Good afternoon, New Year. Yes, it's the second year of 2023.
And today we are going to discuss love.
No one can define love, least of all me, of course. It is elusive. No dictionary captures it. No poem encapsulates it. There's no way we can truly communicate it.
We use the word love as a shorthand for something. Something ephemeral, something ethereal, something that infuses us with a sense of life. We feel alive when we love.
Love, life, they share a few letters in common.
And so I will not attempt to define love, but I will definitely tell you what love is not, because we know a lot about what masquerades as love, what passes as love, what disguises itself as love, all the manifestations of interpersonal relationships that are mislabeled and mistaken as love.
And this is today's topic.
My name is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited. I'm also a professor of psychology in CIAPS, Center for International Advanced Professional Studies, and the Outreach Program of the CIAPS consortium of universities.
Before you watch this video, you may wish to watch another one, Toxic Sakes, When Love is Bad for You. It's on my channel. The link is in the description.
So I can't help you with what love is. If I could, I would win all the Nobel Prizes combined. I can't help you with this. No one can actually.
Love is a highly individual experience, a private language, an idiosyncratic state of emoting, a state of mind, a kind of mood.
We have severe difficulty telling apart love from limerence, from infatuation, from attraction. We don't know enough. There's a biochemical background to all of these, which resembles addiction very much and operates in the same centers of the brain.
But today is not about neuroscience and other pseudosciences. Today is about love.
What love is not?
Loving someone is not the same as loving the way that he or she loves you.
Let me repeat this because I adore the sound of my voice. Loving someone is not the same as loving the way that he loves you.
Maybe you like the way that he idealizes you, worships you, puts you on a pedestal, sees no wrong in you, casts you as the most, most intelligent, most beautiful ever. You've changed his life. He's never experienced something like this before. You're incorporated in a shared fantasy. You learn to love yourself through his gaze.
When I say he is, it could be her, of course. I'm using male pronoun for convenience sake. It applies to both genders.
So when you love someone because of the way he makes you feel about yourself, because of the way he loves you, that's not love. That is self-infatuation.
In the best case, it's self-love. It's somewhat auto-erotic. It's a lot narcissistic.
Loving someone is also not the same as loving to be in love.
Some people love to be in love. They feel alive only when they are in love.
When there's no love in the air, their lives are drab, ugly, dragging, pedestrian, mundane.
You see how many words I know? Did I impress you?
Yes, loving someone is not the same as wanting always to be in a state of love.
You may be addicted to love. You may be addicted to this all-infusing feeling of arousal, of potency, of flowering, but then your partner is coincidental. Your partner is not really important. It is the emotion that matters. You're invested in being in love. You're committed to this feeling.
And so that's not love. Loving someone is also not the same as merging with your partner, fusing with him, becoming one with him, dependent on him in every way.
Love is not about any of these things. It's never about self-sacrifice. It's never about self-negation. It's never about being engulfed and disappearing into someone. It's never about external regulation. That's where borderlines are getting it wrong. That's not love. That is selfish.
Codependence and borderlines control from the bottom. They emotionally blackmail the partner through their ostentatious and ostensible love, but that's not love.
You don't love someone because you can merge with them. You don't love someone because you can disappear into them. You don't love someone because they can regulate your moods, tell you about reality, control your cognitions and emotions, provide you with a rock-like stability. You don't love someone because of what they can give to you. You don't love someone because of what you can take from them.
You love someone for who they are, regardless of the net profit and the bottom line.
Loving someone is also not the same as hating loneliness or being desperate. Not the same. Desperation is a bad advisor. Loneliness is a state of mind.
Using other people to self-soothe and self-comfort and feel less lonely and be less desperate is just this. Using people, objectifying them, exploiting them for your own needs, self-medicating with people is not love. Promiscuity, emotional or physical, is not love. It has nothing to do with love.
Loving someone never involves fantasy or idealization. It is always grounded in reality.
You see your partner. This is the supreme primordial, atavistic, foundational act of love. Seeing your partner, allowing the partner to be a separate entity with all its gifts and all its potentials, self-actualized. Your partner is another person. It's not a figment of your imagination. He is not a creature in some fantastic space or paracosm. He is not ideal. He is human.
Words in all and all. He is not an object.
Loving someone is also not about assuming a parental role, not about providing unconditional love. Loving someone is a give and take with boundaries, with compromises, with negotiations. Loving is the stuff of life and life is never a clear cut. It's never split between good and bad, wrong and right, black and white, hot and cold. This is dysfunctional pathological thinking. Love is the art of the fuzzy. Love is the art of working together towards common goals, sharing common values on a common path towards that realization of being in each other's life for good and to do good.