — but she didn’t. They don’t get it at all. She thinks my wife is like a normal person. She thinks I’m just being played like some weak-minded, punching bag husband without the guts to confront his demeaning wife or without the self respect to confront my emotional-bully of a wife — and that isn’t what’s happening with me at all. This “therapist” hinting that my strategy is flawed and off base lacks the brilliance to grasp what I’m actually doing.
“Just, I don’t know… (yes I did “know” but I didn’t have time to explain it to this “inside the box” thinking sham of a counselor)…I guess I’d disagree with you”
What if I told you that your wife is not only NOT impressed by you refusing to walk away — or filled with admiration for your determination to love her no matter what — but that she saw you as disgusting and repulsive for being pathetic enough to keep tolerating being her degrading you like you were, I don’t know, a worm and not a real man? That you sincerely made her sick when she thought about you because she knew nothing she did to you could make you leave her — and that made her really really loathe you more than you could ever understand? — And what would you say if I told you that was what she really thought about you and felt in her heart every time she looked at you?”
Then a hot rage flash across my face and my head started to tingle with from the overflow of embarrassment and anger.
“I don’t know…I don’t…” (that would explain the look of repulsion and pure hatred I’ve seen on her face so any times that I never really understood)
“Why do you think what she feels for you is anything close to admiration?” She asked me bluntly
It was a fair question — but I had an answer — I just couldn’t remember what that answer was at that moment.
“Is it because YOU admire you for forgiving everything she’s done to you and still wanting to prove you love her?”
Oh right — yeah that was the answer I was trying to remember
“Because that might be how you see you — but it isn’t at all how she sees you. You make her want to throw up so much that she sees you as so far beneath her she can’t stand the thought of being with any man willing to be emasculated and spit on every day like you keep proving she can do to you. You prove to her every day how worthless you are — can you see that?”
Well, yeah — I could see it now when she explains it like this.
“How do you know though…?” I offered in my own mild defense “maybe she isn’t seeing me the way I always hoped or saw myself. But how do you know she sees me the way you claim?” (Awesome question, phenomenal really)
“I know because no one ever taught someone else what love looks like by proving every day they aren’t worthy of respect while reinforcing the idea that the other person is so far above them and superior to worry about any boundaries of minimal decency anyone would expect to be shown to a dog. In fact, I would bet she shows any dog far more respect and affection than she shows you.”
We had 3 dogs at the time — my wife was usually nice to them.
I just looked at my therapist. Still f trying to stop seeing myself through the newly re-focused eyes of my wife.
My complete silence was my very loud way of agreeing with everything I was hearing for the first time.
“Think about it — You have kids right?”
“When they cried and screamed and threw tantrums — which by the way is exactly what you’re wife does when she gets angry at you. She’s throwing tantrums like the emotional infant she is — what did you do? If they did it now — how old are they?”
“My daughter is 14 and my son is 11”
“Ok — great if they did it now — if they hit you and punched you and told you they hated you, and broke your things and pissed in your water…would you teach them to love you by taking it every day and hoping one day they would just wake up and realize the intestinal fortitude it must take for you to keep allowing them to treat you like you were dogs!t stuck on the bottom of their shoe?”
“No — I would not EVER take that kind of insane disrespect”
“Because it only teaches kids to think they’re better than you — it teaches them a lie — it teaches them they have a right to act like spoiled rotten brats who think they must be better than everyone else. It makes them horrible selfish children who grow up to become horrible selfish adults who no one really ever likes” I said without a single doubt in my mind about its truthfulness
“So why do you think constantly proving to how pathetic you are to your wife will make her see how much stronger you are than her for spitting on you.”
I didn’t know why I thought that anymore
“I don’t know why I thought that now” I said
She was nodding again
“From now on, don’t hold your own children to a standard of understanding you aren’t willing to hold another adult to when it comes to how you will tolerate being treated. Sound good?”
It sounded good — very good. At least it did when the anger and shame started wearing off over the next rest of my life.
I started thinking about everything in a different light after that moment conversation.
Everything didn’t suddenly all come into clear focus — but a lot of things did. And I kept learning and reading and doing everything I could to understand the mind of someone who I know understood didn’t see or feel anything the way I always assumed they did. Unfair and uneven expectations started to become much easier to identify after that — and I noticed there were certain principles that could were usually found in people that didn’t really feel “love” as much as they craved control.
As hard as it is to believe, the painful truth is that empathetic aching-for-intimacy people are like lighthouses for manipulating people living hidden lives as closet narcissists, borderline personality disorders, psychopaths. Sociopaths, and more. But like any counterfeit, there are certain areas that will give them away if you’re willing to hold them up to the light and take a closer look.
These are 3 of my personal-pain heavy favorites I’d tell anyone to be on the lookout for:
1. UNEVEN EXPECTATIONS — ASKING THEM FOR A FAVOR
When you ask for a favor or mention something they could do which would mean something to you which they could do easily and without cost or any moral violation or financial expense — yet they refuse out of sense of “standing up for their rights” or some need to make sure you aren’t “trying to manipulate them”.
For example — it could be something as simple as:
- where to eat dinner
- where to go on vacation
- watching the kids for a night so you can go somewhere with friends
- asking them for a rare massage, knowing full well you give them a massage often
- everything I just mentioned about a massage but with acts of intimacy (nothing considered “kinky”)
- asking them to take care of you when you’re sick (the way you happily take care of them)
- watching a tv show or movie you like occasionally (since you watch whatever they prefer 98% of the time)
- having any say in their friends — especially when one of their friends is routinely putting you down
- asking them for a sincere apology when you both know they were wrong (like the one they always need from you)
The point is — sometimes you know what you’re asking is not only reasonable, but it’s very small in comparison to the things they EXPECT to get from you willingly. Yet when you meekly request a morsel of the same kind of enthusiastic giving FROM them they suddenly feel compelled to make a stand on principle by responding with something ridiculous like:
- “Well I shouldn’t have to…”
- “I just really don’t feel like it…”
- “Ah I might want to do something else on that night — I don’t know yet…”
- “I know we do what I want to do a lot…but that’s because you don’t mind. I never try to force you!”
- “Ok — just stop doing things for me if you’re going to make me feel guilty for not doing something later!”
- “I don’t care if you technically didn’t do anything wrong — you hurt me. You hurt my FEELINGS! — And my FEELINGS would always be very important to you — if you really loved me!”
And their all-time favorite go-to response…
- If you really loved me…You wouldn’t want me to do something I don’t want to do!”
2. UNEVEN EXPECTATIONS — WHEN THEY ASK YOU FOR A FAVOR
When THEY ask YOU for a favor or mention something you could do which would mean something to them which you could do but it would cost you something meaningful, or would involve sacrificing your preference or “turn” or long standing plans, or well earned money, or sacrificing something they know is meaningful to you in exchange for something less important for them.
For example — it could be something as simple as:
- change your birthday plans
- not attending your work function
- not visiting your family
- asking you for an extra long massage and then going to sleep without returning the favor
- what I just mentioned about a massage but with acts of intimacy
- taking advantage of sickness or injury far past a reasonable time range
- deciding they’d rather just not watch TV or go see a movie if they can’t choose the program/movie
- you WOULD listen to them when it comes to who your friends are because they should me more important than all your friends. IF you really loved them
- letting you know that even though something hurt your feelings — your “feelings” are not anything they can held responsible for. What matters more than feelings is the TRUTH, and the TRUTH is you were wrong. Clearly they don’t owe you an apology.
Sometimes you know what they’re asking you for is unreasonable, unfair, uneven, unbalanced and purely what they WANT. With no regard about what it cost you. It could be grossly unfair compared to the level of giving they routinely show to you. But they EXPECT whatever they want will be given willingly by you anyway.
And if you refuse or make an accurate claim, they will resend with something ridiculous like:
- “but you know how much this means to me”
- “I knew I shouldn’t tell you — I knew MY FEELINGS wouldn’t matter to you!”
- “But you’re family doesn’t like me! You told them about the time I ran you over with the moving truck”
- “I know you really wanted to do that but you hurt me that time 3 years ago. And this reminds me of that”
- “Ok — you don’t have to do it for me, but stop asking me to do things for you!”
And their all-time favorite go-to response…
• If you really loved me…You would WANT to do what you know would make me happy!”
3. THEY LOVE MAKING YOU LOOK BAD IN FRONT OF YOUR OWN FRIENDS AND FAMILY
It might sound silly, but it matters. The best time to look for this instinct is during the first few times you introduce them to your friends. And spend time together as a group.
In many cases, if a man is introducing his girlfriend to his best friend group you might hear people on both sides playfully mention how sloppy he is — or how he might have a habit of running late or forgetting a detail or having no sense of style. This one can be tricky because both the friend group and the girlfriend might be kidding as a form of mutual ice-breaking — essentially using meaningless flaws to “bond” with on a shallow level just long enough to start a conversation and begin building their own friendship.
The key is to look for what things they joke about. And how eager they are to use the chance to belittle the person they claim to love in exchange for a few moments of spotlight, laughter, and superiority they gain by making the other person the butt of their jokes. It also matters which things they seem eager to joke about — if the person just filed bankruptcy, or is already sensitive about how they look — then a truly loving person won’t be making any jokes about finances or how outdated that 1980s John Travolta haircut looks with that Wal Mart Men’s shirt they got from the clearance rack.
A loving person will always be more focused on making sure they protect the wounds of the person they love. Much more than they are with being seen as in control, or superior, or in command of the spotlight. Especially if it cost includes the pain of the person proudly introducing them.
Lastly, do they follow up playful insults with true compliments about how great you are in another area? For example, a girlfriend may joke with his family. Maybe, “I know when he says he’ll be at my place by 7:30, be ready by 9,” insert pity laughter. “But I also know he’ll take me anywhere I want to go and give me his complete attention. No one has ever made me feel more important than this man who will be getting a watch from me this Christmas!”
Truth is — it’s not as hard as everyone wants to believe to know if someone truly, sincerely loves you.
It’s not hard to tell because they will consistently WANT to communicate it more than they feel the need to insecurely hide it, or lessen you in some way, or protect themselves from looking like they like you more than you like them.
Someone who loves you will still feel embarrassed when they make a mistake or a selfish choice that hurts you. BUT — they will always be more SORRY about the pain they wrongly caused you than they feel defensive or awkward. They realize they made a mistake.
They will not only agree to do things you ask for within reason — they will many times enthusiastically proactively look for ways they can help you, support you, encourage you, forgive you, and build you up even when a sacrifice from them is needed to make you happy. Or to communicate how much you mean to them.
These people are not actually hard to identify at all. They stand out so much you won’t need to actually ask yourself questions like “Do They Really Love Me?”
If you have to ask — there’s a really good chance you already have your answer.