Bill and Steve are discussing the possibility of love. “I thought I was in love three times. Three years ago, I cared very deeply for a woman who wanted nothing to do with me. Was that love,” Steve asked? “No, that was obsession,” Bill explained. “Then two years ago, I fell for an attractive woman who didn’t understand me. Wasn’t that love,” Steve again questions? “No that was lust,” Bill replied. “And just last year, I met a woman while I was on a cruise. She was gorgeous, intelligent, a great conversationalist and had a super sense of humor. Everywhere I followed her on that ship, I would get a very strange sensation in the pit of my stomach. Well, that must have been love,” Steve implores? “No,” Bill confessed, “That was motion sickness!”
There is a great deal of ignorance that masquerades as knowledge. Perhaps the greatest masquerade of all concerns the subject of love.
“Love is never having to say you’re sorry”
We are challenged to understand love because our models for love are problematic. The definitions handed to us by poets, parents, and pop songs indicate that love is a combination of an itchy or aching heart, a ravaging hunger of the soul, an addiction, a drug, a bleeding heart, a fluttering tummy, a weeping eye. Even my own sister Amanda McBroom who wrote the famous musical standard, “THE ROSE,” defined love as a razor that leaves your soul to bleed. Perhaps if we didn’t envision our need for love as a sickness, we could stop looking for a lover to cure us. We might then be able to find a lover who will be a partner, rather than a miracle worker.
The reason our models for love are problematic is due to their being based on a faulty premise. For something to be adequately understood it must exist. The challenge before us is addressing the question does love actually exist, and if so, could it be less important than another more primary need?
I contend that if love does exist, its significance is as compensation when the more primary need is unrealized. I contend those who did not belong invented love. Because this article is disruptive in the classical sense as new insight challenges established beliefs or notions, read through the article before dismissing the subject under discussion.
I contend there is only one primary psychological need in mankind, cross culturally, and no respecter of gender differences. The one primary psychological need in mankind is belonging. The question each of us must consider, do I fit in, and am I a part of something larger than myself, do I belong? If you have ever questioned whether you were accepted? This sensitivity is rudimentary to the need of belonging?
The human need to belong – membership – explains why we gravitate to becoming members of clubs, churches, groups, gangs, and why we have flags, and national atheism. Why pairing up is so fundamental to our personal business and why the crisis of love is actually a crisis of belonging. Breaking up, terminations, and divorces are so chaotic because it shakes our fundamental core to belong somewhere to someone.
When you fit, another term for belonging, a feeling arises within that is so fundamental to our security and sense of self, the daily rituals of being remembered on a special day don’t have the significance they once did. Last year I forgot my wife’s birthday. I have even forgotten why I forgot. When I remembered it was easy for me to apologize due to the fact I knew my forgetting would be considered for what it was – forgetfulness, not confirmation she wasn’t mine, or she didn’t belong.
When you belong you feel free. Free to feel whatever there is to feel, along with the freedom to express that feeling without the threat of retaliation or disapproval. When you know that you belong relationships are so much easier to navigate. Apologies are accepted, and you are less vulnerable to your sensitivities. Remember,
“The goal in life is to become yourself and from that place make your contribution
somewhere in the world.”
Belonging enhances the self; alienation suppresses the self. To understand what shapes you today, why you are able to risk, why you don’t, you must understand your past experience with belonging. Belonging, feeling a part, fitting in, being accepted early in life means having early needs fulfilled. Touching, and caressing are as important to infancy as expressing yourself are important to later life. A growing child must be allowed to explore, to ask and complain. If a child is denied expression of their thoughts and feelings having to board up parts of themselves, it is unlikely that all later caressing by parents and others will make them feel like they belong, and they will invariable question another’s commitment. As I expressed earlier, the idea of love was invented by people who didn’t feel they ever belonged. All future conflicts with love are truly conflicts over belonging. Failing to understand this fundamental truth makes you venerable in many emotional ways.
Being remembered for special days, actually marketing days, birthdays, valentines, father’s or mother’s day, are compensating gestures offered to appease our insecurities born out of the crisis of not belonging. If you question whether you ever truly belonged, you will have challenges with love. Special days will have exaggerated significance attached to them, as do gifts given or received. Events in life are not then celebrated for what they are, but for what they represent, compensation for what is missing.
The crisis of belonging defines as love anything which fulfills our early unmet need. If it is physical touching we needed, we may try to manufacture love out of sex. Sometimes it is the search for protection; at other times it is the need to be understood.
One client of mine insisted her parents, who were openly demonstrative, loved her. She maintained that her husband’s disapproval of her saccharin behavior was the source of her problem. Shortly after beginning in therapy she felt it! All her life she never felt unloved because she became the good daughter. Her parents’ lavished support and affection on her, all she had to do was be good. Because she was good, and not herself, she never felt unloved. Pain would surface only when she was not perceived as the sweet person she masqueraded to be. When a person is allowed to be what they are, not what they pretend to be, they belong. My client was reassured she was loved, but she didn’t know if her family would accept her if she was honest. She substituted being good for being honest. No amount of reassurance, praise or lavished gifts, or cards could compensate for not belonging.
Children surrender and sacrifice in order to cover the feelings of being unacceptable. The ritual of sacrificing becomes the unfortunate sine qua non by which we measure love. Generalizing the experience, love is measured in terms of how much others sacrifice for us. Contrastingly, when you know you belong your support of others, especially when they fail to support you, is not considered sacrifice, it is unconditional support, freely given, a measure of nothing.
When a child belongs within their family, they are rarely concerned with love, nor do they have the need to label things love. People who are free to be who they are do not need words because they have the real experience of being a part of something so fundamental to their identity and development.
Another client of mine, a perfectionist, was highly afraid of making mistakes. I asked him, if he could choose between making fewer mistakes, or being in a safe and accepting environment, where if he made a mistake, he wouldn’t be punished, which would he choose? He chose belonging.